The Guardian March 6, 2002


Federal Government forces nuclear dumps on SA

by Bob Briton

Last week South Australians were reminded that the Federal Government is to 
press ahead with plans to set up two nuclear dumps in their state in spite 
of the opposition of up to 95 per cent of the population.

Federal Science Minister Peter McGauran renewed threats that the 
Commonwealth would over-ride state legislation to allow the establishment 
of a second dump to take radioactive "Long Lived Intermediate Level Waste" 
(LLIW). Internationally, this grade of material is considered to be high 
level radioactive waste. A decision has already been made regarding the 
location of the Federal Government's low-level waste dump but has not been 
made public as yet.

Currently, South Australia has legislation prohibiting the dumping of 
medium-high level radioactive waste in the state and the Labor Government-
in-waiting has said through environment spokesperson John Hill that it is 
implacably opposed to it.

Undeterred, McGauran's predecessor Senator Nick Minchin announced in early 
February that "Site 52A" in the Woomera Prohibited Area of South Australia 
is the preferred location.

This declaration was made before the conclusions of any environmental 
assessments had been released and. despite the fact that the period for 
"public consultation" had not expired.

The Federal Government is keen to fast track the construction of a 
privately built and run national "repository" for low level industrial and 
medical waste.

Commentators anticipate that they will then probably co-locate another 
store for the "Long-Lived Intermediate-Level" waste above ground on the 
same site.

The facility would most likely be ready to receive waste when the present 
Lucas Heights reactor is closed down in 2005 and for when the new one comes 
on-line.

The high handedness of the Federal Government is breath-taking and makes a 
further mockery of its claims to mandates and other democratic pretensions.

They are also taking a political risk in dismissing the opposition to the 
dumps in SA so lightly. This opposition is not of the usual "not in my 
backyard" variety and its depth and breadth have a wealth of bitter 
experience at their core.

Hardly a month goes by in South Australia without some gruesome revelations 
being made about the nuclear weapons atmospheric tests that took place at 
Maralinga in the state's north in 1956/57.

These were conducted against a background of secrecy and public 
reassurances from a Government of essentially the same political stripe as 
the one holding office today.

The results of those weapons tests are untold misery for the veterans and 
the Aboriginal people of the region and the creation of an uninhabitable 
radioactive wasteland covering 120 square kilometres.

These are the same sorts of authorities that are asking South Australians 
to trust them to safeguard waste that will be radioactive for the next 
250,000 years!

South Australians are also starting to hear more about the accident prone 
uranium industry based in the state. Last month the State Government and 
mining company Heathgate Resources came clean about a spill of 62,000 
litres of radioactive liquid at the uranium mine at Beverley. They further 
confessed that there were 24 spills at the mine, four of those involving 
leakage of over 2,000 litres of liquid with some of those containing 
uranium.

This news follows on reports of fires at the Olympic Dam uranium mine site 
last year and leaks between the "impermeable" aquifers at the Honeymoon 
mine in 1999.

As mentioned previously, SA has legislation that stands opposed to the 
planned dumps. In the recent state elections, very few political groups 
dared go to the electorate without a policy of clear opposition to the 
dumping of nuclear wastes.

Even the Family First Party, with its base among fundamentalist Christian 
congregations, has an anti-dumps policy to guide their newly elected member 
of the Legislative Council.

The traditional owners of the land, the Kokatha people, are against the 
plans. The Coober Pedy, Whyalla, Broken Hill, Pt Augusta and Andamooka 
Councils have declared that they will have no role in facilitating the 
"waste repository" scheme.

Recent polling of South Australians shows that 87 per cent of the people 
are opposed to any dump being established in the north of the state and 
that a massive 95 per cent are opposed to an intermediate to high level 
dump in the area.

It can only be a matter of time before South Australians' resentment of 
their guinea pig status boils over. Anxiety at this situation is emerging 
even in traditionally conservative quarters.

A measure of this is a recent editorial in Murdoch's Adelaide mouthpiece, 
the "Advertiser", that was used to deliver the following message to the 
Federal Science Minister:

"Mr McGauran said on Tuesday he would 'take note' of the views of South 
Australians only to add that these would not be a final determinant.

"Well, listen up Mr McGauran. In SA, No means No."

Back to index page