Michele Madigan cuts through Australian govt spin about nuclear waste dump

South-Australia-nuclear

Freydenberg said the facility would ‘only’ house low and intermediate level waste. Perhaps he is unaware of the toxicity of this LLILW. Dr Green again: ‘When the spent fuel is removed from the reactor, it is high-level nuclear waste. After some months it cools down and falls below the heat criterion so is reclassified as LLILW.’

The farmer opponents of the Kimba sites are right to be concerned. The spent fuel reprocessing waste will be hazardous for thousands of years.


South Australia’s nuclear threat continues http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=45708#.VkuCE9IrLGh 
Michele Madigan |  17 November 2015

Last Friday 13 November, the federal government released the shortlisted sites of the proposed national radioactive waste facility. No surprise that three are in South Australia, the ‘expendable state‘: Cortlinye and Pinkawillinie near Kimba on Eyre Peninsula, and Barndioota near Hawker, north of Port Augusta.

I wonder if South Australians aren’t beginning to feel like nuclear particles themselves, bombarded on all sides by the nuclear industry. This announcement from the federal government about its nuclear repository plans comes as the state government continues to consider, through its Royal Commission, whether, when and where South Australia will offer to host the world’s high-level nuclear waste.

The six names on the federal government shortlist (the remaining three being Sallys Flat in NSW, Hale in the Northern Territory and Oman Ama in Queensland) are taken from an original list of 28 properties that were offered by their landowners. It’s disturbing to find that the owner of the Cortilinye site, at least, has been misinformed,believing ‘It’s basically only a medical waste facility.’

In reality, only 10–20 per cent of the radioactive waste is medical in origin. And nuclear medicine is in no way affected by the lack of a national repository.

Resources and energy minister Josh Freydenberg’s Friday announcement included a masterly sentence of understatement: ‘Low level waste is those gloves or those goggles or the paper or the plastic that comes into contact with nuclear medicine, and intermediate waste could be, for example, those steel rods that are used in the reactor to actually create these particular products.’

It’s interesting to notice what’s different and what stays the same from the 1998–2004 ‘dump’ campaign in SA.Former science and energy minister Nick Minchin’s ultimately unsuccessful task back then was the imposition of a national dump on a South Australian community. His favourite low-level waste examples were watches that shine in the dark.

Senator Minchin however was not quite as casual as Freydenberg about what the intermediate waste ‘could be’. While Freydenberg seems to be casting around for an arbitrary ‘example’, the ‘steel rods’ he refers to, which are still travelling by sea from France back to Australia, are in fact long-lived intermediate level radioactive waste (LLILLW). As Dr Jim Green of Friends of the Earth explains:

‘Despite the name, spent fuel is orders of magnitude more radioactive than the original uranium ore. The spent fuel reprocessing waste returning from France will be stored at Lucas Heights, south of Sydney, and is then destined for ‘interim’ above-ground storage at one of the six sites.

‘Oddly, the government is making no effort to find a final disposal site for LLILW,’ he adds, even though ‘according to international standards, it should be subject to deep underground disposal, some hundreds of metres underground.’

Freydenberg said the facility would ‘only’ house low and intermediate level waste. Perhaps he is unaware of the toxicity of this LLILW. Dr Green again: ‘When the spent fuel is removed from the reactor, it is high-level nuclear waste. After some months it cools down and falls below the heat criterion so is reclassified as LLILW.’

The farmer opponents of the Kimba sites are right to be concerned. The spent fuel reprocessing waste will be hazardous for thousands of years.

All the while, the push for welcoming the world’s most dangerous material continues within SA — despite 40 per cent of SA’s electricity currently supplied by renewable energy.

It’s interesting how ethics enters the debate on the pro-nuclear side. With uranium just .02 per cent of the nation’s export dollars, Premier Weatherill has quoted ‘some’ who saw that because SA has 70 per cent of Australia’s uranium reserves ‘we’re duty bound to play our role in storing the waste’. In a signed letter to me earlier this month he was more direct.

The environmentalist refutation is more logical. The people do not choose to export uranium, but governments and companies do. If any government imports uranium then, just as with any other product, they import the responsibility of dealing with it.

As South Australia contemplates the renewed prospect of hosting both national and international radioactive waste sites, the stakes are high, especially for local Aboriginal populations whose collective memories include both the British mainland atomic tests of the 1950s and 1960s, and the successful campaign of 1998–2004 opposing a proposed national dump.

‘We live off the land,’ one young man from Coober Pedy wrote informally to the Royal Commission. ‘We go bush, we gather our food out there. We don’t want radioactive waste to destroy our land. It’s going to contaminate everything — our creeks, our water, our family.’

‘We don’t want the nuclear waste to be on our lands,’ Mima Smart, chairperson of Yalata, told me. Yalata is the place to which the people of the Maralinga Lands were removed to in 1952, a year prior to the first mainland explosion in the British nuclear test series.

‘Long ago our people didn’t have any rights and went through the bomb,’ she says. ‘That’s why we haven’t got Old People today. But these days we have our legal rights. How many more people do they want to die like what we seen?’

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