NO NUCLEAR WASTE DUMPS IN SA!
The federal government wants to find a site to build a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF) to store and dispose of Australia’s radioactive waste. Some of this waste is a hazard for hundreds of years and some for over ten thousand years. There is no proven need for this facility and there is certainly no need for it to be sited in SA. We need to ensure that Australia’s radioactive waste is managed in the best way possible and that the process of site selection does not harm affected communities.
Friends of the Earth are committed to working with affected communities to ensure that the current flawed proposal is scrapped and that the government adopts a safe and responsible approach to radioactive waste management.
The federal government wants to find a site for a NRWMF to dispose of Australia’s low level waste and for the long term interim storage of intermediate level waste.
Low-level waste (LLW) would be permanently disposed of at the dump site.
The proposed dump would store long-lived intermediate level nuclear waste (LLILW), not dispose of it. The LLILW would be stored above ground as an ‘interim’ measure until being moved again for deep underground disposal. The federal government has no plans for permanent disposal of the LLILW so ‘interim’ above-ground storage in SA could stretch to 100 years or more.
The LLILW is the highest level radioactive waste in Australia and in some international jurisdictions, including France, some of this waste is classified as high level radioactive waste. LLILW includes reprocessed nuclear fuel rods and is a serious threat for many thousands of years. Measured by radioactivity, the LLILW accounts for more than 90% of the nuclear waste in Australia.
Most LLILW - including spent fuel reprocessing waste - is currently stored at the Lucas Heights site south of Sydney, operated by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). Friends of the Earth believes that there is no need to move the LLILW twice. It should stay at Lucas Heights until a permanent disposal solution is found. There is no need for double handling.
The federal government has been trying to find a site for the co-location of low and intermediate level radioactive waste for several decades, without any proof of the need for such a facility and without any success.
South Australians defeated a federal government plan to build a nuclear waste dump (1998-2004) in the north of the state. Then the government set its sights on the Northern Territory, where community members stopped a dump being established at Muckaty Station near Tennant Creek (2006-2014).
The federal government’s approach to finding a site changed after this to a voluntary site nomination process, where individual landholders could nominate their land. Twenty-eight sites around Australia were nominated and six were shortlisted. All were strongly opposed by community members who were not consulted by the nominating landholder.
In April 2016, Wallerberdina Station, near Hawker in the Flinders Ranges in SA was named the preferred site. It has been strongly opposed by many community members ever since.
Later that year, the nominations of two sites near Kimba on the Eyre Peninsula in SA were accepted by the Minister.
The government cannot select a site in a community that does not have “broad community support” for the proposal. Despite repeated requests, the government refuses to define what constitutes this level of support or how it will be gauged.
The government had planned to conduct a non-binding ballot via the local councils in the affected communities to gauge community sentiment in August 2018. Eligibility to participate in these ballots was restricted to small geographic areas surrounding the proposed sites.
In Kimba, eligibility was restricted to the Kimba District Council area, thus disenfranchising people who live close to one of the proposed dump sites but who live outside the council boundary.
The Wallerberdina site is just outside the Flinders Ranges Council area, so eligibility was limited to the Flinders Ranges Council area and those living within a 50 km radius of the proposed site.
In both areas, non-resident ratepayers were eligible to vote. Traditional Owners living outside the ballot area were ineligible, despite maintaining a strong connection to Country.
This prompted the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation (BDAC), the Native Title holders for the Kimba area, to take the matter to court on the basis of racial discrimination. The ballot was subsequently postponed.
In the meantime, the Adnyamanthanha Traditional Lands Association (ATLA), the Native Title holders for the area surrounding the Wallerberdina site in the Flinders Ranges, lodged a formal complaint with the Human Rights Commission about the way that Adnyamathanha people have been treated as part of the federal government’s push to site a radioactive waste facility near a sacred women’s site on their country.
