On Monday, the Scarce Royal Commission released its preliminary findings into nuclear power for South Australia. The findings, among other things, suggest that there is a significant positive fiscal case for accepting nuclear waste storage in South Australia. According to estimates in the report, accepting nuclear waste could net the state an average of $5.6 billion in its first 30 years of operation. In addition to this, the report finds that there would be an additional economic benefit in excess of two billion dollars for the following 43 years. The report also looked at options such as nuclear electricity generation, domestic processing and manufacture and expansion of uranium mining. However, the economic benefits for all three of these options were considerably weaker and not viable in the short term in the way a nuclear storage facility would be.
Though the initial findings of the report have been welcomed by many, there are some South Australians who are unconvinced about the benefits of nuclear waste storage for the state. The most vocal of these critics include the South Australian Greens as well as various environmental and anti-nuclear groups. Greens MLC Mark Parnell was dismissive of the findings, claiming that the report does not take into account the various costs of processing nuclear material, shipping nuclear waste to Australia as well as the cost of infrastructure. He claimed that the report was biased and “all about the dump”. Locals from the proposed site for the facility in South Australia’s Kimba region are also currently opposed to any such facility.
The economic lifeline that storing nuclear waste as well as from related industries is simply too important for South Australia to dismiss outright. It is no secret that South Australia is in a precarious economic position and has performed worse than other Australian states for a long time now. According to the findings of the Scarce Commission, the windfall from a nuclear storage facility could amount to over five billion dollars a year for several decades, or the equivalent to one-third of the current revenue the government takes in yearly, which is approximately 16 billion dollars. For an economy like that of South Australia, which is struggling to transition from the mining boom as well as the imminent closure of major manufacturing plants, nuclear storage revenue would grant the local economy some much-needed stability and revenue. Premier Jay Weatherill has, encouragingly, hinted tentatively at support for a nuclear storage facility, according to SA Labor insiders. This is despite opposition from federal Labor leader Bill Shorten, as well as much of the political Left in Australia.
It is important to re-iterate that these are only the preliminary findings. The full findings of the report will not be released until May. Even once the full findings are released, an extensive and robust debate in the community will need to occur before anything is finalised. As Commissioner Kevin Scarce states in the report, a bipartisan political approach as well as broad community support is required in order to make a nuclear storage facility in South Australia a reality. The findings released so far, however, are clearly encouraging in terms of exploring options related to nuclear power.