The Southern Cross

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Time for action over proposed nuclear dump

Opinion

The Federal Government has recently announced its plans to establish a national nuclear waste 'facility' near Kimba on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula. It will comprise a permanent dump for low-level nuclear waste, and an 'interim' store for long-lived intermediate-level nuclear waste (LLILW).

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Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) includes representatives of religious congregations of women and men throughout the nation. Some time ago they voiced their concerns about this project which depended on particular landholders simply offering a site. As a group historically involved with the education of generations of young Australians, CRA noted well their concerns ‘that short term proposals for the storage of Australia’s nuclear waste will leave insoluble problems for present and future generations’, LLILW remains toxic for an unimaginable 10,000 years. There are no present plans for its permanent disposal.

Former CRA president Sr Monica Cavanagh had cause to ‘question the sense, the expense and the risks of transporting long lived intermediate nuclear waste from where it is temporarily housed at Lucas Heights with the nuclear experts, 1700 kilometres across the country to be temporarily stored in a regional, yet to be built, facility. Given that most of Australia’s intermediate level nuclear waste comes from Lucas Heights many believe that it should be kept there, at least until a final disposal solution is established.’

Nuclear medicine can continue in Australia regardless of whether the current proposal goes ahead or not. Nuclear medicine lecturer Dr Margaret Beavis notes that ‘hospitals will continue to deal with nuclear waste as long as they treat patients. Almost all nuclear waste from patients rapidly loses it radiation and is then sent on to the rubbish tip after several months’. X-rays and radiotherapy are not nuclear medicine.

The reality is that over 90 per cent of the waste, measured by radioactivity, is intermediate long-lived waste including the nuclear spent fuel rods and also the parts of the previous nuclear reactor.

Shamefully, the Federal Government has decided to move ahead despite the unanimous opposition of the Barngarla Traditional Owners, native titleholders over the area. Excluded from the Kimba ballot last year, Barngarla people engaged the Australian Election Company to conduct a confidential postal ballot. Not a single Barngarla Traditional Owner voted in favour of the dump.

The Barngala initiated a legal action protesting their exclusion. Sadly their appeal has recently been denied. As Barngarla Traditional Owner Jeanne Miller laments, Aboriginal people with no voting power are put back 50 years, ‘again classed as flora and fauna’.

With just 4.5 per cent of SA being agricultural land, many Kimba region farmers are astounded that their combined livelihoods of $80 million per annum have been put at risk by association with a nuclear LLILW dump. SA environmentalist David Noonan’s careful research of government documents has revealed that Whyalla is the most likely SA port to receive the two shipments in the first two years of operation. There is still no government communication on land transport routes for the fortnightly 50 tonne load B-double trucks from Lucas Heights. Accidents happen.

With Pope Francis’s designation of practical Care for Earth as the 8th Beatitude, a wonderful Lenten/post-Lenten penance might be a concerned letter to alert an Opposition or cross bench SA senator at Parliament House, Canberra 5600. The Senate vote is likely at the end of June.

Michele Madigan is a Sister of St Joseph who has spent the past 38 years working with Aboriginal people in remote areas of SA, in Adelaide and in country SA. Her work has included advocacy and support for senior Aboriginal women of Coober Pedy in their campaign against the proposed national radioactive dump.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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