Nuclear Ban: environmental laws

In 2020 Australia’s environmental laws have been under review by the EPBC Review Committee. In August the Committee released an interim report. Ignoring the advice in the interim report and pre-empting the final report due in October the Morrison government has pushed destructive reforms in the “Streamlining Environmental Approvals” Bill through the lower house of parliament. The Morrison government is now trying to push the bill through the Senate – Senators have united to say they will block this law.

The “Streamlining Environmental Approvals” Bill would defer environmental approvals to the state and territory governments have traditionally been weak and fall short of meeting national standards. The Bill will go to the Australian Senate in October 2020 and we are asking you to write to your senator calling on them to block the Bill and strengthen our environmental laws.

The 2020 review of Australia’s Environmental Laws interim report makes no recommendation to change the prohibition to nuclear power. It advises that uranium mining remain a “matter of national environment significance” (MNES).

During the review there was a strong push from the nuclear industry and the Mineral Council of Australia to remove two sections of the Act. 1 – the prohibition of nuclear power. 2 – the definition of ‘nuclear actions’ to exclude uranium. These efforts by the nuclear industry have largely failed.

We remain concerned about the political decision following the Review of our national environment laws. The government could ignore advice in the interim report and seek to remove prohibitions on nuclear power and remove uranium as an MNES. We are also concerned about advice in the interim report to further devolve powers on uranium mine assessment and regulation to the states and territories.

Download a two pager explaining the EPBC Review interim report and nuclear issues.

Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 section 140A  No approval for certain nuclear installations The Minister must not approve an action consisting of or involving the construction or operation of any of the following nuclear installations: (a)  a nuclear fuel fabrication plant; (b)  a nuclear power plant; (c)  an enrichment plant; (d)  a reprocessing facility.

EPBC Act 1999 section 22  What is a nuclear action? (1)  In this Act: nuclear action means any of the following: (a)  establishing or significantly modifying a nuclear installation; (b) transporting spent nuclear fuel or radioactive waste products arising from reprocessing; (c)  establishing or significantly modifying a facility for storing radioactive waste products arising from reprocessing; (d)  mining or milling uranium ore; (e)  establishing or significantly modifying a large‑scale disposal facility for radioactive waste; (f)  de‑commissioning or rehabilitating any facility or area in which an activity described in paragraph (a), (b), (c), (d) or (e) has been undertaken;

Why we should keep the nuclear power ban:

Nuclear power is dangerous, expensive, unpopular, has unsolvable waste issues and intractable weapons proliferation and security risks. The ban reflects these unacceptable risks. Download more information to help with your submission here. See more in our Myth Busting section.

Nuclear power is a distraction we cannot afford: Removing the ban would encourage nuclear power companies to seek the development of nuclear power projects in Australia. This would be fiercely opposed, distracting from combatting fossil fuels and the positive development of renewable energy options.

The ban reflects public sentiment: There have been numerous debates, inquiries, investigations into nuclear power that have all identified that a) nuclear power is too expensive b) a prerequisite for nuclear power is broad public support, and there is none. This is clear through the support for the joint statement opposing nuclear power in 2019  from organisations representing millions of Australians.                  

Why we should keep the uranium trigger:

Removing the ‘uranium trigger’ would reduce the oversight and conditions applied to dangerous uranium mines. Uranium is different it takes clean water and leaves behind long lasting radioactive mine wastes that needs to be isolated from the environment for no less that 10,000 years (Atomic Energy Act 1953). Uranium mines in Australia continue to disproportionately impact First Nations communities and poses an unacceptable health risk to workers. There is no example of a successfully rehabilitated uranium mine in Australia, former mines continue to pose unacceptable environmental and public safety risks. Uranium mines require the highest possible level of scrutiny, currently this is done through the EPBC Act 1999 and this should be retained. See more in the flyer below.

Follow of the EPBC Act Review 2020

The EPBC Review Committee released the draft report in July 2020. The final report is due in October 2020. Follow the EPBC Review process, read submissions and fill in the survey about the draft report at the review website.