18 March 2015
Senator DAY: I move:
That the Senate—
(a) welcomes the South Australian Government’s Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle;
(b) notes That the Prime Minister (Mr Abbott) said recently ‘it’s important to see how South Australia can benefit from greater participation in the nuclear cycle’; and
(c) informs the South Australian Royal Commission of this resolution.
Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Amendment Bill 2015
18 August 2015
My home state of South Australia—I like starting a speech with ‘My home state of South Australia’; it just gets me off on the right foot—amongst other things, is blessed with significant uranium deposits. On a per capita basis we have, perhaps, the most in the world.
Let me mention a former state Labor MP, the late Mr Norm Foster. He was one of the first members in the other place for the electorate of Sturt. He then became a member of the South Australian Legislative Council. In 1982 Norm Foster crossed the floor in the state parliament to get uranium mining underway at Olympic Dam, in South Australia. In expressing his conscience in support of that state, Norm Foster resigned from the Labor Party, to perhaps avoid being expelled for going against party policy. Thankfully, history and the Labor Party were kinder to him in later years and he is now hailed as a hero in South Australia. It just goes to show, though, that sometimes groupthink has to be taken head-on, no matter what the cost. When this legislation was created in 1998, a provision was inserted by the Greens, to automatically ban certain types of nuclear activity and installations.
Senator DAY: I thank Senator Ludlam for his interjection; he still holds to that view 20 years later. I want to highlight that this is not the end of the debate, if the amendment is defeated. It is not even the beginning of the end. I accept that the government was perhaps housekeeping in this particular legislative area and then along I came, opportunistically, with an amendment about nuclear installations. And when you come from South Australia you take every opportunity that you can. I get that. I also want colleagues to get that, when it comes to a nuclear future for South Australia—and my South Australian colleague Senator Edwards and indeed a number of other coalition senators have offered encouraging words to me in support of this amendment—I and others from South Australia and no doubt other senators from other states support that, and breaking down the barriers to get on with the nuclear fuel cycle and industry for South Australia.
A royal commission into the nuclear fuel cycle has been instituted in South Australia and, to its great credit, state Labor got this underway. My party, the Family First Party, has welcomed and supported that. I note that it has been reported that the South Australian government’s Attorney-General’s Department is already preparing tenders for consultants to bid for the work in preparing business cases for the very things that are described and banned outright in section 10 of the act. This move is designed to clear and improve the business case for South Australia participating more broadly in the nuclear fuel cycle.
I want to also make it clear that a nuclear spent fuel facility is already permissible at law, although the Greens also tried to stop that in 1998. We need and already have low-level facilities, but these are presently licensed by the authority.
I also want to talk about nuclear submarines. I want to emphasise, again, that I support nuclear-powered submarines, not nuclear-armed submarines. Some of our major allies have nuclear-powered submarines, not least of which are the UK and the United States. The generation of submarines currently under the competitive evaluation process will of course be conventional submarines. But I hope that the next generation after that will be nuclear, because there is no doubt that these provide the tactical superiority and particular range that a large and relatively remote nation such as Australia needs. Informed opinion tells us that Australia’s defence needs are for 12 submarines, six conventional and six nuclear powered.
Having a nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear industry will greatly improve the prospects of us establishing a nuclear submarine industry and, indeed, developing local talent. We could work, for example, in partnership with, say, the United Kingdom or the United States and progress towards having our own nuclear industry, supporting nuclear-powered submarines.
With respect to international comparisons, let me just outline for the benefit of senators where Australia presently sits in comparison with its major trading partners when it comes to the types of facilities described in section 10 of the act. Thirty-three nations have nuclear power and 19 of those nations have nuclear fuel fabrication. Eleven nations have nuclear enrichment plants. There are seven nations with reprocessing facilities. Australia is one of just four out the 20 G20 nations that does not have nuclear power. Eighteen of the 34 OECD nations have nuclear power, and Australia of course is not one of them. So nuclear energy and its fuel cycle is not an international pariah as some might suggest; in fact, far from it.
I want to move on to consider small, modular reactors, which Senator Leyonhjelm mentioned a short time ago. I have learnt a little bit about this aspect of nuclear energy. Let me tell you about small modular reactors, SMRs for short. In brief, they are small, economically efficient, reliable nuclear energy sources— they are assembled in-house and then shipped to the desired locations. They are often destined for remote locations as they require few staff and have fewer containment issues.
There is no need for long transmission powerlines with these small modular reactors in remote locations, and South Australia of course has abundant remote locations. There is a smaller power output relative to the larger power plants, and the initial construction costs are much lower by comparison. SMRs produce between 10 and 300 megawatts, compared to 1,000 megawatts for a typically large reactor. SMRs have load-following designs so that when electricity demands are low they produce a lower amount of electricity. They are fast reactors and are designed to have higher fuel burn-up rates, reducing the amount of spent fuel produced. And, importantly, they use low enriched uranium, which is non-weapons-grade uranium. This makes the fuel less desirable for weapons production, supporting non-proliferation.
