Like many things in South Australia, the state’s plans to gain amazing wealth by going nuclear have flown under the radar of national attention. Outside of SA, little has been said about its Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, which had recommended that the state develop an international nuclear waste dump.
That changed this weekend, when a citizens’ jury convened to assess the proposal “overwhelmingly” rejected the idea. Key issues for the jury were faith in the Royal Commission itself and the claims of the Commission’s economists, with 82% rejecting the claimed economic benefits.
And no wonder.
The citizens’ jury was told by the lead author of the Commission’s economic study, the study that the $50 billion benefit claims is based on, that:
“We’re an independent consultant. We don’t have any position regarding the waste project. We were commissioned by the Royal Commission to identify and provide them reference wherever possible to data, which they could use in their report. We don’t come as a proponent or an opponent.” (watch at about 30:00 minute mark)
The key question is who he means by “we”. The speaker, Tim Johnson, is from Jacobs, who have “more than fifty years of experience across the complete nuclear asset lifecycle … to help our clients achieve their objectives.”
So while Jacob’s claim of independence is debatable, the same cannot be said of their co-consultants MCM.
To see this, and to make sense of the whole nuclear waste dump proposal, you need to go back to the 1990s when a company called Pangea Resources proposed exactly the same idea in Western Australia — take nuclear waste from around the world, bury it deep underground and commission economic modelling to convince the public it’s in their interests. (WA were promised $200 billion!)
Pangea were tossed out of WA with former Industry Minister Nick Minchin saying:
“I mean you might as well suggest that Australia take the world’s prison population — you know we’ve got plenty of space, why not build a great big prison in Alice Springs and take all the world’s prisoners? Well you know that’s, that’s ridiculous. So is this proposal.”
Pangea learned their lesson. A foreign company trying to import nuclear waste into Australia needs more than just the idea of putting it in a remote area and a promise of money.
Pangea transformed itself from a company into a lobby group called ARIUS, the Association for Regional and International Underground Storage:
“Pangea ceased operations in 2001 when the owners decided that the commercial prospects for an international repository were too far into the future to justify the investment required…Arius was born from this change of emphasis, and the Pangea management team was instrumental in founding the new Association.”
ARIUS is funded by nuclear, waste management and construction firms and government agencies as well as US philanthropists. Most of its members have an interest in either using or building an international nuclear waste dump. The association “promotes concepts” for radioactive waste disposal in places as diverse as Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.
ARIUS’s president and vice president are Charles McCombie and Neil Chapman. McCombie and Chapman are the “M” and the “C” in MCM, the consultants that co-wrote the SA Royal Commission’s economic assessment of the international waste dump proposal (see page 2).
In fact, McCombie and Chapman co-wrote two reports with Jacobs and independently wrote four reports for the Royal Commission, never disclosing their relationship with ARIUS or Pangea. One report was even on the history of geological nuclear waste disposal, but failed to report their own role in that history.
It’s not that MCM are shy about this role. They boast about it on their website, saying “MCM provided a range of input to the Commission, with much of the information being used in the final report … A positive response of the government to the Royal Commission report would change the worldwide paradigm of radioactive waste management for all [radioactive waste] programmes in almost every country.”
Let’s be clear on what this means — lobbyists and former nuclear company executives co-wrote large parts of the SA Nuclear Royal Commission report.
Is it really any surprise that the citizens’ jury didn’t want a bar of it?
Rod Campbell is research director at The Australia Institute and co-author of the Institute’s submission to the South Australian Royal Commission.