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Down The Radioactive Rabbit Hole: Questions Keep Mounting

* Article first published in New Matilda, May 12, 2016

Down The Radioactive Rabbit Hole: Questions Keep Mounting

Adnyamathanha Elders are “shattered” that of the six sites shortlisted by the Federal Government for a national nuclear waste dump, the one on Wallerberdina Station in the Barndioota region of South Australia, is now the only one pegged for further assessment.

Regina McKenzie, Adnyamathanha Traditional Owner and direct neighbour to the nominated site, said the community is devastated, “like somebody had rang us up and told us somebody had passed away”. The Australian Conservation Foundation, too, are calling the proposal “disturbingly familiar to past failed federal approaches.”

Image: Regina McKenzie at Hookina Creek (by Natalie Wasley)

The nominated site, leased as a pastoral property from the South Australian Government by  former Liberal Senator Greg Chapman, is located next door to Yappala Station, which was declared an Indigenous Protected Area by the Federal Government in 2014.

There are many thousands of Aboriginal artefacts registered in the area, including an ancient Aboriginal skull fragment. The Adnyamathanha people have been meticulously mapping and registering the storylines and sites. The landscape is stunning, with Hookina Creek on the property framed by the iconic Flinders Ranges. Wilpena Pound is around 30 kilometres away.

Minister Josh Frydenberg had accepted six site nominations out of the 28 that were originally put forward. Communities in each of the six areas – Barndioota included – formed action groups and began a process of building local awareness and conveying opposition to the government during a 120 day ‘consultation’ period prior to the Minister’s recent decision.

There was also an unprecedented display of solidarity between the affected communities, with social media discussions evolving into a joint lobbying trip to Canberra in early March 2016. When the shortlist was announced on Friday April 29, representatives from all of the groups released a joint statement reiterating support for their friends and colleagues at the named site.

Buried in Minister Frydenberg’s media release was a comment that “the government remains open to considering new expressions of interest for additional facility sites or locations”. With the dust and initial shock still settling for the South Australian mob, this sentence begins to stand out from the rest of the text.

If the government was so confident about achieving the ‘broad level of community support’ needed to progress discussions in the Barndioota region and obtain consent for any future waste facility, why would they be entertaining the acceptance of other nominations?

Communities shocked to find they were on the earlier list of six shortlisted sites were given 120 days to hear from Department representatives and discuss the proposals – and to build their local campaigns.

Parallel to this, an Independent Advisory Panel was meeting to compare and analyse the sites according to their ‘Multi-Site Criteria Analysis’. Any further nominations would surely need to be subject to at least the same level of discussion and scrutiny for this to be considered a fair process.

So has the nomination process recommenced? Will it be advertised again in the national papers, or is the government relying on people to take initiative and study the project website page calling for nominations even though the (very short) shortlist of one possible site has been announced?

How long will nominations remain open and how will communities find out that a site in their region might have been nominated?

And what does this mean for Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners and local residents who are on a knife-edge coming into this ‘Phase 2’ of the consultation process? How long will this process now drag on for them as the ‘preferred so far but maybe we can find something better’ location?

The mental health impacts for communities in nominated areas cannot be downplayed.

Residents in the Kimba region of South Australia spoke openly about how the nomination process had damaged and divided the community. Traditional Owners of Muckaty in the Northern Territory, whose spirited and sustained resistance defeated a long standing earlier federal dump plan in 2014, have constantly spoken of how stressful it was having the government target their land.

Young Warramungu and Warlmanpa woman Kylie Sambo reflected on this experience in a recent support message to the Adnyamathanha. “I know you will be deeply hurt. We were so confused and scared. People got sick with worry, some old people even passed away during our fight. I learned so much about how tricky and cruel the government can really be,” Sambo said.

For over twenty years now, a succession of Federal Government Ministers have tried the same divisive Decide-Announce-Defend tactics, hoping to steamroll a facility onto a site considered politically vulnerable and expendable.

Each time they have been challenged and beaten by remote Aboriginal communities organising locally and in alliance with civil society organisations, including national public health groups, environment groups and trade unions.

Radioactive waste management is a social justice and environmental issue. Traditional Owners living remotely across Australia have repeatedly refused to allow their country to be used as a sacrifice zone.

Any responsible approach needs to start with a commitment to stop the production of more waste and the phase out of the nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights. We need processes that will transcend election cycles in favour of respect for country and communities, both now and long into the future.

Until then, every attempt to dump the waste ‘out of site out of mind’ on unwilling communities will be met with fierce resistance.

Barndioota (SA) the only site to be assessed for national radioactive dump

Federal Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg has announced that Barndioota in the Flinders Ranges region of SA is the only site that will be further assessed to host the national radioactive waste facility. Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners are devastated to hear the news, with Elder Enice Marsh stating she is ‘shattered’ by the decision. Traditional Owner and neighbouring landholder Regina McKenzie said “”We don’t want a nuclear waste dump here on our country and worry that if the waste comes here it will harm our environment and muda (our lore, our creation).”

The Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association CEO Vince Coulthard said in a press release “This is our land, we have been here forever and we will always be here and we are totally opposed to this dump. ATLA is the main “key stakeholder” yet they have shown us no respect. This is in our sacred country with a very important spring just nearby. This is another example of cultural genocide. This cannot happen!”

Representatives from the other nominated communities have released a statement offering ongoing support to their friends near the Barndioota site, stating they “stand shoulder to shoulder” with the community and “will offer whatever support [they] can.” The affected communities have supported each other throughout the nomination process and undertook a joint lobbying trip to Canberra in February this year.

Keep up to date via the facebook page Fight the Nuclear Waste Dump South Australia.

Supporters are also encouraged to upload a photo to the FB page with a sign calling for ‘No Nuclear Dump in the Flinders Ranges’ (see example below of a resident of Quorn, a town near the proposed site).

Paul Levai

Chernobyl 30 year commemoration: No uranium sales to the Ukraine.


26th April marks 30 years since the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in the Ukraine. Many plant ‘liquidators’ died within days, and massive radioactive releases produced an ongoing three-fold increase in thyroid cancers and other genetic illnesses. Over 5 million people today continue to live in contaminated areas.

Despite this important anniversary, which should be time for reflection and a revisiting of Australia’s role as a uranium exporter, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has signed a deal to sell uranium to the Ukraine.

Commemorations are being held around Australia to remember all whose lives have been impacted by the Chernobyl disaster, or who will be into the future, and to urge the Australian government to stop all uranium exports. We have to stop this toxic nuclear cycle.

Sydney event

Perth event


“There remain serious containment and waste management issues at Chernobyl and there are very real security concerns about Ukrainian nuclear facilities being targeted in the current conflict with Russia.

Australia has properly suspended uranium sales to Russia – it makes no sense to start selling uranium to Ukraine now.

There can be no nuclear business-as-usual in the shadow of Fukushima – a disaster that was fuelled by Australian uranium.

Following Fukushima the UN Secretary-General called for Australia to have a dedicated risk analysis of the impacts of the uranium sector – this has not happened and needs to.”

Dave Sweeney, Australian Conservation Foundation Nuclear Free Campaigner




Black Mist White Rain speaking tour has begun

For many people in Australia and the Pacific, nuclear weapons are not a distant, abstract threat, but a lived reality – a persistent source of pain and suffering, of contamination and dislocation. Indigenous communities, long marginalised and mistreated, bear the brunt of this ongoing scourge.Over four days in four cities, join us in exploring the ongoing impacts of nuclear testing in our region and the inspiring triumph of cultural survival. The stories from the front lines are a driving force behind the movement for a nuclear weapons ban, which is gaining momentum worldwide.

Please reserve your seat by clicking the registration links below. More detail is on the ICAN website here and on the facebook event page here.
Monday 4th April at 6pm
The Joinery
111 Franklin St, Adelaide

Register here.

Karina Lester | Yankunytjatjara-Anangu
Rose Lester | Yankunytjatjara-Anangu
Sue Coleman-Haseldine | Kokatha-Mula
Abacca Anjain-Maddison | Republic of the Marshall Islands
Gem Romuld | International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

MC: Helen Connolly | Australian Red Cross | South Australia Executive Director

Tuesday 5th April at 6pm
Drill Hall
26 Therry St, Melbourne

Register here.

Sue Coleman-Haseldine | Kokatha-Mula
Karina Lester | Yankunytjatjara-Anangu
Abacca Anjain-Maddison | Republic of the Marshall Islands
Tim Wright | International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Wednesday 6th April at 6pm
Redfern Town Hall
73 Pitt St, Redfern

Register here.

Sue Coleman-Haseldine | Kokatha-Mula
Rose Lester | Yankunytjatjara-Anangu
Abacca Anjain-Maddison | Republic of the Marshall Islands
Daryl le Cornu | International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

MC: Jody Broun | Australian Red Cross | NSW Executive Director.

Thursday 7th April at 6pm
Metro Arts
109 Edward St, Brisbane at 6pm.

Register here.

Sue Coleman-Haseldine | Kokatha-Mula
Rose Lester | Yankunytjatjara-Anangu
Abacca Anjain-Maddison | Republic of the Marshall Islands
Dr Bill Williams | International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

MC: Kevin Keeffe | Australian Red Cross | Queensland Executive Director.

We’re under a nuclear cloud but we’re not backing down

By Robyn Rayner.

Farmers contend regularly with fire, flood and drought, but fine wool producer Robyn Rayner never expected to be fighting off plans for a radioactive waste dump across the road from her property.

March 11, 2016

How would you feel if you woke up one morning and was told via a media report that you could be living next door to a nuclear waste dump?

