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Power play; City ‘should embrace’ nuclear

Saturday, 7th March, 2015

By Craig Brealey

A local landholder says if anyone wants to set up a nuclear plant or waste dump that would bring jobs and security to Broken Hill, they could have his place for nothing.

This week the federal government invited any owner of large freehold property to nominate it as a site for a dump to store the nation’s nuclear waste.

Broken Hill should put up its hand and even go a step further and invite the nuclear industry to build a plant here, says Professor Ian Plimer.

Professor Plimer established the Consolidated Broken Hill mine (CBH) with which he still has an association.

He often returns to his house in the city from his post as Emeritus Professor of Earth Sciences at Melbourne University.

“I have freehold and unincorporated land west of Silverton and I would it give to anyone who was going to create jobs in the nuclear industry for Broken Hill,” he told the BDT yesterday.

“I wish they would because the ore body will run out one day. But jobs in the nuclear industry, unlike mining, can go on forever.

“The mines will close in ten, twenty years - or whatever the case is.

“This town has already changed from a working town to a welfare town. We need another industry.

“If there was no ore body to mine in Broken Hill, Wilcannia could become the supply town for western New South Wales.

“We need long-term employment, and the nuclear industry can do that.”

Small nuclear plants that can produce three or four megawatts can now be bought “off the shelf” from companies like Hitachi and General Electric, Prof. Plimer said, and can be pretty much bolted together to make them bigger.

He said the city had everything the nuclear industry needed.

“A nuclear power plant needs infrastructure, an airport that can land 737s, and a skilled workforce - all of which we have.

“It also needs high voltage power lines (to transfer the energy produced) and we have those too. 

“A lot of the skills in mining - I mean the tradesmen, fitters and turners - are used in the nuclear industry.”

Depending on its size, a nuclear plant in Broken Hill could produce enough electricity to power the whole east coast of NSW, Prof. Plimer said.

He has spoken before about Broken Hill being able to have a nuclear waste dump down the mines. 

The waste can be held in lead drums or tanks and these enclosed in concrete that is harder than the surrounding ore.

But Prof. Plimer said some nuclear waste could be recycled to power the plant itself.

“It contains two isotopes, polonium and plutonium, which you have to isolate because terrorists or miscreants could use them to make bombs.

“But radioactive waste can be reused so you would not want to isolate that forever because it is useful stuff. It can be used to make fuel again.”

A nuclear plant also needs to be kept cool but it would be no drain on the city’s water supply, he said.

“The water is recycled and you can also use liquid sodium or argon gas. It’s a contained system, like the radiator in your car. Once you’ve got it in, it’s in.” 

Prof. Plimer said NSW and Broken Hill should make their move soon because across the border, the ball was already rolling. 

“(Premier) Jay Weatherill is setting the scene for a nuclear industry in South Australia, there is no doubt about that.”

This week a Federal Liberal backbencher Rowan Ramsey said he would happily store nuclear waste on his South Australian farm.

Mr Ramsey said he had seen how nuclear power worked in countries such as France and Sweden.

“I saw villages virtually sitting on top of these types of facilities and the nuclear reactors ... they’re very comfortable with them,” he told AAP.

“We need nuclear medicine, we need nuclear science. We need to deal with whatever that produces.”

The federal government, in opening the invitation to freehold landholders, said states and territories would not be able to veto its eventual choice, but that it would not impose it without consultation.

Once a site was found, the government would engage with the nearest town and discuss benefits for the construction and “operational requirements”.

Australia has about 4,300 cubic metres of radioactive waste, most of it low level waste such as contaminated clothing, paper and glassware from medical, research and industrial processes.

Nominations to house the nation’s nuclear waste dump close on May 5.

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