A high-powered delegation of South Australian business leaders and parliamentarians will jet off to Europe next month to visit key nuclear sites in a bid to facilitate a community debate on the merits of expanding the state’s role in the nuclear fuel cycle.
The trip was organised after consultation with Kevin Scarce’s Royal Commission, which last month handed down tentative findings outlining a multi-billion-dollar economic boon if SA established a high-level nuclear waste dump.
The delegation – to be capped at 10, plus prospective MPs and their staff – was organised by the Committee for Adelaide, an independent think-tank of community leaders, and will likely include representatives from environmental business consultants Golders, property group Knight Frank, engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald and Business SA, among others.
Committee for Adelaide general manager Matt Clemow told InDaily the tour would take in France, Finland, the UK and possibly Sweden, and was designed “to understand the issues and opportunities involved in the nuclear fuel cycle with specific focus on safety, alignment with agriculture and tourism, and associated industry regulations”.
“From the very start, one of the key purposes of the Committee for Adelaide was for industry to take a leadership role in important decisions,” he said.
“Our members have taken the view you can’t leave all the responsibility with governments… when there are difficult community discussions, industry should play an important role in the business debate as well as the public debate.”
The trip is designed to give those industry leaders an insight into the opportunities and challenges arising from the Royal Commission’s recommendations, “to provide SA businesses with a better understanding of the nuclear fuel cycle and how they may be able to participate”, with a focus on areas such as transport security, data security and logistics.
The tour also aims “to create a cohort of SA people who have experienced the operations of the nuclear fuel cycle and will be able to contribute to the public discourse”.
The delegation – whose members will pay their own way – departs in late April, returning the day before Scarce hands down his final recommendations on May 6.
It will visit France, to assess how that country balances its nuclear zeal with a thriving food, wine and tourism reputation, and then travel to the UK to assess Britain’s nuclear industry expansion “and the regulatory background against which they have been developed, with a focus on decommissioning”.
It will also tour facilities in Finland – where the law stipulates waste produced locally must be disposed of locally – to “gain understanding of ‘whole of cycle’ operations pertaining to the broader Nuclear Energy Sector and value-adding components of the nuclear fuel cycle and their ethical concerns about treatment of waste”.
Clemow says the trip was inspired in part by a concern raised anecdotally with him by an executive of nuclear company Areva, who told him of difficulty convincing suppliers and the France-based board that the Royal Commission was a “serious investigation, rather than a review by a [regional] parliamentary committee”.
“We went back to the Royal Commission and said ‘we want to reinforce in industry a sense that South Australians take this commission seriously, [that] it’s not just a frolic’,” Clemow recalled.
The committee established a list of sites the Commission deemed worthy of revisiting.
“We’ve had the view since before the announcement of the Royal Commission that it was very important the committee has a view on [uranium] and it’s settled,” he said.
“We went to the Royal Commission and said ‘How can we help?’ We were very clear if there was community interface that’s needed, we’re happy to play a part in that.”
Business SA chief Nigel McBride, who will join the tour, told InDaily the delegation would examine “what most people regard as a state-of-the-art piece of engineering [in terms of a] high-level waste repository”.
We don’t want to see people rely on fear and oozing-green Simpsons-cartoon-like imagery
“I also personally want to talk about sovereign funds, and how they can work in situations where this kind of industry can be created,” he said.
He was keen to visit sites around the French Champagne region to assess “brand risks”.
“Will [nuclear] undermine our state brand, of fresh food, clean green [exports]?” he said.
“It’s really important that if we want a proper debate, we need to be informed, we need to see all sides of the picture… we need to see what a world-class repository looks like.”
He said a genuine debate on nuclear storage was “an absolute no-brainer” but emphasised that “people are saying it’s a done deal – it’s not”.
However, he said the debate should not be governed by “misinformation and fear, rather than fact”.
“We don’t want to see people rely on fear and oozing greenSimpsons-cartoon-like imagery,” he said.
“We want to get the facts from the horses’ mouth, of people on the ground working on these things.”
Pro-nuclear Labor whip Tom Kenyon is likely to join the delegation, while Liberal whip Peter Treloar confirmed: “I’ve had a couple of my Opposition colleagues express some interest in it.”
Treloar himself says he has been “very supportive of the Royal Commission and very interested in it”.
He wrote on his blog in October after visiting the Lucas Heights reactor in NSW: “It’s my personal view that we shouldn’t sugar-coat the fact that we have a struggling state economy – an expanded nuclear industry presents us with a unique opportunity to turn around our economic fortunes.”
However, he told InDaily: “I can’t fit this trip in my schedule.”
Liberal MP Adrian Pedrick has also expressed an interest, but is yet to “fully commit”.
“Certainly, I’ve got a keen interest to see how [the nuclear industry] operates elsewhere,” he said.
“I’d like to be as well-informed as I can before we go down any path.”