Let me talk about the knowledge economy in South Australia. We are hearing much these days about improving our international competitiveness and giving our own young people reason to stay in Australia, in South Australia in particular. It is a worthwhile debate to have, and that mentality was a driving force behind the Medical Research Future Fund debate, with scientists writing to us, urging us, that our best and brightest were going overseas to pursue research opportunities.
I ask my colleagues today in this debate: where will the next Albert Einstein come from? Will they be Australian? Where will the next Ernest Rutherford come from? He was a New Zealander. South Australia has produced a Howard Florey. Will we one day develop the equivalent of a hadron collider in South Australia?
I have somewhat of a background in science and I have to say it is very discouraging when you have a law saying that some science is completely off-limits, even though you have other nations in the world delivering significant benefits to their citizens.
Will we one day celebrate a huge leap forward in scientific technology? Lockheed Martin are saying they are close to doing that with nuclear fusion. Will that involve a former Australian citizen who went to Britain, somewhere friendlier, to do nuclear science? What a shame that would be. We embrace nuclear medicine and its benefits to our health, and we ought to be embracing the nuclear fuel cycle also.
I moved this amendment because it is simply illogical to have a law saying that you simply will not entertain certain technologies. By all means, if you want to impose strict licence conditions so be it; do so. We know that regulation rules out a host of other things already because it makes it uneconomic to proceed, yet it is regulatory extremism to statutorily ban certain things from ever being considered. The 1998 provision was not opposed by the major parties because they were not looking this far into the future. My amendment is designed to get the parliament to reconsider the future, and to vote in favour of the future, by supporting this amendment.
In summing up, I thank my colleagues for their contributions on my amendment. I would particularly like to thank my colleague Senator Leyonhjelm for his support. In response to Senator McLucas suggesting that my amendment would fundamentally change energy policy, I was not suggesting that but rather just removing a ban on even considering these things at the first hurdle. Whether my amendment represented a fundamental change in energy policy, I thank Senator McLucas for her compliment.
In response to Senator Ludlam’s comments, he makes my point exactly. He says that there is no nuclear fuel cycle. What have the last hundred years of brilliant discoveries and inventions been all about? We used to burn off gas from oil refineries and now it is recycled. Methane used to leak out of rubbish dumps and now it is harnessed and used for fuel. And there are all the medical breakthroughs. I think Senator Ludlam’s short-sighted approach, saying, ‘We can’t allow it because we haven’t done anything yet,’ is my whole point. The whole point is where might the next big medical or scientific breakthrough come from?
Collision Course: The range, speed and capability of nuclear submarines is extremely potent
IF Australia is to be a significant regional presence in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, it needs a submarine fleet that is respected by our allies and (potential) enemies alike.
October 15, 2014
THE current submarine construction furore is largely focused on whether the Government will stick to its 2013 commitment to continue building submarines in South Australia or buy an ‘‘off-the-shelf’’ model from Japan.
On this subject, one thing is not in contention: if Australia is to be a significant regional presence in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, it needs a submarine fleet that is respected by our allies and (potential) enemies alike.
The reality and universal thinking for Australia’s future defence needs is that we need 12 submarines – six conventional diesel-powered submarines and six nuclear-powered vessels (nuclear-powered, not nuclear-armed) to replace the current fleet of six Collins Class submarines.
Australia is a huge continent and the range, speed and capability of nuclear submarines is extremely potent.
So it is very disappointing that the Federal Government has decided that it does not want to talk about nuclear submarines, despite a number of our G20 national colleagues having full nuclear enrichment capabilities.
The short-term, next election thinking that has prevailed in Australian politics – and has done so as far back as when SA was paralysed on the question of mining uranium until the late Norm Foster crossed the floor to support it – does our nation a great disservice.
Foster supported the development of SA’s uranium resources against the wishes of his ALP caucus colleagues and was summarily expelled from the party. Today, of course, he is hailed as a party hero and the former Federal Labor government began negotiations on a uranium export deal with India.
As so often happens, after your death they build a monument to you with the stones they threw at you when you were alive.
Now I know Premier Jay Weatherill called me ‘‘an enemy of the state’’ because I criticised his health funding policy. But on this subject I suggest he take a leaf out of the book of former minister for the navy and my mentor and hero Bert Kelly, and take a bipartisan approach.
“Real debate”, Bert used to say, was “party-neutral”. Defence is all too important for political point-scoring.
The current Federal Government needs to show the same sort of courage and sensible thinking displayed by Norm Foster by putting all legitimate options on the table. That is why I am urging it to consider nuclear submarines.
The UK’s Astute class submarines cost about $2 billion each. They are equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles and torpedoes and have long mission operation duration. The UK is investing significantly in submarine construction, and through recent treaty enhancements with Australia we could be a primary beneficiary of the construction of the new subs.
We could rotate our engineers and workforce through the UK to learn from them with a view to eventually building those submarines here. The opportunity to lower cost, ensure the latest technology and build our domestic skills capacity would all be enhanced by a joint venture.
Further, ‘‘nuclear culture’’ and submarine capability are so important I believe the Government should be considering a fourth arm of the defence forces, separate from the navy. That is, should the Royal Australian Submarine Corps be established?