Is South Australia’s nuclear dumping plan dead?

3,000 demonstrated in Adelaide on 15 October 2016

borigines oppose it. His own Labor Party opposes it. The Conservative opposition opposes it. More than 35,000 public petitioners oppose it. State and national environment groups oppose it. Two thirds of a government-appointed citizen jury of 350 people oppose it. Business opposes it. Most of the 69 members of the two houses of parliament oppose it. Yet the South Australian Labor premier, Jay Weatherill, will not drop his plan to build a dump for all the world’s highly radioactive nuclear waste in the state. His latest hope is to put it to a referendum of the economically struggling state’s 1,039,025 enrolled voters at an unspecified date. But it’s doubted that parliament will let him run it, with a state election due on 17 March 2018.


Opposition to the nuclear plans has been consolidating. Greens member of the upper house, Mark Parnell said the “remarkable announcement defies belief and shows a government completely out of touch with the public”. Parnell said the government would need either four Opposition Liberals or four crossbenchers' votes in the upper house to allow any referendum but it had neither.


“Most of state parliament have said ‘no’, the Citizens’ Jury have said ‘no’, economists have said ‘no’, ordinary South Australians have said ‘no’, and most importantly, Traditional Owners have very clearly said ‘no’,” Conservation SA chief, Craig Wilkins said. Wilkins said the nuclear dump is "a dead plan walking".


Two thirds of the 350 citizen jurors randomly tasked to examine the dump plan unequivocally rejected it ‘under any circumstances’. The jury’s report outlined concerns with the economics, along with issues of trust, safety and a lack consent, particularly from Aboriginal elders. The Citizens Jury exposed bias and vested interests in the Nuclear Fuel Chain Royal commission pushing the dump plan.


The opposition Liberal Party's rejection was reconfirmed by a unanimous partyroom vote shortly after the premier's public statement.


Business SA chief, Nigel McBride, formerly Weatherill’s fiercest advocate for a nuclear waste dump, said the plan is now “dead”.


A key anti-nuclear campaigner, Jim Green, discusses some of the main points of the report recommending the dump.


Leading state and national environment groups have presented Weatherill with an anti-dump petition signed by more than 35,000 people.


The Australian Conservation Foundation, Conservation SA and Friends of the Earth Australia joined with Aboriginal community representatives to present  Weatherill with a series of protest postcards and a register of petition signatories.


“This unpopular and dangerous plan to ship international radioactive waste to South Australia would allow ageing nuclear reactors to stay open overseas, delaying the shift to clean, renewable energy,” said ACF campaigner, Dave Sweeney.


“Premier Weatherill should drop this idea, which would leave Australian people with an unwelcome toxic legacy for hundreds of thousands of years.”


“Across South Australia and the nation concern and opposition to the idea of radioactive waste dumping is rapidly growing,” said Conservation SA Chief Executive, Craig Wilkins.


Weatherill argues that the only path forward is through the restoration of bipartisanship “and a broad social consent secured through a statewide referendum”.


“Ultimately this is a matter for people to decide, not politicians. If broad social consent were to be achieved through a referendum, a local Aboriginal community would also be given a final right of veto on any future facility on their land…”


Weatherill had argued that the dump would generate jobs and bring wealth to South Australia, which has the second lowest performing economy in Australia. It’s been hit by a double whammy of  General Motors Holden ceasing manufacturing cars in Adelaide and a significant drop in commodity prices. The state has the highest unemployment rate in Australia as its economy transitions from full-time to part-time work.


Three quarters of the state’s 1.677 million people, an estimated 1.31 million, live in the coastal capital, Adelaide, the most centralised population of any state in Australia. Other population centres in the state are relatively small. South Australia’s 984,377 km², which cover some of the most arid parts of the continent, are defined by extreme wilderness.


The world’s second largest uranium mine, “Olympic Dam”, is at Roxby Downs, 550 km NNW of Adelaide. It works the largest known single deposit of uranium in the world. Approximately 70% of the poly-metallic mine's revenue comes from copper, 25% from uranium. Nearly all the uranium mined in Australia is exported.


Australia's uranium has been mined since 1954, and three mines are currently operating. More are planned. Australia's known uranium resources are the world's largest – almost one third of the global total. In 2015 Australia was the world's third-ranking producer, behind Kazakhstan and Canada. All production is exported.


Australia uses no nuclear power, but with high reliance on coal any likely carbon constraints on electricity generation will make it a strong possibility, argues the international uranium lobby.


Other reporting:




'We are not a dump is SA, we want to keep it beautiful' — Umoona Community. 'We've got to think about the country' — Ceduna.
"The [Citizens'] jury also insisted on a strong second round of Aboriginal Traditional Owner witnesses: Pitjatjantjara, Yankunyjatjara, Adnyamathanha, Nukunu, Kokatha and others from various language groups across the state. Witnesses reported that various jurists were very moved by these many powerful and passionate statements,
with their final report quoting Keith Peters from Yalata — 'Any damage to the environment is damage to spirit and body'." 


Citizens' jury designer says government has "stopped listening"

The head of the organisation that designed the citizens' jury process says the government has stopped listening to its community and has failed to heed the lessons of Brexit.

Let’s now consider how to invest in sustainable jobs in manufacturing and low carbon technologies
Perhaps the Premier will now see that this is a non-starter. Unfortunately he seems determined to press ahead. Let’s now move on and consider how we might invest the money that would have been needed for this nuclear waste project in creating sustainable jobs in South Australia – manufacturing and installing the technologies needed for low carbon energy future.


“Jurors experienced a range of manoeuvers seemingly designed to fragment and dilute their growing concerns”
Jurors experienced a range of manoeuvers seemingly designed to fragment and dilute their growing concerns. Discussions were restricted to small groups focussed on specific aspects of the proposal. There were attempts to undermine the near unanimous voice of the Aboriginal community. There were ongoing arguments over the form of the core question, particularly how this had been framed in terms of three (traffic light) options. Yes – go ahead (green). Yes - go ahead under conditions (amber). No – don't go ahead (red). There was ongoing dispute over whether the question be about whether the project 'could' go ahead (anything can be done given enough time and money) or whether it 'should' – under the circumstances proposed. In the event two thirds of jurors said unambiguously the proposed project should not proceed 'under any circumstances'.


'Silent majority' over 'elites' telling people what to think about waste dump
A "silent majority" of South Australians want the investigation into a nuclear waste dump to continue, the State Treasurer says, citing a comparison with US voters who elected Donald Trump as their next president.

Weatherill effectively buries nuclear waste dump proposal
PREMIER Jay Weatherill has sparked an internal Labor backlash by pitching plans for a nuclear storage referendum and refusing to
abandon the idea, despite public opposition.

Nuclear roadblock warning but door still open, says strident supporter

A LABOR MP who is a strident supporter of the proposed nuclear facility in SA has warned of roadblocks to the proposal.

Liberal members ejected from parliament during dump debate

A THIRD of lower-house Liberal MPs have been ejected from Question Time and Premier Jay Weatherill has shielded four ministers from calls for them to personally back his nuclear plans.

Stubborn Weatherill risks fallout from referendum

Significant opposition from all sides hasn't been enough to deter the Premier.

Being pro-nuke is OK, dissing renewables isn't
In a series on nuclear energy, Terry Leach takes up the cause for renewables.