Pro-nuclear Pitt gets ministership
The appointment of a new resources minister has raised questions about Australia’s nuclear industries.
Former minister Matt Canavan resigned the Resources Ministry last week, just days after announcing an area near Kimba in regional South Australia will become home to Australia’s radioactive waste.
Senator Canavan’s replacement is Keith Pitt, a colleague from the Queensland Nationals and a big fan of nuclear power.
Mr Pitt has plugged domestic reactors and proposed reprocessing spent nuclear fuel in Australia, and now that he has the portfolio, many are wondering what will happen with the new waste dump.
The current plan is to keep low-level radioactive waste, mostly from hospitals, at a single underground site rather than have it spread at dozens of smaller sites across the country.
It is also expected that intermediate-level waste, which must be isolated for up to 10,000 years, will be stored above ground until it is ready for underground disposal at a separate site in the future.
It is this part of the plan that is most concerning for opponents, and it has been speculated that expanding the project to handle higher grades of nuclear waste will be on Mr Pitt’s agenda.
“This unnecessary double handling of long-lived radioactive waste is not consistent with international best practice,” Australian Conservation Foundation nuclear-free campaigner Dave Sweeney says.
“There is no compelling radiological or public health rationale for advancing this deeply irresponsible plan, especially based on the current sub-optimal process.
“There is a real risk this waste will become stranded in a place with far fewer institutional assets to manage it than those sites where it is currently housed.”
Meanwhile, the renewable energy sector is unlikely to be celebrating Mr Pitt’s new portfolio.
He was among the MPs who supported the Abbott government’s efforts to abolish the federal government’s renewable energy initiatives.
Mr Pitt even went so far as to resign as an assistant minister in 2018 following Scott Morrison’s elevation to the Prime Ministership, saying that Australia’s commitment to the Paris Agreement was a major reason for leaving.
He was also among a group of National MPs that demanded financial support for a new coal generator ahead of the 2019 federal election.
“If it is a climate emergency, then everything should be on the table—everything—and we shouldn’t just be ruling things in and out because we like them or we don’t like them. That means that you should consider nuclear energy. That means that you should consider HELE [high-energy, low-emission] coal. If a HELE coal power station can reduce emissions by 40 per cent, why wouldn’t you use it?” Mr Pitt said in Parliament last year.