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Issue #1902      February 10, 2020

TERRA NUCLEAR

Last week, the then Resources Minister Matt Canavan announced the site for an international nuclear waste dump on farmland in South Australia. The decision comes after two decades or more of wrangling over where to locate the facility.

The land is at Napandee in Kimba, on the Eyre Peninsula and is owned by a farmer who offered it to the government. He is set to receive compensation well above market value.

“The facility has broad community support in Kimba, but I acknowledge there remains opposition, particularly amongst the Barngarla People and their representative group,” Canavan said in a press release.

He omits to mention that the Barngarla People were excluded from a local vote on the question.

In addition, the opposition is not confined to the Barngarla People who fear the pollution of their land and waters, as well as the damage to their culture and sacred sites. Environmental and other groups as well as many individuals have not given up. They are determined to fight it to the end.

Denial of Dangers

Just as the government refuses to acknowledge the dangers of inaction over climate change, Canavan plays down the deadly risks associated with radiation; “I am satisfied a facility at Napandee will safely and securely manage radioactive waste and that the local community has shown broad community support for the project and economic benefits it will bring.”

This is a hollow claim, which he cannot back with practice. How can anyone claim such a facility would be safely and securely managed for thousands or possibly hundreds of thousands of years that it would take for the radioactive material to breakdown?

The minister cannot make any guarantees. In particular, as the plan is to hand the facility over to the private sector to manage, the risks and cover-ups become far more likely and serious.

The minister says the waste will come from Australia’s historical radioactive waste holdings which are currently spread over more than 100 locations across the country, like science facilities, universities and hospitals.”

“The facility will be capable of permanently disposing of low-level waste and temporarily storing intermediate level waste for decades (while a separate intermediate level waste disposal facility is developed).”

We are supposed to believe him when he says, “We will work with traditional owners to protect culture and heritage, and to maximise economic opportunities and outcomes for local Aboriginal communities near the future facility.” That would be a first for this government! After all the voice of the Indigenous custodians of the land was not listened to in the selection of the land for the facility.

Short On The Truth

Canavan also claimed the process to find a site began five years ago but it actually dates back to the late 1990s when the Howard Coalition government made moves to find a location for an international dump.

This would house intensely radioactive spent nuclear fuel, high-level radioactive waste, intermediate-level radioactive waste, and “unwanted” nuclear materials from weapons dismantling.

The dump would be sited in South Australia or Western Australia. A poll of South Australians at the time revealed that ninety-three per cent were opposed to the idea of even a low-level nuclear waste site.

In 2002, the Howard government actually allocated $9.9 million in the budget to build a shallow burial facility where nuclear waste would be stored for the next 300 years. It would be on defence land near Woomera.

It sounded like a case of terra nullius all over again. Indigenous Australians experienced more than enough showers of nuclear dust when near-by Maralinga and Emu Fields were used to test British nuclear weapons. Similar assurances given then were never honoured.

In 2006, Labor’s Martin Ferguson, supported the concept of an aptly named “cradle to grave” proposal under which nuclear waste is returned to the country that mined and exported it. It should come as no surprise that Ferguson now heads the resource sector’s lobby group, the Minerals Council.

In 2016, it was the run of the Adnyamathanha people to take up the struggle against the siting of nuclear waste dump on their land near South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. Then Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg, had picked a cattle station near Barndioota, just north of Port Augusta. The land just happened to be co-owned by former Liberal Senator Grant Chapman.

Adnyamathanha Tribal Lands Association CEO Vince Coulthard said he was “totally disgusted” by the decision; “This is our land, we have been here forever, and we will always be here, and we are totally opposed to this dump.” Once again, no respect was shown to the tradition custodians of the land.

A royal commission launched by SA Labor Premier Jay Weatherill came up with a proposal that could see Australia take in thirteen per cent of the world’s nuclear waste while offering a fuel leasing mechanism. Under this mechanism, Australia would “lease” the yellow cake to other countries who would return it in the form of spent fuel for Australia to manage.

Royal Commissioner Kevin Scarce recommended that South Australia import and store international high-level nuclear waste.

In fact, there are calls for countries that mine and sell uranium products to take back the waste. The costings of the royal commission and other proponents of similar systems fail to take into account the long-term costs and risks.

“Aboriginal people did not give prior or informed consent to the British nuclear weapons tests that took place at Maralinga; they were not warned that the black rain was laced with plutonium and radioactive fission products, or that the brilliant white flash would blind.

As nuclear weapon countries such the US, Israel, Russia, India, and Pakistan continue to build their nuclear arsenals the question of the disposal of nuclear waste becomes more and more pressing.

Uranium mining and radioactive waste pollute air, soil, and water. Radiation can damage the genetic and reproductive systems of plants, animals and people. All of Australia’s operating uranium mines have a history of leaks, spills and accidents – and none have been properly rehabilitated.

If the “low level” storage facility goes ahead in Kimba, it would only be a matter of time before it became a facility storing medium and high level waste creating untold risks for human life, Indigenous culture and heritage, flora and fauna, and agriculture. It must be stopped.

Next article – Marshall must come clean on planned cuts to public transport

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