Genesee & Wyoming’s transcontinental nuclear strategy on track

former Nationals leader Tim Fischer ... tells The Weekend Australian that the prospect of one day using the line as part of a nuclear storage industry was part of cabinet’s deliberations in 1999 when it agreed to invest in the line. “Informally, ­certainly it was there,” he says.

While the idea of waste storage has been around since the early 1980s, when Bob Hawke commissioned an inquiry, Malcolm Turnbull has strongly backed this as a future industry for Australia.

Asked if GWA could play a role in this industry, Pauline limited his comments to the current issue of setting up a storage facility for Australia’s own low-level waste. He said: “There is little doubt that one of the safest modes of transport to move low-level radioactive materials, like used and decaying medical isotopes, is via rail. In principle, with the right processes and procedures in place, we as a global freight operator would definitely consider moving that type of material by rail.”

He believes there were some potential storage locations for radioactive material in the Territory and South Australia “that make sense”.

Should Australia ever develop a nuclear waste storage industry, there’s no guarantee that Darwin-Adelaide would play a role given the potential sites closer to the South Australian coast.

Fischer says that the enormous underground chasms deep beneath Roxby Downs could prove to be the perfect location for such an industry. “As far I was concerned, having visited the huge stable empty man made chasms underground Roxby — this was in my thinking absolutely and could still happen,” he said. Even though Darwin is closer to potential Asian and European markets, Fischer said the additional distance to reach ports in South Australia would amount to an insignificant cost.

He said the waste could be moved along the Darwin-to-Adelaide line to Pimba, a small settlement located near the junction where the Darwin line joins the east-west transcontinental line. He said this could involve building a spur line to Roxby, or a system of electric trucks.

“Darwin, Port Pirie, Whyalla, Adelaide, they all have direct centre gauge to Pimba. From there you would truck it right through to underground chasms in a glassification form. It is perfectly safe,” he said. “It’s not rocket science. There’s already uranium going out of Adelaide. There’s already infrastructure there in place. It is the next big economic injection into South Australia,” he said.

Australian Conservation Foundation’s nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney said using the rail line to ship high-level waste faced formidable hurdles on a number of fronts. He said the line had suffered from “a very high level of irregularities, accidents and derailments”. Shipments of waste into any port in Australia would face action by the powerful Maritime Union of Australia, which has previously allowed only Australian-generated waste returning from reprocessing offshore to pass through domestic ports, says Sweeney. And changing various laws to allow the industry to operate would also face considerable ­hurdles, unless a future government had control of the Senate.