Citizens' Jury says no to South Australian waste disposal

07 November 2016

The majority of a Citizens' Jury forming part of South Australia's community consultation in response to the state's Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Report feels the state should not pursue the opportunity to store and dispose of nuclear waste under any circumstances.

The 350 jurors were tasked with answering the question "Under what circumstances, if any, could South Australia pursue the opportunity to store and dispose of nuclear waste from other countries?" It delivered its final report to state premier Jay Weatherill yesterday after six days of deliberations - spread over three weekends in October and November - during which jurors heard from more than 100 witnesses including environmental, economics, safety and industry experts, as well as community and Aboriginal representation.

According to the jury's final report, two-thirds of its members did not wish to pursue the nuclear waste opportunity "under any circumstances" while a third supported "a commitment to pursue" under circumstances outlined in the report. The jury's rejection of the proposal was based on its opinion that it had insufficient information to support a "yes" vote; a lack of aboriginal consent for the proposal; and the jury's lack of confidence in the economic case presented for such a project.

The Citizens' Jury formed part of the state-wide consultation process following the publication of the final report of South Australia's Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle in May, the outcome of a year-long inquiry into the potential for increasing South Australia's involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle. The commission, headed by former state governor Kevin Scarce, recommended the government should pursue the establishment of storage and disposal facilities for multi-national used nuclear fuel and intermediate-level waste.

The agenda for the consultation process, described as the state's largest consultation program on record, was itself drawn up by a 50-strong Citizens' Jury which met in June and July.

The jury's report will now be considered by South Australia's cabinet and will help inform the government's response to the Royal Commission report, due to be delivered by the end of the year. The government will also consider input from sources including state-wide surveys, feedback forms received on-line and via post, discussion boards, social media and phone calls.

"We've just undertaken the biggest consultation process in South Australia’s history," Weatherill said, adding that the exercise had been about "putting aside the emotion" and looking at facts. "The great strength of this process is we don't have political parties telling the public what to think," he said. "The jury has worked through a complex issue, summarising the breadth and diversity of views, and I want to thank them for their hard work and giving generously of their time. I will now review their report, and weigh it up against all of the other data compiled over the past few months, to help inform my formal response to the Royal Commission report later this year," he said.

The members of the jury were selected to be "broadly representative" of the South Australian population, although a minority report considered by the jury itself suggested that the method of jury selection - announcing the question to be considered before requesting volunteers to take part in the process - could have resulted in selection bias.

Nigel McBride, chief executive of South Australia's Chamber of Business and Industry, Business SA, questioned the Citizens' Jury process.  In a statement issued in response to the jury's decision, he suggested the report was "rushed", with insufficient time allowed for jurors to become fully informed and to understand the "complex issues involved in nuclear waste storage", and was "heavily skewed with small organisations that had very strong negative agendas."

"Education, transparency and information dispel fear. There was not enough time, in my view, for that to occur, so people defaulted to fear. When in doubt, say 'No'. I think that’s what we have seen," he said.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News