Government announces preferred sites for nuclear dump

January 31, 2001


The federal government announced on January 24 its preferred sites in South Australia for a controversial national dump for about 10,000 cubic metres of low-level radioactive waste — much to the disgust of environmental groups and local indigenous communities.

The preferred site, Evetts Field West, lies to the west of the Woomera-Roxby Downs road within the Woomera Prohibited Area controlled by the federal Department of Defence. It, and two alternative sites, will be the subject of an environmental assessment which is expected to take a year or more.

The Woomera Prohibited Area was established in 1947 and was used by the British military for long-range rocket tests in the 1950s and 60s.

According to reports in the Adelaide Advertiser last year, the preferred site is about two kilometres from a RAAF bombing range and the Department of Defence opposed the short listing of the site. The staging of the Automatic Landing Flight Experiment by the Japanese government in 1996 was delayed due to concerns about temporary nuclear waste storage on the range.

Bob Little, the president of Woomera's Small Business Association, said the dump is likely to tarnish the region's image and that Woomera's future would be better served in promoting the rocket and space industries.

"I would sooner see these people coming in and the rockets going up again for the tourists, and the commercial side of it and bringing money into the state, rather than the stigma and all the negatives and all the protesters coming up every 12 months to upset our livelihood", Little told ABC radio on January 25.

The other two sites to be considered in the environmental assessment are located in the east and north-east of the Woomera/Roxby Downs road.

Coondambo station owner Rick Mould said in August that local pastoralists were concerned about the impact of a waste dump. The proposed site in the Woomera Prohibited Area is three kilometres from the boundary fence of Mould's property. "We are concerned about quality assurance for our stock", he said. "We rely on the clean and green image."

The environment minister in the South Australian Liberal government, Iain Evans, said the planned dump will not affect SA's reputation as a "clean, green" state.

"All of us drink champagne and champagne in France has one of the largest nuclear storage facilities in Europe", Evans told ABC radio on January 24.

The environment spokesperson for the state Labor party, John Hill, said the announcement meant that SA was one step closer to being chosen as the site for a national store for higher-level wastes, including those arising from the reprocessing of irradiated fuel rods from the Lucas Heights nuclear research reactor in Sydney. "There is no other reason to create a single national dump for low-level waste", Hill said.

Federal Labor's environment spokesperson Nick Bolkus complained in the January 25 Adelaide Advertiser about federal science minister Senator Nick Minchin's "stubborn arrogance riding roughshod over public opinion".

Minchin replied that the former federal Labor government moved much of Australia's radioactive waste to temporary storage facilities within the Woomera Prohibited Area in 1994-95. That took place without an environmental impact assessment or even a more limited public environmental report.

The Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, senior Aboriginal women of Coober Pedy, have stepped up their campaign against the proposed nuclear waste dump. One campaigning tool will be their recently launched website, (<>) which details the effects of atomic testing on their lives in the 1950s and their current struggle to stop the nuclear dump.

The preferred final site for the nuclear dump is in the traditional lands of the Kokatha people. Rebecca Bear Wingfield, a senior Aboriginal woman from Kokatha country and spokesperson for the Kungka Tjuta, said, "Senator Minchin has just confirmed what we've known all along: that the community consultative process has been a sham and has actively excluded traditional owners from dialogue and negotiations as to the proposal for the dump."

"Australia talks of reconciliation but how can we reconcile when this waste is going to be dumped on the ancestral lands of the Kokatha people? How can the government continue to negotiate and make decisions about stolen lands, without the consent of all the Kokatha people who are the custodians and who have already had their lands stolen back in the 1950s when their lands were annexed by the Commonwealth Government using the doctrines of 'Terra Nullius'?", Bear Wingfield asked.

While the precise form of the environmental assessment of the three sites has not yet been decided by federal environment minister Robert Hill, the broad parameters are clear: the federal government will itself review and rubber stamp the dump proposal.

However, public opposition could prevent the establishment of a dump. A poll commissioned by Greenpeace found that 86% of South Australians oppose a low-level nuclear waste dump.

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