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."