SA’s Radioactive Royal Commission

There are currently two proposals in Australia for construction of radioactive waste facilities, one for national and one for international waste, operating under separate but parallel processes.

The national facility is proposed for management of domestically produced low and intermediate level waste. The most dangerous of this waste arises from reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods that were used in the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor near Sydney. For twenty years there has been a search for a site – the shortlisted areas have always been remote and have always been contested.

A site proposed in SA in 1998 was challenged and finally defeated in 2004 by the ‘Irati Wanti’ campaign, a phrase meaning ‘The poison, leave it’. The NT was then targeted- three Department of Defense sites and one that was nominated by the Northern Land Council against the express wishes of Traditional Owners. This was a place called Manuwangku, or Muckaty, and it was also defeated in June 2014 after an eight-year campaign.

The only area currently under assessment is on Wallerberdina Station on Adnyamathanha Land in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. It is located next to Yappala Indigenous Protected Area, one of only 72 around the country, and has important freshwater springs and many thousands of artefacts on the site. Traditional Owners have spent years documenting the cultural storylines that run right through the nominated site and are deeply disturbed by the proposal.

Clearly we need to address management of existing waste. But this important issue cannot be resolved if the federal government continues trying to impose it on an unwilling remote community.

With small amounts of money being offered in exchange for hosting domestic nuclear waste, we cannot allow this to become the 20th century version of flour, sugar, tea and blankets.

SA Nuclear Royal Commission

An even more ominous cloud is currently overhead South Australia: the plan for an international nuclear waste importation and storage industry, being actively advanced through a Royal Commission. In November the SA Premier will announce how he intends to respond to recommendations that this leap of faith be made. This is not a proposal for a small or trial facility- it is a plan to host up to one third of the world’s high-level radioactive waste.

This is a forever decision that impacts the whole country now and many generations into the future.

Why consider international waste?

One of the major driving factors behind the establishment of the Royal Commission was the crisis in the South Australian economy and the loss of jobs through the manufacturing downturn.

There is however, no established market for trade in international nuclear waste, meaning that costs and income predicted in the report are based on extremely optimistic assumptions. This includes the assumption that Australia, a country with very little nuclear experience, will be able to do something that no other country has ever managed, at a much lower cost than experienced countries estimate.

The modelling also doesn’t include billions of dollars of extra costs like transport, shipping and insurance. Consultants who did the modelling acknowledge the project could cost double their estimates.

An emotive argument often used is that Australia has a ‘moral obligation’ to take back radioactive waste given that we have mined and exported uranium. However this does not consider the ethics of burdening many generations with the cost and risk of managing highly radioactive waste.

Uranium mining is only the first of many stages in the nuclear fuel chain that also involves enrichment, fuel production and ultimately use in nuclear power plants. Companies generating income throughout this process are very happy to take the profits from their activities, but always try to push the costs (financial, environmental and social) back on to the public.

If we accept the logic that we are ultimately responsible for the waste products associated with our exports, shouldn’t we apply it to all our export products, like copper or steel? And shouldn’t other countries be held similarly accountable for the waste produced from their exports?

From a social justice point of view, this proposal is an unacceptable double whammy for Traditional Owners, who have consistently opposed uranium being mined from their land and now also face prospects of the waste products being returned.

Another argument is that Australia should host waste because we are more politically and geologically stable than other places. High-level nuclear waste stays dangerous to humans for tens of thousands of years. To put that into context, the pyramids in Egypt were built around 4,500 years ago. Predicting levels of political stability over such a time period is ridiculous. And with the melting of ice sheets as a result of global warming likely to increase earthquakes and other seismic activity, geological stability is also becoming harder to predict.

Can a facility be ‘safe’?

In all the years since the Hiroshima bomb, not one country in the world has worked out how to store high-level nuclear waste safely for the length of time it remains dangerous to humans. The US spent over $10 billion and invested 20 years planning to store high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, then abandoned the plan due to community opposition.

Finland is building a domestic final disposal waste facility, but this will only start receiving used fuel next decade. Before we know whether the technology will even work, the Royal Commission proposes that South Australia import 20 times their planned volume.

The only real-life experience with a deep underground nuclear waste facility anywhere in the world is the intermediate-level Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in the US state of New Mexico. In 2014 there was a fire closely followed by an unrelated rupture of one of the underground barrels, followed by failure of the filtration system. Workers were exposed to radiation and the WIPP will now be closed down for at least four years and the repair bill will be over $500 million.