On November 13 last year the Federal Government announced a shortlist of six sites, from twenty eight volunteered properties around Australia, for a proposed national radioactive waste dump. A property at Hill End was named. Since then our lives have been turned upside down. My husband Geoff and I, along with our family, own and run Pomanara Merino Stud directly across the road from the proposed site. It is just 1.5km from our family home. We are second-generation woolgrowers and our son James would like to be the third. This may not be important to Government Departments, but it is to us. This nuclear waste will also be around for generations to come, wherever they put it.

We have worked long and hard to achieve the clean, green and sustainable label that we have today. Our region is renown for growing the best superfine wool in the world and we have won many major awards for the sheep we breed. At no time did the landowner who nominated his property consult with neighbours, nor did he take into consideration the environment or the village of Hill End, located nine kilometres away. Hill End is a historic precinct that host 5000 school children a year and over 100 000 other visitors. The nominated property backs onto the Turon River, a major waterway for the food bowl of Australia.

Stress and anxiety has left us not able to function properly in our day to day lives. Our farm work has suffered. When you own livestock, they have to be your number one priority. Instead we wake up every morning with a nuclear cloud over our head. We are trying to make sense of how the Government could sign off on a site without even visiting the area beforehand. Wherever this facility is located, it will remain there for many hundreds of years. We need to ensure that future generations are well informed as well as protected from any harm that will come from this site.

The proposed site was first listed in the Government Gazette and official Department website as 3165 Hill End Road Sallys Flat NSW. This address does not actually exist. The owners of 3165 Hill End Road Hill End have not and do not wish to volunteer their property. The correct lot number is actually 2641- the coordinates initially published were in fact for the proposed Queensland site. How does a Government department, with resources at its fingertips, get it so wrong? How can we trust these people with nuclear waste when they cannot get a simple address correct?

We have so many unanswered questions. A Department Official told the Hill End meeting on November 26 that no reports will be done until the next phase of the project. Yet Minister Josh Frydenberg said in an interview with Ray Hadley (21 January 2016) that extensive weather, seismology and infrastructure reports have been completed.

The Minister also stated that some neighbours were in favour of this proposal, yet all direct neighbours have twice stated their objections at meetings with Government representatives present.

In the same radio interview the Minister stated that Bathurst Regional Council was in favour, when in fact it had not yet voted on the issue. On February 3 the Council voted against the waste facility being built in the region. Mid-Western Regional Council Mudgee, Lithgow City Council and the Bathurst and Mudgee Chambers of Commerce have also raised objections. The Rural Fire Service has stated that they would not attend any call outs. The Peel Residents Association and the Wattle Flat Progress Association passed motions against the dump. The mid-state sub branch of the National Servicemen’s Association of Australia has also stated opposition.

The Government representatives only wanted one on one meetings with directly affected neighbours, but we insisted on public meetings. The community and the neighbours are all, and will remain, completely against this proposal. This has actually brought our community closer together. We stand united and we will fight to the end.

The time and effort that it is taking to fight this battle is financially and emotionally draining. The stigma of living next to a nuclear waste dump will have an ongoing and lasting impact on our land values and business. Farmers choose to live and work the land, most for little financial gain, but more for the rewards and satisfaction. This is very special to us, something for us to pass onto our children and for them to remember us by.

My husband Geoff, Jodie Carter and I have just been to Canberra, together with representatives from the other five proposed sites. We come from all walks of life, from all parts of Australia, but we were all there for the same reason. We are united in our opposition to a nuclear waste dump being forced on our communities.

Minister Josh Frydenberg refused to meet with us even though some site representatives had travelled for two days. Instead we had a very heated and lively meeting with two senior advisors and a Department representative. It was distressing listening to the other community members and their worries. We heard of more bungles in the process. For example, the post office box advertised for submissions was incorrect for months. This was only noticed when submissions started returning to people who had thankfully put their address on the back. How many had been sent in without return addresses before the Government corrected the problem? Good question.

Even this week, the online ‘consultation hub’ for making submissions says the Minister is seeking views from people where the seven (not six) nominations are located. Is there somewhere else we are unaware of? Or is this yet another simple error that should have been avoided?

We all make mistakes, but it is how we accept and act to correct those mistakes that people will judge us on. The Government should scrap these sites, admit they got it wrong, and then apologise to the people this has affected. They should then start a responsible and correct process to decide what to do with the waste- not just pushing it on regional and rural communities with promises of financial gain. They need to find out a way to stop making more nuclear waste and research what we can do or use instead.

Our community does not want a radioactive waste facility at Hill End. We have supported hundreds of locals to make submissions to the public comment period that closes today (March 11). The people of Muckaty in the NT fought for eight years to stop a waste dump there and we are willing to do the same if necessary. We want to hold the Government accountable, to get all six sites off the list and get this process right.

Facebook: No Central West Nuclear Waste Dump