Nuclear dump defeated

Issue 

Jim Green, Adelaide

The federal government has been forced to abandon its six-year push to build a national nuclear waste dump near Woomera in South Australia. Polling had shown that the issue could swing marginal seats in South Australia against the government in the coming federal election.

The decision was also prompted by a recent Federal Court decision that reversed the compulsory seizure of land for the dump site.

The government's backdown is a victory for the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, a senior Aboriginal women's council from northern South Australia. The Kungkas — victims of the British nuclear testing program at Maralinga and Emu Field in the 1950s — have fought the dump plan since it was first announced in 1998. The Kungkas have been supported by the Girls Against Nuclear Genocide, who have moved to Coober Pedy to help fight the proposed nuclear dump.

The federal government says it will look for a new site — on-shore or off-shore — to store low- and intermediate-level waste generated by federal agencies. States and territories will manage their small volumes of radioactive waste.

The government hopes to begin operating a new nuclear reactor in the southern Sydney suburb of Lucas Heights in the next two years. That plan could be jeopardised by the dump backdown. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, operator of the existing Lucas Heights reactor, is expected to lodge a reactor operating licence application before the end of the year, with a view to operating the new reactor from 2006.

The existence of firm waste-management plans is a precondition for being granted a reactor operating licence by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency. However, ARPANSA has shown itself willing to rubber-stamp government proposals previously and may do the same again.

[Jim Green is an anti-nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth.]

From Green Left Weekly, July 21, 2004.
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