While not always supporting the outcomes, the Australian Greens have acknowledged previous JSCOT inquiries on nuclear issues for their diligence and prudence. We are disappointed on this occasion to submit a dissenting report into the Generation IV Nuclear Energy Accession. The inquiry process into the Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems has been unduly rushed and lacked adequate public hearings or detailed analysis and reflection of public submissions. This is particularly disturbing given that this inquiry relates to public spending for an undefined period of time towards a technology that is prohibited in Australia.
The Australian Greens’ dissent to Report 171 (Section 4: Generation IV Nuclear Energy Accession) is based on a range of grounds, including:
The lack of transparency regarding the costs to the Australian taxpayer over an undefined period of time;
The technology that this agreement relates to is prohibited under Australian law and its promotion is inconsistent with the public and national interest;
The lack of consideration of the global energy trends away from nuclear technology;
The lack of procedural fairness in refusing adequate public hearings and consideration of public submissions;
An unjustified reliance on the submissions from the highly partisan Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The Australian Greens note that ANSTO is not a disinterested party in this policy arena. Furthermore, ANSTO has made a number of unfounded assertions, particularly regarding the Agreement’s impact on Australia’s standing on nuclear non-proliferation.
Unchecked capacity and resourcing
The timeframe for the agreement is loosely stated as being between 10 and 40 years. Over this period there is a commitment for Australia to pledge resources and capacity at the expense of Australian taxpayers. In exchange for this undefined public expense for an undefined period of time, there is no clear public benefit – given that the technology is, properly and popularly, prohibited in this country.
Point 4.20 states that the Framework is in essence about spreading the significant costs associated with the development of Generation IV reactors. In public submissions made to JSCOT there are detailed cost estimates for individual projects that are all in the range of billions of dollars. There have been numerous delays, cost constraints and problems with the various types of reactors described as Generation IV. While some countries continue to pursue this technology, there is no clear end-game in sight and many nations are stepping away from this sector. Most Generation IV reactors only exist on paper while some others are modified plans of expensive failed projects but are still just conceptual.
It is understandable that countries who are invested in Generation IV would seek to transfer costs and inflate the potential benefits. It is unreasonable, however, for a Government agency to commit Australian resources to fund and develop this technology which is decades away from being anything more than a concept.
ANSTO submits in the National Interest Analysis that the “costs of participation in the Systems Arrangements will be borne by ANSTO from existing funds”. The Australian Greens note that in the last financial year ANSTO reported a loss of $200 million (including $156 million in subsidies). The commitment of funds and resourcing from an agency that operates with an existing deficit that is already funded by the Australian people is fiscally irresponsible and has not been investigated through the JSCOT process.
The Australian Greens maintain that there is a particular need for the rationale of any contested public expenditure to be rigorously tested. Sadly, this Committee has failed in this role.
Point 4.24 of the report states that “Australia was required to demonstrate that it could contribute to the research and development goals of the GIF” yet the inquiry process failed to establish exactly what form those contributions will take and the cost of those contributions to the Australian people.
Point 4.39 on the question of nuclear power in Australia brushes aside the fundamental issue that the future of nuclear energy in Australia is entirely dependent on changing Commonwealth laws.
Report 171 section 4 fails to acknowledge that the technology in question is prohibited under two separate pieces of Commonwealth legislation:
Section 37J of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999;
Section 10 of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998.
These Acts reflect considered positions, public opinion and the environmental and economic risk associated with nuclear technology which has repeatedly proved to be dangerous and expensive. The position reflected in these laws has been repeatedly reiterated in subsequent Government reports into the technology and prospects for development in Australia. For example:
The Switkowski Report – Uranium Mining, Processing, and Nuclear Energy – opportunities for Australia? (2006)
The Australian Power Generation Technology Report – Summary (Nov 2015)
Department of Energy and Science Energy White Paper (2015)
Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (South Australia) (May 2016)
These reports all arrive at the same conclusion: that there is no case to develop nuclear power in Australia, albeit for different reasons. These reasons include costs, time constraints, legal constraints, public opposition, restrictions on availability of water and other environmental factors.
Lack of Procedural Fairness and over reliance on evidence from ANSTO
ANSTO has pursued this agreement, signed the agreement, will be responsible for enacting the agreement, drove the National Interest Analysis and were the only agency invited to present at a hearing. This agency is publicly funded, has run at a deficit, and is seeking to further commit Australian resources to a technology that is not only unpopular but is prohibited under Australian legislation.
There is a wide range of experts and public interest groups who have lodged detailed submissions and requested an audience with the Committee to offer some scrutiny and balance to the highly selective view of Generation IV options presented by ANSTO.
These submissions are barely mentioned in Report 171 and additional public hearings were denied. This level secrecy and denial of procedural fairness is of grave concern and, while out of character for JSCOT, is very much in line with the secrecy synonymous with ANSTO and the wider nuclear industry.
Australia’s accessibility to nuclear technology and standing on nuclear non-proliferation
ANSTO claim in the NIA that a failure to accede “would impede Australia’s ability to remain constructively engaged in international nuclear activities and would limit our ability to forge links with international experts at a time when a significant expansion in nuclear power production is underway……. It would diminish Australia’s standing in international nuclear non-proliferation and our ability to influence international nuclear policy developments in accordance with our national economic and security interests.”
The Australian Greens understand that Australia currently pays $10 million per annum to the International Atomic Energy Agency which grants us access to the safety and regulatory fora and to publicly published research. Where there is a commercial interest in the technology this would no doubt be made available to Australia at a price – but a price not borne by the taxpayer in this crude subsidy by stealth proposed in report 171 (Section 4).
Claims that our failure to accede would somehow diminish our standing on nuclear non-proliferation are absurd. While the industry might promote Generation IV as addressing issues of nuclear non-proliferation there is little concrete evidence that it can or ever would be done. It was the same promise industry proponents made about Generation III reactors and failed to deliver.
Australia’s standing on nuclear non-proliferation is currently being diminished because this Government is actively boycotting the current UN process supported by 132 nations on negotiating a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, not because our country has not been funding research into nuclear power.
The Australian Greens fundamentally dissent from this Committee’s findings and believe that no compelling or credible case has been made to proceed with the treaty action. Rushed, limited and opaque decision making processes are a poor basis for public funding allocations in a contested policy arena.
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young
Australian Greens Senator