Today is the 5th anniversary of the Fukushima accident. It comes at a time when my state (South Australia) is contemplating setting up a nuclear waste depository. Proponents say that this would close the circle of the nuclear fuel cycle, since Australia mines and exports much of the world’s uranium ore. Opponents point to the obvious risks.
Mrs SG and I have second-hand experience of the consequences of mismanagement in the nuclear industry, having spent two years in Belarus and longer in Ukraine, both countries still heavily affected by the Chernobyl disaster. But on balance I support continuation and expansion of nuclear power generation and, as a corollary, the reprocessing and safe storage of spent nuclear fuel.
I also support South Australia’s entry into this final stage of the fuel cycle. We have a huge area of desert, with no ground water vulnerable to contamination, and stable geology. And having lost our automotive and most other manufacturing industries, what else are we going to do to maintain our material living standards?
Every economic unit – be it a country, a state, a town, an enterprise or a household – has to find an economic niche where it has an advantage. Saudi Arabia has oil. Singapore has a great harbour in a great location, a lot of smart people and ready access to cheap labour in neighbouring countries. New Zealand has sheep and cows and the Tolkien films.
If one’s natural endowments cannot support the lifestyle to which one aspires, one has to look for economic activities that other people don’t want to be involved with. They may be dirty, risky or morally questionable. In most cases they require changes in policy and law. I’m thinking of assisted suicide services, driverless cars, drugs trials on human subjects, legalisation of marijuana, storing other countries’ unwanted migrants… and storing other countries’ nuclear waste.