It’s time for a radioactive circuit breaker
Don’t waste your vote this federal election ‒ ask your candidates where they stand and ask them to oppose the plan to turn SA into Australia’s nuclear waste dump.
For over two decades, successive Australian governments have tried and failed to find a site to dispose of Australia’s radioactive waste. The current federal government wants to establish a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF) in either the iconic Flinders Ranges or on Eyre Peninsula farming land. Labor are yet to detail their approach if they form government.
The proposed facility would dispose of low-level radioactive waste (toxic for 300 years) and ‘temporarily’ store long-lived intermediate-level nuclear waste (toxic for 10,000 years) before this is disposed of somewhere else. Long-lived intermediate-level waste is destined for deep underground disposal while shallow burial is seen as acceptable for low-level waste. There is no plan for the permanent disposal of the intermediate-level waste and no justification for this double-handling.
It is widely accepted that the site selection process is flawed and divisive. Current Minister for Resources Matt Canavan hoped to select a site last year. Community opposition and legal challenges by the Native Title holders of the two affected sites have stalled the process. The plan remains strongly contested.
Australia’s radioactive waste needs to be managed in the most responsible way. Rather than ask “Where can we put it?” we instead need to ask “How do we best manage this waste?” There is no urgent need for this facility. Civil society groups across Australia are calling for an independent inquiry into the full range of future management options to ensure the best possible approach. It is astonishing that such a commonsense inquiry has never happened. Instead, governments have continually tried and failed to impose a facility on remote and regional communities.
This imposition has come with promises of economic and employment benefits, both of which have been exaggerated, according to a 2018 report by The Australia Institute. Many community members are concerned that any benefits will be far outweighed by negative impacts on existing industries such as agriculture and tourism.
The push for a waste facility in regional SA has been accompanied by the alarming but incorrect assertions that without a national facility, Australians will miss out on access to nuclear medicine. The Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW), many of whose members are medical professionals who routinely use nuclear medicine, disagree and make the case that nuclear medicine in Australia will continue, regardless of the timing or location of any waste facility.
Communities on the potential transport routes for the radioactive waste have also been excluded. The site selection consultation process has been narrow in scope and detail. Whyalla, Port Pirie and Port Lincoln were named in a government report in 2018 as ports through which the waste might be transported, yet local Councils, port workers and the wider community were not alerted to this by the project proponent, the federal government.
The majority of this radioactive waste is currently stored at two federal sites: much of the low level waste is stored on Defence land at Woomera and the majority of the intermediate-level waste is stored where it is produced at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s (ANSTO) Lucas Heights research reactor site south of Sydney.
This material is best managed where it currently is until there is an agreed longer term solution. There are no barriers to extending the waste storage at Lucas Heights until a permanent disposal option is found. It makes no sense to double-handle this risk by moving this material without a credible disposal plan.
Radioactive waste management is a national issue. The burden of responsibility should not be placed on small, regional and remote communities.
Radioactive waste lasts longer than any politician’s promise and this decision will have impacts for generations.
Support the call for a full, independent inquiry into the best way to manage our worst waste. Don’t waste your vote this federal election ‒ ask your candidates where they stand and ask them to oppose the plan to turn SA into Australia’s nuclear waste dump.
This decision will have implications for generations to come and should not be rushed.
So where do the parties stand?
If re-elected, it is expected that a coalition government would pursue the siting of a NRWMF in South Australia. This, however, is dependent on the outcomes of current court proceedings and on regulatory processes under the EPBC Act and the ARPANS Act.
If elected, it seems likely that current Shadow Minister Senator Kim Carr will be responsible for the National Radioactive Waste Management Project. It is unclear how the ALP will progress this issue. They have stated that “As this is a matter before the courts, we do not propose to pre-empt any decision until the Federal Court has made its ruling.”
The Labor Party held their national conference in Adelaide in mid December 2018. The policy they adopted regarding radioactive waste reads:
"Labor acknowledges that radioactive waste management is a complex policy challenge that requires the highest levels of transparency and evidence, while balancing the need of the community to benefit from treatments for diseases like cancer. Accordingly, Labor will act in accordance with scientific evidence, and with full transparency, broad public input and best practice technical and consultative standards, taking into account the views of traditional owners, to progress responsible radioactive waste management."
There is no mention of radioactive waste in the Greens election policy platform, however Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who is responsible for the nuclear portfolio, has a webpage dedicated to the issue and is against the current proposal.
Senator Rex Patrick initiated a senate inquiry into the current process, and has said “The site selection process needs to be fair, not the sham that it currently is".
Henry Cox lives just north of Hawker and is running for the Senate due to his opposition to the waste dump.
PLEASE SUPPORT THE CAMPAIGN TO STOP NUCLEAR WASTE DUMPING IN SA!
HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN DO
Please send in a submission to the federal Department to register your opposition to the plan to dump on SA. This submission process is important ‒ the government will use it to claim 'broad community support' for the dump if it does not receive lots of opposing submissions. Please write your own submission or simply add your name to the submission drafted by the SA Conservation Council ‒ it will only take a minute of your time!
Please donate to raise funds to stop the nuclear dump.
Some Key Points to Consider
- This is not simply a site for ‘gloves and gowns’. This facility would be home to Australia’s most dangerous radioactive waste. Intermediate-level waste planned for indefinite storage at the site requires isolation for up to 10,000 years.
- There is no end date for the storage of intermediate level waste prior to its later disposal. Most of the waste is currently stored at ANSTO’s Lucas Heights site in NSW. Why move it twice? Double handling makes no sense in terms of public health, radiation safety or project cost and is not consistent with international best practice.
- There are significant cultural heritage concerns at both sites and opposition from many Aboriginal Traditional Owners.
- Continuing and secure access to nuclear medicine for all Australians is not dependent on a federal nuclear waste facility and the absence of such a facility has not hindered the practice of nuclear medicine.
- South Australia has long-standing laws against non-SA radioactive waste dumping or storage. The federal plan is against state law.
- The employment promises lack evidence and have been inflated since the ballot was announced. There are no guarantees about the number of local jobs.
- The amount of money being offered to communities has also been inflated since the ballot was announced and how it is allocated remains at the discretion of the federal Minister.
- Responsible radioactive waste management is a national issue that requires national scrutiny. It should not be the primary burden or sole choice of voters in a specific part of regional South Australia.
- Agriculture and tourism are both market-sensitive sectors and any planned facility could negatively impact these industries.
- Transport routes for radioactive waste have not been made public. Government documents show the waste could be transported through local ports including Whyalla or Port Pirie.
- This decision is being driven by politics, not by science or need. Minister Canavan wanted to select a site before the federal election for political reasons, not because he has to. The federal regulator has stated that the ANSTO waste is safe where it is and there is no urgent need to move it.
- Despite repeated requests, the Federal Government has refused to define ‘broad community support’ or how it will be measured. Shifting the goalposts does not lead to community confidence.