South Australia wants to store all the world's nuclear waste

Green is South Australia

A year-long inquiry in South Australia is likely to make the recommendation that the largely desert-like state will offer to take in nuclear waste from all over the world. In the state with the highest unemployment, its Labor premier Jay Weatherill touts economic opportunities in the mining, enrichment, energy and storage phases of the nuclear fuel cycle. A professor of politics sees a degree of desperation in the mood of South Australia as Weatherill looks for political gains to give him a fifth term in office.


The Greens South Australian (SA) parliamentary leader, Mark Parnell, commented: “The Royal Commission’s tentative findings on the nuclear waste dump are based on dubious economics, heroic assumptions and a big dose of guess work. The Commission has identified a problem that lasts hundreds of thousands of years and proposed a solution with income that lasts just a few decades, but with costs lasting virtually forever.  If anything goes wrong in the future – we’re on our own. South Australians will now need to ask themselves and their politicians:
‘Is this the best future that we can aspire to?’"


A Catholic nun who campaigns against nuclear activities, Michele Madigan, points out that nuclear waste danger knows no state borders. “It would be a mistake for anyone living outside of South Australia to think that the premier's plan is just a South Australian problem. Transport and containment risks are hugely significant. State boundaries are no guarantees of safety.”

Conservation groups generally have been scathing, describing nuclear power as a dying industry and accusing the royal commission of ignoring the risks associated with waste storage including contamination, theft and terrorism. "Sadly the royal commission is proving to be a toxic trojan horse for a dangerous and divisive plan to turn remote South Australia into a permanent radioactive waste zone," Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner, Dave Sweeney said. Click here for a roundup of pros and cons.


The Australian Nuclear Free Alliance sees “long term damage for short term gain”. “They don’t want to put it (the nuclear waste)  


in the cities but in the desert because it is so deadly,” said Arabunna elder and Australian Nuclear Free Alliance president, Kevin Buzzacott.

“The desert isn’t empty. It has an ecosystem, it has people, and Aboriginal people have cultural connections to that land and an obligation to care for it. This is a disgraceful legacy for future generations. Is this what we want to leave our children, the burden of dealing with radioactive waste that no other country wants or can deal with?” asked Mr Buzzacott.

Rebecca Bear-Wingfield, Kokatha and Arabunna senior woman and Australian Nuclear Free Alliance co-chair, attended the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War conference in 2010, where the dangerous health impacts of radioactive exposure were reaffirmed.

“They keep making the same mistakes, they keep overlooking human rights and they keep overlooking the evidence on the impacts of this industry,” said Ms Wingfield.

“This proposal promises long term damage for short-term profit. There isn’t a high level waste dump in operation anywhere in the world, so we are likely to just end up with stockpiles of radioactive waste and no-where to put it,” Ms Wingfield continued.

“Both indigenous and non-indigenous people have been affected by the environmental and health-related impacts of the British bomb tests, and now they want to impose an international nuclear waste dump on us. This has been defeated in South Australia once before and we will continue to fight.”


Australian Nuclear Free Alliance co-chair and Kokatha-Mula woman Sue Coleman-Haseldine says the proposal threatens her people's spiritual health. "We can't survive in this world without our culture and the land is the main part of that. We've got sacred sites, we've got Dreamtime stories out there," she said.

Friends of the Earth said the commission's findings came without a detailed analysis of how the nuclear waste could be safely transported and stored. While the Solar Citizens lobby group said the commission's findings showed nuclear power was not the solution to South Australia's energy needs.


Friends of the Earth’s national nuclear campaigner, Jim Green, noted: “In a nutshell, the Royal Commission is negative about almost all of the proposals it is asked to consider – but positive about the proposal to import high-level nuclear waste from nuclear power plants for disposal in South Australia.”


Green is scathing about the Commission’s claim of Australia's "active involvement in strengthening the international safeguards system". Green sees Australia actively weakening the nuclear safeguards system, the most recent example being the proposal to sell uranium to India “a country which is actively expanding its weapons arsenal and refuses to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.


“That proposal has been endorsed by the federal government despite strong criticisms from a /who's who/ of nuclear arms control diplomats and experts including John Carlson (former long serving Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office from 1989 to 2010), Ron Walker (former chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency), and Prof Lawrence Scheinman (former assistant director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency). These are veteran players in global nuclear diplomatic and regulatory regimes, not anti-nuclear activists.

Insiders in the federal Labor party, now the opposition, are mobilising support for a South Australian nuclear waste dump, as federal leader Bill Shorten today dramatically turned the debate on its head, expressing qualified support for a nuclear waste dump in South Australia.

Shorten initially greeted Labor Premier Weatherill's establishment of the inquiry with scepticism, re-stating his party's "longstanding position [against] nuclear power based on the best available expert advice".

But now that the commission has broadly rejected Australia's involvement in nuclear power production or uranium enrichment, Shorten was surprisingly upbeat about the prospects of a high-level waste dump, provided it met safety concerns and carried community support.

"Federal Labor has always said we do support safe storage of low-grade nuclear waste." On the question of high-level waste, he insisted "Jay Weatherill and I are of one mind".

The support of federal Labor is significant, as the national party - long ideologically opposed to the nuclear industry - loomed as the major stumbling block to the inquiry report’s insistence that bipartisan consensus at both state and federal levels was a prerequisite to pursuing a repository.

In neighbouring Western Australia the non-governmental Conservation Council (CCWA) criticises the conservative government for spending $300 million of taxpayers’ money on uranium exploration “and nothing to show for it”.


This is an astonishing case of wasteful spending given that the State budget is in deep deficit, the market outlook for uranium is bleak, very few jobs would be created, and there is continuing strong community opposition to uranium mines,” wrote Nuclear Free Campaigner Mia, Pepper.


“The Ministers statement has also revealed that the Wiluna project would only employ 170 workers if the project reaches full production. Minister Marmion enthusiastically talks up the Wiluna uranium proposal as the state’s first uranium exporter; however this project is years away from reality and has recently been put on hold by Toro Energy due to an ongoing depressed uranium price.


“By comparison, there are over 2,000 solar workers already in WA according to the Solar Council. There are probably more people employed mowing lawns in WA than the Wiluna uranium project would generate in the unlikely case the mine progresses.”


Elsewhere in Western Australia, Martu elders have opened an invitation for people to join them on an 8 day walk through the Karlamilyi National park in opposition to the proposed Kintyre uranium mine.

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