13 Nov 2015

Outrage over Australian nuclear waste dump

4:56 pm on 13 November 2015

The Australian government is facing brewing community discontent after revealing a shortlist of sites for a proposed permanent nuclear waste dump - the country's first.

Protesters rally against the placement of a nuclear waste dump at Muckaty Station (AAP Image/Neda Vanovac) EDITORIAL USE ONLY, NO ARCHIVING

Protesters rally against the placement of a nuclear waste dump at Muckaty Station Photo: AAP

Earlier this year, landholders were invited to nominate land for a facility to house almost all of the country's nuclear waste.

One of the shortlist of six sites nominated will store low and intermediate level nuclear waste. The government wants to finalise a single location by the end of next year.

The sites have been volunteered by landholders, who stand to recoup four times the value of their land.

The community near the chosen site will be given access to $10 million to put towards infrastructure projects.

Three proposed sites are located in South Australia - Cortlinye, Pinkawillinie, and Barndioota - while the other options are at Hale in the Northern Territory, Sallys Flat in New South Wales and Oman Ama in Queensland.

Resources and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg was optimistic about securing local support.

"We've chosen six [sites] after rigorous analysis, including input from an expert panel that's looked at the environmental, the geological, the engineering and the economic impacts of each particular site," he said.

Previous plans to build the dump in remote locations in the Northern Territory and South Australia were abandoned after fierce opposition.

Three of the new sites are in the electorate of South Australian Federal Government MP Rowan Ramsey.

He is so supportive of the dump he offered to build it on his own property, but that was knocked back as a perceived conflict of interest.

A transport storage cask for the return of high activity waste from reprocessing is loaded onto the BBC Shanghai cargo ship in Cherbourg-Octeville. The vessel is to deliver nuclear waste back to Australia after its reprocessing in France. AFP PHOTO / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU

Reprocessed nuclear waste is loaded onto the BBC Shanghai cargo ship in France for the return voyage back to Australia Photo: AFP

Mr Ramsey is hopeful a "scare campaign" will not drown out the positive economic benefits that have already been illustrated in countries like Sweden and France.

"Obviously there is no downside, I mean we don't stop buying champagne or French cheese because gee whiz it comes from a country that's got nuclear facilities," he said.

But residents near some of the new sites are worried.

Lino Alvarez, who lives in Hill End, near Sallys Flat in New South Wales, said the proposition was "disgusting".

"It will be a danger to everything," he said.

Neva Lilley lives at Running Stream, also near the proposed New South Wales site, and argued it was too risky to store waste in such a populated area.

"I would prefer for it to be out in the desert or right aware from where people are living because you never know when an accident might occur, do you?"

Bathurst Climate Action Network head Tracy Carpenter said Bathurst, which is an hour away from Sallys Flat, had been a sister city with Okuma in Japan, one of the towns affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

"People cannot occupy [Okuma] since the tsunami and earthquake and the result [of] the nuclear disaster and now we're being slated as an area to dump nuclear waste," Ms Carpenter said.

"It's just appalling."

Josh Frydenberg said there would be extensive community consultation ahead of the final decision on a site.

"We won't unilaterally pick one, this is a voluntary community consultative process," Mr Frydenberg said.

He said the existing facilities in Australian hospitals and universities were running out of capacity to continue storing waste.

"Australia currently has the equivalent of around two Olympic-sized swimming pools of such waste, which may include laboratory items such as paper, plastic and glassware, and material used in medical treatments," Mr Frydenberg said.

"More than 100 sites across the country, including hospitals and universities, are licensed to store this waste on an interim basis.

"This will require a thorough assessment by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, Australia's independent radiation safety regulator, and an environmental assessment."

The release of the shortlist comes amid growing debate over the role of nuclear power in the Australian economy.

The South Australian Government is currently undertaking a royal commission into the nuclear fuel cycle, examining what role it could play in a state economy already hit hard by the decline of the manufacturing and mining industries.

Labor Premier Jay Weatherill said he wanted to see the outcome of the royal commission.

"I established the royal commission. So I am open to South Australia expanding its role in the nuclear fuel cycle," he said.

"Obviously this is one of the early potential opportunities that may exist for South Australia should we take that decision, but there's a long way to go."

Waste should stay put: environmentalist

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also fuelled the debate, remaining sceptical about building nuclear power plants but foreshadowing Australia could play a role in the storage of waste.

"There is a huge amount of nuclear waste in Australia already, including from hospitals and from the Lucas Heights reactor, and we've got to find safer places to store it," Mr Turnbull said last month.

"Nuclear power is a big part of the world's energy solution. I think it's unlikely it will happen here."

He also floated the idea of setting up a high-level waste storage facility.

Friends of the Earth national nuclear campaigner Jim Green said nuclear waste dumps posed serious risks to the environment and the health of those living nearby.

Most of Australia's existing nuclear waste is kept at Lucas Heights in New South Wales and another facility at Woomera in South Australia.

Dr Green said there was no reason to move it.

"There's no obvious reason to be moving that vast bulk of radioactive waste and, in particular, Lucas Heights has the facilities, the storage capacity, the expertise and it simply does not make any sense to be moving the waste out of Lucas Heights," Dr Green said.

The government is under pressure to come up with a national nuclear waste dump, with 25 tonnes of uranium on its way back from France after being processed.

Nuclear waste from reprocessing is loaded onto the BBC Shanghai cargo ship on October 15, 2015 in Cherbourg-Octeville, France AFP PHOTO / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU

Nuclear waste from reprocessing is loaded onto the BBC Shanghai cargo ship on October 15, 2015 in Cherbourg-Octeville, France Photo: AFP

Spent fuel was sent to France in four shipments in the 1990s and early 2000s.

When the shipment of waste from France arrives it will be temporarily kept at the nuclear facility in Lucas Heights in southern Sydney.


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