April 29 marked two years since then Minister for Resources and Energy Josh Frydenberg selected the South Australian outback as a site to store Australia’s radioactive waste.
The federal government plans to permanently store low-level nuclear waste and temporarily store intermediate level waste at one of two locations, near Kimba or at Barndioota, near Hawker, in the Flinders Ranges. The plan is backed by the new Liberal government of South Australia.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) held informal community consultations in both towns in March. ARPANSA is the federal agency that would assess any application made by the federal government for a nuclear waste repository.
ARPANSA's role is “informal” for the moment because no official application had been lodged by the federal government. However, ARPANSA chief executive Carl-Magnus Larsson said if the agency were to receive an application, it could take between six and 12 months to decide whether to grant a licence for the facility.
The cited employment and economic opportunities are modest: some short-term fencing and construction work and just 12 to 15 longer term security and maintenance jobs. In contrast, according to the South Australian Tourism Commission, visitor expenditure in the Flinders Ranges is $415 million a year, with 1400 jobs directly in the tourism industry and 1300 indirect jobs.
Resources and Energy Minister Matt Canavan recently announced a community vote to gauge community support for the waste dump would begin on August 20. This is despite the fact there is currently a Senate Inquiry examining the flawed and divisive site selection process, which will not report until after the vote.
Members of the Flinders Local Action Group (FLAG), No Dump Alliance and Don’t Dump on SA, together with Adnyamathanha community members, who have been campaigning against the plan, came together in Port Augusta over April 21–22 to discuss their shared concerns and commit to increasing their efforts against the plan.
The groups agreed to highlight community concern and opposition to the federal plan ahead of the August vote and urge residents in the wider region to stand up and speak out. They are calling for an open and independent inquiry into the full range of radioactive waste management options.
Former federal member for Grey Barry Wakelin told the meeting it was a national issue and “not something that a regional community should be left to deal with. The current federal plan lacks evidence and poses a threat to our existing industries. We need a better way.”
Canavan recently visited the area but failed to consult with the Adnyamathanha people. In response, the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (ATLA) released a short video message to the minister.
Regina McKenzie, an Adnyamathanha woman who lives next to the proposed site, said: “It’s been two years of the government not listening. They turn deaf ears towards the whole Adnyamathanha Nation who say no to the waste dump. We say no waste dump in our country”.
Chairperson of FLAG Greg Bannon said: “This fight has been going since the site was shortlisted. For two years, the government has had a continual presence in the district. The process has dragged on, but the government needs to know that we are committed to stopping this proposal. They have been using a site selection model that has been tried and failed for years: forcing a radioactive waste dump on a remote community.”
Kimba local Audrey Lienert said while the community was split over the proposal, there was a common concern among those who did not support the facility: "If the word gets out that we've got nuclear here in our farming land, what [will] our market be overseas, and what will that do to our prices?”
The federal government has said it will make a decision on the location of the nuclear waste facility before the end of the year.