After two decades of failing to secure a nuclear waste dump site in South Australia and the Northern Territory through a top down approach, early last year the federal government initiated a voluntary nomination process calling on landholders to put forward their land for assessment.
A shortlist of six was released after 28 sites were nominated around Australia: Hill End in NSW; Omanama in Queensland; Hale in the Northern Territory; Cortlinye and Pinkawillinie in the Kimba region of South Australia; and Barndioota station in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia.
The sites were nominated by the landholders with no consultation with traditional owners or neighbouring community. Dumping at all six sites is strongly opposed by the communities surrounding them. The overarching theme for all the communities is that the process is seriously flawed, and there is great sense of solidarity between all sites.
Government representatives have been travelling to each of the six communities to undertake consultation meetings. The consultation is legislated under the National Radioactive Waste Management Act. Each of the consultation meetings, as well as two other public meetings, have attracted over 120 community members who unanimously oppose a dump in their area.
The second community consultation was held at Hill End, north of Bathurst in NSW on January 30. The town was incorrectly referred to as Sallys Flat because, as Head of Resources at the Department of Industry, Innovation & Science Bruce Wilson said at the meeting, the “government didn't want people to think they'd put a dump in a heritage town”.
The Hill End community is no stranger to fighting off government proposals. In the 1980s, they successfully stopped an attempt to establish an army base there.
At the consultation meeting, local Kerri Burns said: “The desktop analysis is causing angst and anxiety. Having the consultation process over Christmas and New Year means that it is harder to contact MPs. Money is being wasted on brochures.
“On February 15 the South Australian Royal Commission's initial findings will be released. Why do this before the findings are out? The community has been polite so far, but if this goes further, the gloves are off.”
Spokesperson for the No Central West Waste Dump Committee and neighbour to the proposed site Robyn Rayner said: “This will affect 43 shires. None have been notified of the process. The timing of the consultation process makes it harder as many councils are not yet in full swing.”
While the government says that each site nomination has been subject to an objective and evidence-based assessment of technical, economic, social and environmental factors, the community at Hill End has not been given access to any reports.
Community members repeatedly asked what it would take to remove Hill End from the short list. They were told by Wilson that if the community said “no”, the dump would not go ahead in their community. The community has said a resounding NO at all the consultation meetings, but the federal government has reiterated its intention to let the 120 consultation period run its course, meaning all sites are still under consideration until then.
The ABC reported that a nuclear waste dump at Hill End had been ruled out due to community opposition, but this is untrue. The community were merely told that if they opposed it, it would not go ahead but that the consultation process would be adhered to regardless.
Community members asked what would happen if all six shortlisted sites say no. Local Member for Calare, John Cobb, advised the meeting that if none of the shortlisted communities says yes to a dump in their area, they will start the process again.
The meeting concluded by unanimously passing a motion that read: “That the community surrounding the proposed nuclear waste dump site at Hill End does not support the site and it does not wish to proceed further in the process; that the community surrounding the proposed nuclear waste dump site at Hill End ask the Member for Calare, John Cobb, to present a motion to parliament that Hill End be removed from further consideration.”
An information resource for communities about radioactive waste in Australia has been put together by state and national environment groups.
The public comment period on the shortlisted nuclear waste dump sites will run until March 11 — coincidentally marking five years since the Fukushima disaster. Anyone concerned about the planned national facility is strongly encouraged to make a submission.
The Hill End group have initiated a petition and Facebook groups have been formed for each of the shortlisted sites: