Senate estimates hearings in November revealed that the federal government's plans for a nuclear dump in the Northern Territory are not running smoothly. The site evaluation is lagging six months behind schedule and, as a result, Canberra wants to conduct environmental assessment and site licensing processes concurrently.
Federal science minister Julie Bishop has also proposed a set of amendments that, if passed, will override legislation passed last December. The Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act (CRWMA), 2005 included provisions that stipulated that to nominate a site for assessment for the Commonwealth radioactive waste dump, a Land Council must demonstrate evidence: of consultation with the traditional owners; that the traditional owners understand the nomination; that they have consented as a group; and that any community or group that may be affected has been consulted and had adequate opportunity to express its view.
Less than a year later, Bishop wants to further weaken community input into the debate over radioactive waste management, with amendments that mean that if the above conditions are not met, the validity of a nomination is not affected. This paves the way for traditional owners' rights to be wiped out.
On November 22, the Environment Centre of the NT, Arid Lands Environment Centre and the Darwin No Waste Alliance put their strong opposition to the proposed amendment to the senate inquiry. The bill is due for debate at the end of November. The bill contravenes the Land Councils' statutory obligations under the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act.
Predictably, federal MPs have welcomed the Uranium Industry Framework report which outlines a massive expansion of uranium exports based on "product stewardship" — a notion that could result in Australia accepting responsibility for the waste generated by any uranium exported from this country. This document makes clear that a dump in the NT could become a destination for international nuclear waste. Ziggy Switkowski's Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy Review also opens the door to a domestic nuclear power industry.
But opposition to the government's plans is growing. Traditional owners and community representatives from the various NT sites targeted for the nuclear dump will meet with politicians and the Darwin community on November 29 at 6.30pm at the Museum Theaterette. All welcome.
[Justin Tutty is a member of No Waste Alliance. Visit http://no-waste.org/.]