Nuclear waste debate draws community to speak up

Community voices in the Nuclear Waste Debate.

No Radioactive Waste on Agricultural land in Kimba or South Australia committee about to head into a community meeting last Thurdsay.

No Radioactive Waste on Agricultural land in Kimba or South Australia committee about to head into a community meeting last Thurdsay.

Kerri Cliff and Meagan Lienert can see the benefits of further investigations into Kimba hosting a nuclear waste facility.

Kerri Cliff and Meagan Lienert can see the benefits of further investigations into Kimba hosting a nuclear waste facility.

CONCERNS about a radioactive waste facility being located at one of two sites in the Kimba district was the driving force behind establishing a committee against the proposed facility.

Community members came together to form the No Radioactive Waste on Agricultural land in Kimba or South Australia committee.

Committee member Kellie Hunt said they need to be loud to be heard by the community and by the Federal Government.

“We have been loud, we need to be loud. We don’t have a government department to be our voice.” Mrs Hunt said. 

She said there were a range of reasons why the facility wasn’t suitable for a farming community.

“We can have no guarantee that our reputation, our livelihood or perception of our clean and green image will be impacted if the dump is here.”

“We have been told of international sites not having their reputation being affected by having a nuclear waste dump but they are not Kimba and already exist in a nuclear-supported country’s.”

The committee do not deny that Australia needs a nuclear storage facility, but firmly believe that it does not belong on agricultural land, and question why it can not stay at Lucas Heights (Australia’s only nuclear reactor) and be processed and stored there.

Friends of the Earth Dr Jim Green, and Australia’s foremost anti-nuclear campaigner, Dave Sweeney agreed there was a need for a permanent nuclear waste dump and it should be located at Lucas Heights until a full and measured review of a permanent site can be undertaken.

Mr Sweeney said there was community opposition at all six nominated sites.

“No one disagrees on the need to responsibly manage the radioactive waste. Lucas Heights does have the capability to host the waste for many years, which would give the Government and Australian community the time to examine the best possible options for how to do this” Dave Sweeney said.

In an open letter on social media, Dr Green said the government “ignores and breaches relevant standards and codes when it suits.”

“The National Health and Medical Research Council's (NH&MRC) 'Code of Practice for Near-Surface Disposal of Radioactive Waste in Australia (1992)' states that;”

"The site for the facility should be located in a region which has no known significant natural resources, including potentially valuable mineral deposits, and which has little or no potential for agriculture or outdoor recreational use".

“ After the previous disastrous attempts to force community's to accept a dump, such as Muckaty in the Northern Territory, which saw a protracted community battle for over eight years and finished up in the Federal Court of Australia,  the Government should be acutely aware of how community’s will react and how important community consent is” .

“It’s not just about the science, it is about the reputation, the suitability of sites, the unknown and uncertain outcomes over the next 300 years and about a community’s right to decide.” Mr Sweeney said.

Mrs Hunt said there was always human error and nothing could be guaranteed.

“Accidents do happen, politics change, governments change and policies change.”

“If the Federal Government can change the legislation in place in South Australia to protect this state from radioactive waste, how can we trust that this site will always be a low-intermediate level facility?”

“We had notable politicians question why this dump is not being sited at areas designed and created to deal with hazardous work and materials such as Olympic Dam, Roxby Downs or Leigh Creek.”

Michael Coates, representing about 460 concerned residents, said he was concerned about protecting the pristine conditions of Eyre Peninsula.

“We are clean and green, we have farm-based agriculture, we have aquatic agriculture and our reputation is number one internationally.”

“I suggest that their are too many ‘could have, could be’ question’s to risk our international reputation”

Mr Coates said it needed to be recognised that there was broad community opposition for the facility.

He said a telephone survey was “totally rejected” as a method of gauging public consent.

Committee members said the process for selection of sites was flawed and the community had it been “thrust upon” them.

Mrs Hunt said the meeting on Thursday night was informative but as it was long, there were still hands in the air with unanswered questions when it finished.