Three low and intermediate level repositories in the USA have been closed because of environmental problems. Farmers in the Champagne region of France have taken legal action in relation to a leaking radioactive waste dump. In Asse, Germany, all 126,000 barrels of waste already placed in a repository are being removed because of large-scale water infiltration over two decades.

Transport and waste stockpiling

NT Chief Minister Giles met with Premier Weatherill in May to discuss Darwin Port being used to receive international waste shipments destined for storage in SA. This could see many decades of radioactive transports through the Territory, where truck accidents and train derailments happen all too often.

The Royal Commission recommends we import high-level nuclear waste and place it in above ground storage for at least 17 years while a deep underground repository is built.

A grave concern is that the underground repository doesn’t eventuate. Toxic waste will be stockpiled above ground in Australia and we can’t give it back. What then?

Moving forward on radioactive waste management

We need to urgently slow down production of these intractable materials globally. Processes nationally or internationally looking for locations for radioactive waste repositories must begin to prioritise social considerations to find suitable areas for facilities.

The Royal Commission final report acknowledged that there is opposition from Traditional Owners across SA to expansion of the nuclear industry. Government campaigns to ‘recognise’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution are hollow until they recognise the injustices already suffered at the hands of this industry and recognise the staunch resistance to future nuclear projects.

How to support the campaign

In response to the Royal Commission a group of Traditional Owners, medical professionals, trade unions and other civil society groups formed the No Dump Alliance and have invited individuals and organisations to sign on to a ‘Statement of Concern’.

Yami Lester, Ambassador of the Alliance:

“In 1953, I was just ten years old when the bombs went off at Emu and Maralinga, I didn’t know anything about nuclear issues back then, none of us knew what was happening. I got sick, and went blind from the Totem 1 fallout from those tests, and lots of our people got sick and died also.

Now I’m 74 years old and I know about nuclear issues. Members from the APY, Maralinga-Tjarutja and Arabunna, Kokatha lands say we don’t want nuclear waste on our land. There are big concerns. And I worry because I know it is not safe for South Australia land and the people. Why does the Government keep bringing back nuclear issues when we know the problems last forever?”

It means a lot to me to be in this Alliance. I would like others to listen and join, become a member and fight together.”

Renewed call for Muckaty dump plan to be scrapped as ‘draconian’ nuclear waste legislation hits two-year mark.

Media release | March 13, 2014BNI logo 2010_poster

Renewed call for Muckaty dump plan to be scrapped as ‘draconian’ nuclear waste legislation hits two-year mark.

Marking two years since passage of the National Radioactive Waste Management Act (NRWMA), Traditional Owners and supporters have renewed calls for the government to drop plans for locating the first national radioactive waste dump at Muckaty, 120km north of Tennant Creek in the NT.

Beyond Nuclear Initiative convenor Natalie Wasley said, “The National Radioactive Waste Management Act is draconian and gives the Minister absolute discretion in key aspects of radioactive waste management. It overrides any state or territory law that would ‘hinder’ the plan, and limits the application of environmental protection laws, Aboriginal heritage protection legislation, and appeal rights. It does not grant ‘procedural fairness’ in relation to the existing Muckaty nomination.”

“Radioactive waste management laws should require engagement with civil society stakeholders in line with international standards. Australia’s targeting of remote communities considered politicially expedient through application of draconian legislation like the NRWMA is an international embarrassment.”

Traditional Owner Penny Phillips said “We had very hurt feelings when the legislation passed the Senate two years ago. We had been saying no for a long time- my old aunty Bunny Nabarula cried her heart out. People are upset that the new government is pushing ahead, but we are not going to stop fighting. We want the government to put a full stop to the nomination.”

“If the Northern Land Council prepares another nomination on Muckaty then we will stand up to them again. This country is very important to us. We also want people to remember the transport accidents that have happened on the road and rail in the NT. If the waste travels a long way, then any of those areas could be affected.”

Ms Wasley added, “Muckaty is the only site currently under consideration but the community is not being left to fight the proposal themselves. The Public Health Association of Australia, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and other national groups are calling for the proposal to be dropped in favour of an independent Commission to examine all options radioactive waste management. A federal court trial challenging the site nomination will be heard throughout June.” added Ms Wasley.

