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Australia: Pangea international repository plan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#515
13/08/1999
Article

(August 13, 1999) The University of Western Australia will host a - invitation only - seminar in August on Pangea Resources Inc.'s proposal for an international spent fuel repository in Western Australia.

(515.5060) WISE Amsterdam - Pangea, the company that wants to bury the world's nuclear waste in outback Australia has a problem ... or two. One is selling the 'moral argument' to the Australian people: taking the waste is a chance for us to do something 'good' for the world. The other problem is time running out of it, that is. There's a growing urgency: the waste keeps growing and everyone's running out of space.
No surprise then that Pangea Resources' major financial backer is British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL), 100 percent owned by the British government. Other investors include the Swiss radioactive waste management agency Nagra and a Canadian-based company Enterra Holdings Ltd. BNFL aknowledges having invested about Aus$35 million (US$22.5 million: 1 Aus$ = 0.64 US$) in Pangea. A spokesperson for the company said the search for a domestic dump continues but other options are being explored including Australia.
Pangea's search turned up four options - Australia, Argentina, China and South Africa. According to the company chair, Jim Voss, sites in China and South Africa were ruled out on technical and political grounds. Industry journal Nuclear Fuel says "informal" interest in Australia has put the Argentine site on the back burner. And the company's own promotional video identifies South Australia and Western Australia as possible sites.

Roads for Pangea?
Regional Member of Parliament Watson says an US$32 million upgrade of the road from Port Hedland to Marble Bar, and an extension leading a further 132 km east, is literally paving the way for Pangea. A regional government spokesperson denied any knowledge of Pangea's proposal, saying the road was being built to service two mines and Aboriginal communities. However, Watson says: "Even the most gullible of us do not believe a government, let alone a Liberal economic rationalist government, would spend that much money on the small mining companies which are en route". Although at this point it is federal government policy that no waste can be imported, Nuclear Fuel cites an Australian "source" which claims the government's opposition to the Pangea proposal "is not unbending". In the Senate, on December 10, the Coalition defeated an amendment to a nuclear bill, which would have prohibited the construction of radioactive waste storage facilities in Australia.

International Repository plans
A 15-minute promotional video, made public by Friends of the Earth Australia last December, shows plans by Pangea to transport nuclear waste to a site in south or west Australia. The exact location is not known (Pangea says its study area includes a region the size of Western Europe) but local pressreports in April put the site near the Cosmo Newbery Aboriginal community, about 80km north-east of Laverton.
The Pangea International Repository is supposed to receive 75,000 metric tons of spent fuel. The current annual world wide spent fuel arising is about 10,300 metric tons. According to a Pangea presentation in March the "repository and associated fabrication and construction requirements will have long term employment benefits to Australia, creating as many as 70,000 jobs." Capital costs of the repository and infrastructure is about US$3.8 billion and annual operating costs US$290 million. Pangea is emphazising the possibility of dispose military plutonium and High Enriched Uranium, saying it will make a contribution to peace and disarmament.

Currently, the Pangea proposal is not the only initiative for an international waste repository. Lately, the US Non Proliferation Trust Inc. is developing plans to ship waste to Russia (although that proposal is suppose to be about temporarely storage, but one doesn't need much fantasy to know what that means). More and more governments and international bodies believe that international storage has the future, but are still afraid to say it loudly.

Sources:

  • Nuclear Fuel, 26 July 1999
  • Third Opinion, Winter 1999 (in Australia which is summer in the Northern Hemisphere)
  • Pangea Resources Australia Pty Ltd, paper at the Third Australian Uranium Summit '99, 30 March 1999

Contact:
WISE-Glen Aplin, PO Box 87, Glen Aplin Q4381, Australia
Tel: +61-76-834 364; Fax: +61-76-617 191