Federal radioactive waste in SA: three sites, two years, one message
Today marks 2 years since the federal government announced its six shortlisted sites across Australia for the development of a National nuclear waste dump. Three of those sites were in South Australia and today both the Flinders Ranges and the Kimba agricultural region remain under threat. The planned National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF) project has been met with contest and concern from community members and state and national environment groups. The waste issue is also set to be highlighted in the March state election with all SA politicians and hopefuls facing calls to explicitly back existing state legislation that makes any such dump illegal. Conservation SA was pleased to see an article in yesterday’s Australian newspaper disclosing Premier Jay Weatherill’s support for the Flinders Ranges community in their campaign against a radioactive waste dump in a letter to Prime Minister Turnbull urging him to respect Aboriginal opposition to the planned dump.
Regina McKenzie, Adnyamathanha Traditional Owner who lives next door to the Barndioota site and is a member of the Flinders Local Action Group (FLAG) said “The Liberal government’s plan is impacting the mental health and well being of the people in the Flinders Ranges and Kimba communities. We are happy that Premier Weatherill has opened his ears to us and is is urging Malcolm Turnbull to do the same. For 2 years we have said no and we continue to say no.”
Kimba farmer Peter Woolford, chair of No Radioactive Waste on Agricultural Land In Kimba or SA, a group that formed around the issue, said “Two years on and the Commonwealth government continues to apply pressure to our small vulnerable community. The uncertainty, stress and toll this has taken on people within Kimba is immeasurable. “Ministers and the Department of Industry, Innovation & Science state broad community support is critical for the facility, yet Kimba has continually been contested with strong opposition being maintained. The recent poll was clear that nearly half the community are opposed to siting a nuclear waste dump on farming land even with “disruption” money offered to communities to stay in the process. “Current legislation in South Australia needs to be upheld and the Commonwealth should not ‘impose’ a national waste facility onto any unwilling community”, he said.
Radioactive waste dumps for non-SA wastes are illegal in SA. In response to earlier federal moves to dump waste in SA, state Parliament passed a law to say No: The Nuclear Waste Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000. This Act is “to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of South Australia and to protect the environment in which they live by prohibiting the establishment of certain nuclear waste storage facilities in this state.”
The majority of Australia’s radioactive waste is currently securely stored at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s (ANSTO) site at Lucas Heights, in southern Sydney. ANSTO says it “is capable of handling and storing waste for long periods of time.” ANSTO produced the waste and they are best placed to manage it until a proper disposal approach is agreed. The current substandard plan does not meet world’s best practice and there is no need for short term approaches to this long term issue.
Mara Bonacci, Nuclear Waste Campaigner at Conservation SA said “The current process is flawed and divisive and targets vulnerable remote communities. In the two years since the six shortlisted sites were announced, the government has got no closer to securing a site. In fact, the site nomination process is still open. The government has only succeeded in causing stress and division in the areas it has targeted. It is time to stop the clock and adopt an evidence based approach to waste management.
“The waste can and should remain secured and monitored at Lucas Heights until a dedicated public review of the full range of options for radioactive waste management is carried out. The focus needs to shift from targeting SA to establishing a fair, open and responsible process for the management of Australia’s most hazardous waste”, she concluded.