Ms Phillips concluded “Minister MacFarlane said he will visit Tennant Creek and meet with us. It is time for him to see the country and learn why we are saying no. People are getting tired, especially the old people, but we all work together and we haven’t backed down, we are still strong against it and will keep going until the Muckaty plan is stopped.”

Fukushima highlights need to red-light NSW yellowcake plans

ImageFukushima highlights need to red-light NSW yellowcake plans

Media Release | March 11, 2014

On the third anniversary of the continuing Fukushima nuclear crisis environment groups have called on Premier Barry O’Farrell and the NSW government to shelve plans for uranium exploration and mining in the state.

“It was confirmed to the federal Parliament in October 2011 that Australian uranium directly fuelled Fukushima,” said ACF nuclear free campaigner Dave Sweeney. “The Fukushima crisis started in the back of big yellow trucks in Kakadu and northern South Australia – these rocks are now the source of fallout in Japan and far beyond”.

The nuclear meltdown that began at Tokyo Electric Power Corporation’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex on 11 March 2011 resulted in wide-scale environmental, social and economic destruction and dislocation. Over 150,000 people have been forced to abandon their homes and livelihoods and the stricken reactor complex continues to pose a major environmental and human safety threat. The clean up will likely take decades.

Japanese activist Sakyo Noda, from Uranium Free NSW said “There are no nuclear power plants operating in Japan at the moment and public opposition to the nuclear industry is still going strong. Japanese society has changed since Fukushima. It is a terrible time but also a hopeful time. We have the chance to learn from Fukushima and make sure that the same mistake never happens again. Here in New South Wales and across Australia our opportunity and our responsibility is to stop another Fukushima by keeping uranium in the ground.”

In 2012 the NSW government overturned a 26-year legislative ban on uranium exploration and signed a MoU with South Australia to facilitate cross-border projects. This move is strongly opposed by environment, public health and community organisations, along with NSW Labor, a range of trade unions and the NSW Greens.

“Uranium is a mineral with unique dangers and long term consequences”, said Beyond Nuclear Initiative convenor Natalie Wasley. “Premier O’Farrell needs to recognise and acknowledge the impacts of Australia’s uranium trade, both here and overseas, and put the brakes on plans for uranium exploration and mining in NSW.”

“The O’Farrell government did not seek or receive a mandate to advance uranium mining at the last election. Fukushima will take decades to clean up and waste from uranium mining must be isolated for tens of thousands of years. With the opportunity to develop renewable energy projects across NSW, it is time for Premier O’Farrell to put his atomic ambitions on the back burner”.

Mr Noda added “To commemorate Fukushima people across Australia have taken action at uranium related sites and government buildings. We received a photo from Fukushima community members reminding us that Australian uranium is contaminating their land, air and water. The Fukushima banner asks us to leave uranium in the ground and we will work to honour this request.” (Image above)

National photo actions will be posted at:


BNI Support Appeal | Contribute to help stop the Muckaty dump

Women dancing under barrel_7 mile

The BNI fundraising appeal (launched in December 2013) is ongoing. Please consider making a contribution to BNI’s work to move radioactive waste management in a more socially just and environmentally responsible direction-  click on the image above to be directed to the donation portal.

2014 is shaping up as a turning point in radioactive waste management in Australia. For the first time in decades the federal government is considering other options for radioactive waste management besides a single remote dump site at Muckaty.And the important legal action by Traditional Owners opposed to the Muckaty dump proposal will be the basis of a Federal Court trial in June 2014.

There is much that has been done – and much that remains to do. Please join the growing list of campaign allies and support the Beyond Nuclear Initiative’s work .

New audio: ‘Protecting Manuwangku’ film launch- Tennant Creek and Darwin

Community screenings of a new film documenting six years of resistance to the proposed national radioactive waste dump at Muckaty were recently held in Tennant Creek (Nov 10) and Darwin (Nov 15).

The film is titled ‘Protecting Manuwangku’ and was produced by Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning (UTS) Research Unit by directors Isaac Parsons and Jason Daylight-De Santolo.

Audio from both events is now uploaded at :

Please contact beyondnuclearinitiative[at] for permission to use or broadcast this audio.

Photo: ‘Protecting Manuwangku’ launch at Nyinkka Nyunyu gallery in Tennant Creek, Nov 10, 2013

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Photo: ‘Protecting Manuwangku’ launch at Fannie Bay Bowls Club in Darwin, Nov 15, 2013

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