Former Australian government minister says Australia should accept Fukushima debris – Japan “just too crowded”

Although the Fukushima disaster has likely ended the risk of Australia going down the uranium-brick road called Nuclear Energy for a while longer, former government minister Andrew Thomson has started a new nuclear-waste debate by arguing that Australia should accept radioactive debris from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, stating that the move would help break a deadlock in Japan that is jeopardizing recovery efforts from last year’s March 11 tsunami and nuclear meltdown.

Mr Thomson, who now works for law firm Minter Ellison in Tokyo, said Australia could offer “ideal places to dispose of this debris and store it safely”.  “This stuff is only mildly radioactive, it’s not going to harm anyone, but the last place you want to store it is Japan — it’s just too crowded,” he said.  Andrew Thomson is a former Howard government minister, and has worked through Asia and the Middle East consulting on mergers and acquisitions, and government relations.

“Western Australia has benefited greatly from Japanese demand for iron ore and base metals and South Australia is launching a major uranium export industry. It’s only fair and reasonable if we propose to sell more uranium to Japan in future that we should offer such help now when Japan really needs it.”

Although some criticize that international transport would only increase the potential displacement of radioactive materials into the environment, many feel that Japan is overwhelmed in its response to the Fukushima crisis.  It is a reminder that we should have a serious public debate about all parts of the nuclear industry from cradle to grave, including the mining and export of uranium.  Yuki Tanaka from the Hiroshima Peace Institute noted: “Japan is not the sole nation responsible for the current nuclear disaster. From the manufacture of the reactors by GE to provision of uranium by Canada, Australia and others, many nations are implicated.”  No one has demonstrated safe permanent storage of radioactive waste, despite over 50 years of production.

Australia is not immune to the risk or tragedies of nuclear power, Australia is the beginning of the nuclear fuel chain cycle.  Australia has proposals to send uranium to India, Russia and China, where the technical capabilities are not as high as they were in Japan.  In October 2011, the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office acknowledged that: “We can confirm that Australian obligated nuclear material was at the Fukushima Daiichi site and in each of the reactors — maybe five out of six, or it could have been all of them.”

Former Australian ambassador to Japan Murray Mclean, commented on the Fukushima disaster in an interview with The Australian.  “It was very difficult indeed to know there had been obvious damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant and not be told very much about it,” he said.  “We were not being told significantly more at all than what was being told to the public. We were not getting much from the Japanese government.”

The former ambassador confirmed Australia had evacuation plans in place but voiced the uncomfortable truth that, in reality, greater Tokyo (population 35 million) would have been almost impossible to evacuate.

“To be frank, I don’t know how it actually would have taken place without complete chaos,” he said.

“You can’t get everybody on the Shinkansen (bullet train), no matter how many there are; you can’t get them on the roads, because they would have been clogged. How do you get people out to Narita or Haneda or the US airbases to evacuate people?”

Australia wants Japan to cease its controversial killing of whales in Antarctic waters, and has even commenced legal action against Japan, but has remained hush about the nuclear safety issues in the island nation.  Australia’s uranium industry did nothing in response to hundreds of findings of safety violations, including the systematic and routine falisification of safety data and breached safety regulations perpetrated by TEPCO in the last 40 years of operation.   The industry did nothing in 2007 when more than 300 incidents of “malpractice” at Japan’s nuclear plants were revealed (104 of them at nuclear power plants).

When the plant began to overheat and spew radiation into the atmosphere, foreign countries including Australia set an 80km exclusion zone around the plant, while the Japanese government’s initial reaction was to set up a 10km evacuation zone.  Australia could have played a role in breaking the vicious cycle of information mismanagement in the wake of the March 11th disaster, by making uranium exports conditional on improved management of nuclear plants and tighter regulations. Even a strong public statement of concern would have been heard by the Japanese, and it would have shown support for Japanese citizens.

However, the uranium industry has done nothing to date, therefore leading many to feel that the industry as a whole is in denial about its role in fuelling the Fukushima disaster, there is no reason to believe that it will behave more responsibly in the future.  Despite some claims, there hasn’t been a renaissance of nuclear energy, only a resurgence of pro-nuclear talk.  Nuclear  power has remained expensive, requiring substantial public subsidies wherever it operates. Most insurance companies are unwilling to back nuclear energy, often the taxpayers are forced pay the bill when things go wrong.

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  1. richardperrycolumbia@shaw.ca'

    Statement made by Yuki Tanaka from the Hiroshima Peace Institute noted: “Japan is not the sole nation responsible for the current nuclear disaster. From the manufacture of the reactors by GE to provision of uranium by Canada, Australia and others, many nations are implicated.” No one has demonstrated safe permanent storage of radioactive waste, despite over 50 years of production. This sounds like a demand for help. Japan built these plants with full knowledge that they had tsunamis 30 meters high before at Yoshihimama on the EAST side of the Island. See this site: http://library.thinkquest.org/10136/tsunami/tsuntq.htm
    If they are that stupid why did anyone support them, OH I know MONEY, So force the companies that supported them to pay, do not look at other countries and companies for support. Maybe the pro-Nuclear people in each country should pay for it, YA that sounds good to me, Pro-Nuclear stand up and do the right thing as its is no big deal, it is far less then what many people have suffered from. Up next, countries will want USA and countries that make weapons of mast destruction to rebuild their countries because they sold weapons to their enemy, OH hell they do that all ready and the same result those that caused it will be paid to repair it. I do not believe we should help to decommission the plant or rebuild a new one because of where they built it, so other than that all damage is from the tsunami witch no one caused. Is there any other damage caused by other countries, hell no. The little bit of radiation from the plant is healthy for the human body, at least I have been told that.

  2. anassim@gmail.com'

    The earthquake destroyed the reactors – not the tsunami which came later. Of course, the tsunami provided a lot of good photo opportunities.

    Each country has to look after its own interests. The Japanese had – and always have had – excellent engineers who were quite capable of working out the dangers of where the reactors were placed and of working out the risks of the GE reactors. In fact, GE never envisaged that the Japanese would store the radioactive waste 10m high and right next to the reactors for 30 years>

    Australia has to look after its own interests in this matter and placing Japan’s waste in Australia is just as criminal as placing it in Central Africa. Australia might be better at looking after this waste today than Chad might be, but who knows what the world will be like many millennia from now? It is obvious to me that the Japanese should have thought this matter through before embarking on such a risky venture. They have plenty of geothermal, solar and wind energy opportunities, but they wanted a centralised solution so they must pay the price.

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