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Spent Matters: The AUKUS Nuclear Waste Problem

When Australia – vassal be thy name – assumed responsibilities for not only throwing money at both US and British shipbuilders, lending up territory and naval facilities for war like a gambling drunk, and essentially asking its officials to commit seppuku for the Imperium, another task was given. While the ditzy and dunderheaded wonders in Canberra would be acquiring submarines with nuclear propulsion technology, there would be that rather problematic issue of what to do with the waste. “Yes,” said the obliging Australians, “we will deal with it.”

The Australian Defence Department has published a fact sheet on the matter, which, as all such fact sheets go, fudges the facts and sports a degree of misplaced optimism. It promises a “sophisticated security and safety architecture” around the nuclear-powered submarine program, “building on our 70-year unblemished track record of operating nuclear facilities and conducting nuclear science activities.”

This record, which is rather more blemished than officials would care to admit, does not extend to the specific issues arising from maintaining a nuclear-powered submarine fleet and the high-level waste that would require shielding and cooling. In the context of such a vessel, this would entail pulling out and disposing of the reactor once the submarine is decommissioned.

Australia’s experience, to date, only extends to the storage of low-level waste and intermediate-level waste arising from nuclear medicine and laboratory research, with the low-level variant being stored at over a hundred sites in the country. That situation has been regarded as unsustainable and politically contentious.

The department admits that the storage and disposal of such waste and spent fuel will require necessary facilities and trained personnel, appropriate transport, interim and permanent storage facilities and “social license earned and sustained with local and regional communities.” But it also notes that the UK and the US “will assist Australia in developing this capability, leveraging Australia’s decades of safely and securely managing radioactive waste domestically”.

That’s mighty good of them to do so, given that both countries have failed to move beyond the problem of temporary storage. In the UK, the issue of disposing waste from decommissioned nuclear submarines remains stuck in community consultation. In the US, no option has emerged after the Obama administration killed off a repository program to store waste underneath Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. The reasons for doing so, sulked Republicans at the time, were political rather than technical.

Where, then, will the facilities to store and dispose of such waste be located? “Defence – working with relevant agencies including the Australian Radioactive Waste Agency – will undertake a review in 2023 to identify locations in the current or future Defence estate that could be suitable to store and dispose of intermediate-level waste and high-level waste, including spent fuel.”

The various state premiers are already suggesting that finding a site will be problematic. Both Victoria and Western Australia are pointing fingers at South Australia as the logical option, while Queensland has declared that “under no circumstances” would it permit nuclear waste to be stored. “I think the waste can go where all the jobs are going,” remarked Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. “I don’t think that’s unreasonable, is it?”

Western Australia’s Mark McGowan, in furious agreement, suggested that a site “somewhere remote, somewhere with very good long-term geological structure that doesn’t change or move and somewhere that is defence lands” narrowed down the options. “[T]hat’s why Woomera springs to mind.”

South Australia’s Premier, Peter Malinauskas, insists that the waste should go “where it is in the nation’s interest to put it” and not be a matter of “some domestic political tit-for-tat, or some state-based parochial thing.”

When it comes to storing nuclear waste, parochialism is all but guaranteed. The Australian government is already facing a legal challenge from traditional owners regarding a 2021 decision to locate a nuclear waste site at Kimba in South Australia. The effort to find a site for the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility intended for low and intermediate radioactive waste produced by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation at Lucas Heights, New South Wales, took three decades.

According to members of the First Nations group opposing the decision, the proposed facility risks interfering with a sacred site for women. Dawn Taylor, a Barngarla woman and Kimba resident, told the ABC that, “The Seven Sisters is through that area.” She feared that the waste facility would end up “destroying” the stories associated with the dreaming.

The federal resources minister, Madeleine King, has stated with little conviction that a cultural heritage management plan “informed by the research of the Barngarla people” is in place. “There are strict protocols around the work that is going on right now to make sure there is no disturbance of cultural heritage.”

Local farmers, including the consistently vocal Peter Woolford, are also opposed to the project. “We just can’t understand why you would expose this great agricultural industry we have here in grain production to any potential risk at all by having a nuclear waste dump here.”

The Australian security establishment may well be glorifying in the moment of AUKUS, itself an insensibly parochial gesture of provocation and regional destabilisation, but agitated residents and irate state politicians are promising a good deal of sensible mischief.


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  1. Hotspringer

    Hear hear!!!

  2. Phil Pryor

    Perhaps nuclear spent fuel waste could be turned into suppositories of fizzdom and inserted up conservative politician warmongering, selfish, stupid, dreaming, inadequate threats to sanity, civilisation and our collective future. Any spares might be offered to local nazis to improve their intellectual capacity.

  3. Brad Black

    What about under Lake Burley Griffin? Or Albo’s electorate?

  4. Harry Lime

    Well,having fallen out of the starting blocks in San Diego,with the band not having even secured their instruments,we’re off to a flying fracas of State Premiers frantically dancing the NIMBY.They’ll take the alleged ‘jobs’, but you can stick the waste up your arse.(hi, Phil) The Australian Defence Department fact sheet/lie sheet/toilet sheet/bullsheet,appears to have been written by the CIA, if not the Mad Hatter. AUKUS,USUKA,FUCKUSA,whatever you might call it,is a terrifying,monumental misjudgement.Message to Albo&CO…this didn’t have to happen,and you have shot down a lot of former supporters.

