NUCLEAR WASTE STORAGE FACILITY (PROHIBITION) BILL 1999
SECOND READING


NUCLEAR WASTE STORAGE FACILITY (PROHIBITION) BILL 1999 - SECOND READING
House:LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY- SECOND READING
Date:4.01 PM WEDNESDAY, 8 September 1999
Member:
Member:Gallop, Dr Geoff
Subject:NUCLEAR WASTE STORAGE FACILITY (PROHIBITION) BILL 1999 - SECOND READING
Page:886 / 1

It is the technological, social and, most importantly, the environmental issues that go to the heart of the public's concerns. The public is aware that nuclear waste is highly radioactive and that it contains Pu-239, which can be used to make nuclear weapons. Also, several previous attempts at waste disposal have failed and led to the contamination of the environment.

Western Australians are telling their elected representatives that their progress, wellbeing and quality of life are not solely dependent upon, nor measured by, the gross state product. It is fair to say that the Western Australian public has a much broader and, indeed, better balanced view of its wellbeing than Governments and decision makers have recognised. In any event, as the Access Economics study points out, the long term care of the facility after its closure must be factored into any purported financial benefits.

The site would be operational for a 40-year period. After that time, all the responsibility - legal, financial, security and environmental - would be Australia's. We would be talking of another 10 000 to 20 000 years, which is hardly an insignificant time in human history and all the mistakes that can be made.

As to safety, Pangea claims that its operations will be undertaken to the highest safety standards, with the risk minimised. To quote Pangea's own promotional material, the risk will be "in line with ALARP (as low as reasonably practicable) principles". Pangea's standards for the facility's long term safety are based on not exposing future generations to any risks that are higher than those judged acceptable by today's population. Firstly, this standard excludes the possibility that future research may show that higher levels of safety standards and practices than we know of today are needed. Secondly, the public knows that nothing is risk-free. There are no guarantees that even a well-resourced and planned strategy would be effective to ensure the site's safety and security; for example, in cases of natural disasters or even terrorist attacks.

The environmental impact and the risks during transportation are other reasons for public concern. Among Western Australia's greatest attractions are its natural beauty and its clean, green image. This means that Western Australians are able to enjoy a wonderful quality of life that is hard to beat. It is also the major drawcard for tourists to this State. An international nuclear waste dump, wherever it is located, would have a devastating impact on the tourism industry. I know this is of grave concern to many people in the industry. It would make a mockery of our image as a clean and green State.

The environmental concerns are not restricted to the site itself, but involve all sectors of the transportation chain, from the country where the waste is generated - the United States, Britain or Europe - to its eventual disposal in Western Australia. This will involve transporting the waste by sea to Western Australia and then overland by rail or road to the site itself. It is worthwhile remembering that in other countries, such as Germany, there has frequently been a public outcry and controversy about the transportation of radioactive wastes and other nuclear materials within and across national borders. For example, in 1997 in Germany, 30 000 police in full riot gear were needed to protect the first shipment of nuclear waste in that country, at a cost of more than $57m. That was coupled with extensive public disruption and sabotage of the railway lines. A subsequent shipment also resulted in serious protests and violence. Later, all shipments were halted because of the discovery of contamination from the casks used to ship the waste. Despite the public outcry over the Pangea proposal, the responses at both federal and state levels are best described as ambivalent.

I acknowledge that government ministers have given assurances that it is currently not government policy to import high-level nuclear waste. Last month a motion was moved in the federal Senate opposing the Pangea proposal and it was unanimously supported by all parties. However, the public remains concerned. The public is not convinced that either coalition Government is genuinely committed to opposing the proposal. For example, we know that a Pangea representative has already met with Wilson Tuckey, the federal Forestry and Conservation Minister. Senator Ross Lightfoot has also predicted that more than half of the coalition members of Parliament would support the project. Only last week, the federal member for Kalgoorlie said that the proposal may well have to be considered in the future.

Of course, more significant for the debate in this Parliament is the response of the State Government and its members. The Deputy Premier has confirmed that he and the Premier's former chief of staff met with representatives of Pangea Resources in November 1997. Since those meetings, the Premier's office has received updates from Pangea about its progress and approaches to industry.

In many respects, however, what is more disturbing are the attempts by some senior coalition members to draw a link between mining uranium and a so-called obligation that we have to accept imported nuclear waste as a result of this mining activity. This is contrary to the present international understanding that each country is ethically and legally responsible for the disposal of any nuclear wastes it has generated. The state Labor Party supports this approach, and I was pleased to see in the Sunday Times on 29 August that the Premier also accepts that Western Australia should not be expected to import other countries' nuclear waste.

The member for Cottesloe has publicly stated his support for the establishment of a uranium industry in Western Australia. In respect of the nuclear waste dump proposal, in answer to a question on notice dated 1 July he stated -
      I think that any country is a significant uranium producer has some moral and international responsibility to be part of the debate on the disposal of nuclear waste.

Trying to draw this link between uranium mining and the disposal of nuclear waste gives rise to many questions about the Government's future intentions in respect of the Pangea and similar proposals.

Labor recognises that there is a high degree of public scepticism about official claims that it is not government policy to allow an international nuclear waste dump in this State. Unfortunately, there is a basis for this public scepticism, when people remember that the Premier said "no" to a gold royalty before the 1996 state election, and then promptly introduced one after winning a second term. The Prime Minister promised that he would "never ever" introduce a goods and services