The Economics of a Third Nuclear Reactor
ANSTO states that a new nuclear reactor "is expected to cost in the vicinity of $300 million". In reality it will cost far more. Actual reactor costs have been shown to greatly exceed estimates. For example, the estimated $130m for Indonesia's RSG-GAS reactor blew out to $580m. ( Franz Berkhout, Submission to RRR, 7 May 1993, Annexure E p. 4.)
Costs for decommissioning all three Australian reactors need to be factored into the analysis. The cost of decommissioning HIFAR is estimated to be around $70million and cost of decommissioning a new reactor would probably be comparable. ANSTO has no funds allocated for decommissioning. Such funding would be provided from the public purse by the government.
$90million has been put aside by the federal Government for reprocessing ANSTO's existing spent fuel rods overseas.
Reprocessing fuel rods from a new reactor would be an on-going expense and ANSTO is proposing to continue overseas reprocessing as its main option. Alternatively, building a small radioactive waste reprocessing plant in Australia would cost around $90million based on ANSTO's own estimates.
Then there is the cost of a nuclear waste dump which must be considered. The 1993 McKinnon Report recommended that a dump for High Level waste be built. Although there has been no estimate of costs for a dump in Australia - and the government denies that one is needed - one US estimate suggests $17 billion for a single repository. This included $11 billion for studies and research into the suitability of the site. In the UK $750 million was spent for research into a deep underground radioactive waste dump at Sellafield, before the proposal was finally shelved!
For the past 17 years and more seriously for the last four years, a search has been going on for a national dump to take Low Level and short lived Intermediate Level waste. The Department of Primary Industry and Energy has refused to give even an estimate of the cost until a site has actually been verified. Based on European studies it could cost up to $200million.
Social and environmental costs of a new reactor must include consideration of the environmental and health costs to the community, as concluded by the Research Reactor Review (RRR p. 137 11.4). This includes the cost of sickness, death, genetic abnormalities, loss of property values in the event of an accident, contamination of the atmosphere and waterways and the impact of long-lived radioactive waste on the environment. Sadly none of these issues have ever been studied by the government departments which have a duty of care to the community.
No insurance is available to the public against a nuclear accident.
A third reactor is unlikely to bring economic advantages. The existing reactors have been unprofitable, costing taxpayers in the order of $65m each year in subsidies. Overseas research reactors have not proved cost-effective. For example, two DIDO (HIFAR-type) reactors at Harwell were closed in 1990 purely on economic grounds.
ANSTO uses the isotope market of south-east Asia to argue that a new reactor will bring economic benefits. However, "The developing markets for radiopharmaceuticals in Asia are likely to be captured by the large, aggressive and integrated American and European radiopharmaceuticals companies. ANSTO is starting from a very low base, and does not appear well-positioned to enter foreign markets. If anything, it may find itself fighting to defend the domestic market." (Franz Berkhout, Submission to RRR, 7 My 1993, Annexure D p. 9).
Overseas isotope suppliers are developing dedicated production reactors which will enable to them to produce isotopes more cheaply and efficiently than Australia could.
There is a world glut of technetium 99M, the most commonly used isotope for diagnosis.
ANSTO states that its staff bring economic benefits to the local community. This would not change if ANSTO were developed into a non-reactor based science and technology park.
ANSTO estimates that "800 jobs will be created during the construction phase of the project, with more than half the expenditure on the new reactor to occur in Australia. (ANSTO Website). At a recent Senate Estimates Committee meeting, ANSTO's Executive Director was unable to justify this figure saying that "the job estimates had been arrived at by parties other than ourselves". This means that upwards of $150 million will be paid overseas. Investing $1 billion in construction, research and the health industry would create many more jobs and be more cost-effective than investing in a new nuclear reactor. ANSTO itself has stated that a new reactor would employ fewer people than the existing reactor!
According to Professor John Stocker, former head of the CSIRO and now Australia's chief scientist "Any decision (for a new reactor) should be on rational economic and national benefit grounds" and "For the foreseeable future the direct commercial returns appear unlikely to justify the investment in a new reactor and alternative means of supplying research and commercial needs may be more cost-effective." (Submission to RRR, 1993 pg. 1)
In a climate of stringent economic control and financial cut-backs to many social ervices, the enormous cost of a new nuclear reactor cannot be justified. A wiser course would be to fund a broader range of scientific and technological projects.
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