  5. New England Cocky

    Now Binoy, you appear to be copying the precise descriptions made by Phil Pryor when describing politicians. Sadly, I think the Scummo USUKA policy demonstrates that Australian voters need to be sceptical about ALL politicians from both major parties.

    @ Harry Lime: Agreed. [Albanese & Marles the Mediocre] ”have shot down a lot of former supporters”.

  6. margcal

    I can certainly see rusted on Liberals who deserted to the “teals” because of Scummo going back to where they came from. If they’re going to have Liberal policies anyway, especially USUKA, they might as well return to their natural home.

  7. Canguro

    ‘suppositories of fizzdom’…. solid gold comment from Phil Pryor. I’m not one of yer everyday sickophants, but I reckon said commentator orta be nominated as a living treasure for his perspicacity and on the money observations wrt to the issues du jour.

    Farkinghell, if Peter Hollingworth, John Howard and Clive Palmer can make it onto the current list, clear-eyed perspective says there orta be room to bump the bums off and bring in a bit more talent.

  8. mugsey

    Nice one Mr Kampmark. Looking fwd to updates.

  9. Michael Taylor

    From what I hear Port Kembla is the front runner, news of which has angered the locals. And many others, I’d imagine.

  10. Canguro

    It stands to reason that any location chosen to be an Australian base for nuclear powered submarines that house sophisticated weapons systems will be factored into the target grid of any putative hostile combatant… we know who we’re referring to here… entirely understandable that the locals will not be impressed by such speculation.

    Farkinghell… who’d want to be put into the cross-hairs because of a decision to join the planet’s warmonger-in-chief by virtue of an arguably lunatic decision to acquire billions of dollars worth of killing machines?

    Solution? Find a piece of coastline where no-one lives? Or adopt the Chinese model and build islands out in the ocean.

  11. New England Cocky

    Possibly time for my kids to relocate from Wollongong back into the hills to avoid the first impact of a nuclear attack to demolish the USUKA base.

    But if Woomera, as ”Commonwealth land”, can be considered for a nuclear waste dump from the USUKA disaster, then surely that other ”Commonwealth land” at Jervis Bay is the obvious greenfield location for the USUKA nuclear sub base.

    Just think ….. the first government decentralisation development since building Canberra was commenced in 1927.

    Oops!! I wonder if the Aboriginal first owners would agree?

  12. Canguro

    The Aukus deal is a crime against the world’s climate future.

    Thus reads the relevant headline from today’s Guardian opinion piece by Jeff Sparrow, the Walkley award-winning writer, editor and broadcaster, a man whose views on matters of significance are worth paying attention to.

    As he notes, “By the time Australia gets its first nuclear-powered submarines, ecological collapse will already have reshaped world politics,” and locally, “When you think about what the Australian people might require under such ghastly conditions, “nuclear submarines” do not top the list.”

    Those of us with a little more forward vision on these matters might shake our heads in disbelief that the political class and their military minders take such an alternative view of the future.

  13. New England Cocky

    I do enjoy this new type-face.

  14. Michael Taylor

    Thanks, NEC.

    I’m also quite pleased with it.

    My next experiment will be to have the comments larger as well. That might be a bit trickier, though. It would mean editing every comment, just like we have with the articles.

  15. Pingback: This week’s nuclear news | Nuclear Australia

  16. SP,

    Store it at Pine Gap. Next to its rightful owners.

  17. Michael Taylor

    Great idea, SP.

    Love it. That suggestion scores 10/10.

  18. Michael Taylor


    I’m unable to change the font in comments. I’ll have to get our web developer to see what he can do, which involves writing code.

    I can write code in Excel and Access, but not in programs such as WordPress (which is the platform we use for this site).

  19. Clakka

    Oz has an abysmal track record on handling and storage or recycling of any waste. It’s an arrogant, NIMBY set-and-forget scenario based on governments burying science, compromising on the basis of short-term economics, hollowing-out and underfunding the watchdogs, regulation tampering and so forth and so on. And of course it would be no surprise that the waste industry has been infiltrated by coercion and organised crime. Just in my State of Vic:

    Plastics: China won’t take it, so build a toxic mountain out of it at Lara then set it alight
    Rubber: Build vehicle tyre mountains on Western Vic farmland, and at concealed old mine sites in Bendigo
    Hydrocarbons: During development of Docklands precinct, remove all hazardous (carcinogenic) soils waste and relocate it to Lyndhurst (in contravention of stated govt policy). Much associated death and disease.
    PFAS*: Ongoing in the development of the Westgate Tunnel, remove all hazardous (carcinogenic) soils waste and relocate it to Bacchus Marsh (in contravention of stated govt policy). Much associated death and disease.

    The PFAS problem is massive and throughout Oz, particularly at Defence sites and petroleum and chemical storage facilities.

    Given our track record and ongoing legislative and regulatory failures, coupled with the failures of both UK and USA to address the long-term securing of high-level nuclear waste, I can see it being a century of sweeping it under the carpet.

    But never mind, the whole time I’ve been reviewing and commenting on this article, there’s been a banner ad about “… Rubbish Removal”. Perhaps the powers that be will simply sub it out to poor Ricky.

  20. GL


    “Oz has an abysmal track record on handling and storage or recycling of any waste.”

    You only have to look at the opposition benches to see how true that statement is.

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