Scrapping of Muckaty nuclear waste dump plan. What’s next?

Well, for a few weeks, the Australian media has been happily occupied titillating us all with matters legal – the court cases of Oscar Pistorius and of Rolf Harris.

Meanwhile barely noted by the media, a 7 year legal battle was won this week –  one that has far more significance for all Australians. And especially for indigenous Australians.

The  Aboriginal Traditional Landowners of the Muckaty station area, (Northern Territory)  fought against nuclear waste dumping on their land, and following the last weeks of this case, that plan has been scrapped. It has been a very unequal fight, yet those proud indigenous people have won out, against the legal forces of the Australian Government, and the Northern Land Council, which first signed up to  the dump plan.

Background. The global nuclear lobby is happy to have a research reactor at Lucas Heights, in Sydney. This reactor was envisaged, way back, after World War 2 as part of a push to get a nuclear bomb.  It remains there as a way in for the nuclear industry in Australia. The medical isotope production was tacked on later – to make the reactor look more respectable, but medical isotopes can be made in alternative ways.  Australia sent the high level nuclear reactor wastes overseas is legally bound to take them back.

2004   The Australian government first attempted to site a nuclear waste dump in South Australia, but South Australia resisted this and won. A Territory has less power and that is why the Government  targeted the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory Government passed the Nuclear Waste Transport , Storage and Disposal Prohibition Act 2004 (to no avail as it turned out.)

2005 . A government expert team investigated and selected 3 sites suitable for burial of the returned high level nuclear wastes. All of these sites were on Commonwealth land.  The Muckaty area, which is seismically risky, as well as being on Aboriginal land, was not selected.  Nevertheless, the Howard Liberal government passed the draconian Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005 , over-riding environmental and Aboriginal heritage laws, and State and Territory laws and selecting Muckaty for the site    Traditional Aboriginal owners soon began their legal fight agsanst this.

2010. The Labor government repealed that Act in 2010, and promptly replaced it with an equally draconion Radioactive Waste Management Act 2010.

The medical waste deceptionThe argument that a Northern Territory  waste dump is needed for medical wastes is disingenuous.  “Waste from nuclear medicine procedures, the majority of which is for diagnostic services rather than treatment, is low level and short term waste can be stored on site and safely disposed of locally.  The small amount of higher level waste from nuclear medicine can also be stored locally, as it is currently” –Public Health Association of Australia,

The future. The relatively small amount of high level waste from the Lucas Heights reactor could be stored at Lucas Heights, and the reactor could be shut down, to stop further toxic production. The Australian government, like the rest of the world, does not know where to put the ever accumulating collection of radioactive trash.

My bet is that our not very bright, and totally unethical government will try it on Aboriginal people again – with blackmail or bribes – ‘whatever it takes’.

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