On Friday 12 July 2019 Justice White handed down his ruling that the exclusion of Barngarla Native Title holders who do not live in the Kimba District from participating in a ballot to gauge community support for the radioactive waste facility was not a breach of the Racial Discrimination Act. Read the statement released by the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation (BDAC) here. BDAC have lodged an appeal and are awaiting its outcome.
Friends of the Earth congratulates BDAC and their legal team for their efforts. This ruling in no way means that the site selection process is ok and we will continue to work towards responsible radioactive waste management and a fair site selection process.
Friends of the Earth is working closely with both affected communities.
CHANGES TO THE PLAN
There have been recent reports that the size of the site required for the NRWMF was increased from 100 hectares to 160 hectares. Greens Senator for South Australia, Sarah Hanson-Young, moved a motion in the Senate that the government provide a full explanation of the current plans for the nuclear waste dump site, and to clarify exactly how large it will be and what level of waste it will hold. If the ballot had been held last year as originally planned, people would have voted on a much smaller site than they would get.
WHAT WASTE IS GOING THERE, ANYWAY?
There is still no inventory of the volumes and types of waste destined for the facility. Minister Canavan has recently stated that the amount of low level waste from Woomera destined to be permanently disposed of at the site is less than expected - only about 100 barrels. About 93% of the waste going to the site will be long-lived intermediate level waste produced and currently stored at ANSTO's Lucas Heights reactor. The government plans to store this waste at the chosen site "temporarily" until a permanent disposal solution is found. Double handling is expensive, unnecessary and increases transport risks. There is no proven need to move it twice. Why build this facility when 93% of the waste going there is only for temporary storage?
Many locals don’t want industries such as tourism and farming threatened. Many Traditional Owners do not want cultural heritage sites and their spiritual connection to country put at risk. South Australians do not want their state turned into a nuclear dump. The issue continues to cause deep division and stress in the affected communities.
The government has said that it will not impose a radioactive waste facility on an unwilling community, but has been unclear about the definition of community.
People who live along potential transport routes should be informed and have a say. The communities of Port Pirie, Port Lincoln and Whyalla discovered that the waste may be transported through their ports was when the government released information requested by the Kimba Council before the ballot was due to commence. More information about this is available in this paper by David Noonan.
The radioactive waste to be stored and disposed at the site. This is a national issue and one interpretation is that the entire community of Australia should have a say.
“We write this letter to vouch for the invaluable support and help we have received from Friends of the Earth. We have had much needed support in the past, both materially and morale boosting. Friends of the Earth is vital to our cause for the support it can provide. We need their national profile to bring this issue to broader public attention and obtain a better national process for radioactive waste disposal.”
Greg Bannon – Spokesperson for Flinders Local Action Group
WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN TO THE WASTE?
The majority of this waste is currently securely stored at ANSTO’s site at Lucas Heights. 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 proper disposal is agreed. The current plan is substandard. There is no rush.
The waste can and should remain secured and monitored at Lucas Heights until a dedicated public review of the full range of options for waste management is carried out. The focus needs to shift from targeting SA (or other potential sites) to establishing a fair, open and responsible process focussing on how to best dispose of the waste, not where.
Friends of the Earth - along with community members opposed to the proposal and many other stakeholders including trade unions, faith groups, student groups and others - believes that the current site selection process should be scrapped, the three sites currently under consideration taken off the table, and an independent review undertaken,
DON’T WE NEED IT FOR NUCLEAR MEDICINE?
No. The simple fact is that we do not need a nuclear dump to continue to have access to nuclear medicine in Australia. The absence of a national dump hasn’t harmed nuclear medicine and the establishment of a national dump won’t help nuclear medicine. No Australian will miss out on access to nuclear medicine if the waste continues to be managed at Lucas Heights.
NUCLEAR WASTE DUMPS ARE ILLEGAL IN SA.
South Australia has legislation that bans radioactive waste facilities. It was passed in response to earlier federal moves to dump radioactive waste in SA The objects of the SA Nuclear Waste Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000 are “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.” This law is sensible and we urge all SA state politicians to use it to stop the federal government imposing a nuclear waste dump on SA.