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No more cash for nuclear vision as parties conspire against waste dump

Politics

A parliamentary inquiry into Jay Weatherill’s doomed nuclear waste repository has told the State Government not to spend another cent of public money on the plan, with MPs from both major parties conspiring to drive the last nail into the project’s political coffin.

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The final report of a committee established to review the findings of former Governor Kevin Scarce’s Nuclear Royal Commission, tabled in parliament yesterday, makes only one recommendation: “That the South Australian Government should not commit any further public funds to pursuing the proposal to establish a repository for the storage of nuclear waste in SA.”

The recommendation was endorsed by Liberal, Greens and Labor members of the committee – surprisingly, including even outspoken nuclear advocate and Labor whip Tom Kenyon.

But it did not receive unanimous support, with the committee chair, Australian Conservatives MLC Dennis Hood, indicating his dissent.

He published his own minority statement, saying the findings of the royal commission were “a reasonable starting point for a discussion for SA to host a commercial spent fuel repository”, telling InDaily “to walk away now is senseless”.

Kenyon and fellow Labor member Annabel Digance also submitted a minority statement, arguing that “the economic study in the Nuclear Royal Commission and the review of that study undertaken for the committee… were sufficient to provide the basis for further community discussion on the merits of the establishment of an international spent fuel repository”.

However, “in view of the withdrawal of necessary bipartisan support for further discussion by the South Australian Liberal Party, the South Australian Government should not commit further public funds to pursuing the proposal”.

Kenyon told InDaily: “It’s just the political reality of the situation, isn’t it?”

“The Liberals decided not to be part of the conversation – it can’t be a conversation if it’s not bipartisan support, so there’s no point having it.

“That’s the tragedy of it.”

Scarce’s royal commission found the establishment of a high-level nuclear waste dump could net the state a $100 billion income in excess of expenditure, but the project stalled after being knocked back by a citizens’ jury and the Marshall Opposition withdrew its support.

Earlier this year, InDaily revealed Weatherill’s declaration that the project would not be revisited by his Government.

But the work of the committee has continued, with the inquiry hearing “concerns from witnesses that if market conditions changed, for example through competition or changes in technology, the state may be left with a facility which, from an economic and financial perspective, is a break-even proposition at best”.

“Further, while no direct losses would be incurred, there could be significant costs attached to losing other, potentially higher value, investment opportunities,” the report stated.

“Further still, the minimum pre-commitment, or baseline viability, does not mitigate risk of writing-off pre-commitment expenditure estimated at roundly $600 million if the facility did not proceed.”

The committee noted “the possibility of a customer country unilaterally deciding not to send waste to SA despite contractual agreements to do so which, depending on the timing of the risk impact, could leave the facility significantly under-funded”.

Greens committee member Mark Parnell, a consistent opponent of the repository plan, said today “the project was ill-conceived from the outset”.

“The whole exercise has been a colossal waste of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, but it’s now good the process has finished and we can move on to talking about more realistic projects that will create employment and opportunity for South Australians,” he said.

Calling the inquiry’s recommendation the “second-last nail in the coffin”, Parnell insisted the Government must now reinstate Section 13 of the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act of 2000, which was repealed last year.

The law prevented the Government from consulting on the merits of a nuclear waste storage facility, holding that “no public money may be appropriated, expended or advanced to any person for the purpose of encouraging or financing any activity associated with the construction or operation of a nuclear waste storage facility” in SA.

Parnell has his own legislation before parliament to re-establish the original act, saying “we need to fix the legislation to make sure no future government comes back with a project like this, without coming to parliament first”.

But Hood took a different view, saying “to walk away from such an enormous opportunity without fully exploring all the options is unjustifiable”.

“Even conservative estimates suggest an income in the order of $5 billion a year for SA, which has the potential to completely transform our economy, infrastructure and society,” he said.

“The Australian Conservatives are bitterly disappointed neither the Government nor the Opposition have the determination to at least commit to further exploring the opportunity.”

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