The committee had organised a public forum but the government panel was scheduled for the same night.

“We are disappointed that we were unable to go ahead with our own planned public forum. We had arranged to host speakers including Jim Green (Friends of the Earth), Dave Sweeny (Australian Conservation Foundation), Cat Beaton (Conservation Council SA) and Eddie Hughes (Member for Giles), along with members of the Departments project team as we felt it really necessary that the community have the opportunity to hear from, and most importantly ask questions of,  a range experts from both sides of the debate. Unfortunately in the late stages of our planning we were informed that the Department would now host a public meeting, coincidentally on the same night ours was planned. We requested that our guests be allowed to speak but were declined, and so we are still left feeling that the community has only half the answers.”

Mr Coates finished the night by asking the panel if they would advise Minister Frydenberg that “with 75% of landowners and approaching 50% of all residents not wanting the dump, it was a clear indication “there is not broad community consent to go further in this process”. “

Head of Resources at the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Bruce Wilson said the facility would never be used for international waste or high level waste and the community that hosted the site could receive numerous benefits.

“The community benefit package will include a $10 million package that will administered by the Commonwealth Government, in addition to road, health, mobile and internet upgrades,” he said.

“Suggestions that have been put on the table so far include delivering local research and development projects or officers, enhancing local healthcare services and building new school facilities.”

He said it would be a safe, job creating facility and the community that agreed to host it would be entering into a long-term relationship with the Federal Government.

“We know that a national facility is required, but have no site or state in mind as a preference, as we have yet to finish consultations on all six sites nation-wide.”

Other sites around the world with low level and intermediate level waste facilities include famous tourist destination, the Champagne region of France

"We are still in the midst of a 120 day initial community consultation, which we extended from 60 days to allow rural communities to finish harvest and be able to be present during this consultation.”

Mr Wilson presented information as to why the national site was needed, what waste would be stored at the site, which sites internationally have been used as a guide, who is the internationally accredited regulator of Australia’s nuclear industry, how the process for site selection was determined, what benefits the national site could offer the community that chose to host it and how Minister Josh Frydenburg will make the final decision on which 2 to 3 sites will progress to the next step towards hosting the site.

The need for a permanent radioactive waste facility is in response to over 60 years of Australian waste accumulation in various sites around the nation, including low level medical waste at hospitals and intermediate waste from Lucas Heights.

International best practice for nuclear waste management suggests a single facility ensures consistent management and best safety practices.

“We look to our international counterparts to see what steps they have taken in managing their radioactive waste, we have watched and learned from their experiences and we know our national facility will be safe and only eligible to store low level and intermediate waste” Mr Wilson said.

Mr Wilson said the facility will never be used for international waste, high level waste or have liquid, corrosive, organic, reactive or other volatile materials. It will only store solid treated waste.

Watching over any nuclear activities in Australia is ARPANSA (Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency) who is chaired by Dr Carl-Magnus Larsson, a fiercely independent scientist who has worked in places such as the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority.

This body will never allow the national waste facility to have any other waste than it is purpose built for, low level and intermediate waste.

“The facility will be inspected and overseen by APRANSA and will need to always comply with best national and international practices” Mr Wilson said.

Initially in 2015 nominations from individual land owners to offer up plots of land to host the facility was called for by Minister Frydenberg (Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia).

This type of application was applied as previous efforts to place a site on involuntary land owners and neighbors had not succeeded.

“To be completely frank the previous processes were flawed, and we learned from that with this new process which is based on voluntary landowners and extensive community consultation” Mr Wilson said.

“This is why we are involved with intensive and widespread community consultation using many mediums”

Kimba resident Meagan Lienert spoke at the meeting about mental health issues that had arisen in the community and how residents had been affected by the split of those for and against.

She said she wanted the government to ensure resources were available to assist with this in the future.

Mrs Lienert said she was one of the many who support the opportunity to explore further the locating of the waste facility in Kimba.

“Yes, I do want to see Kimba go to the next round this could benefit our community as a whole and why should this chance for development of the whole community and income into our area go to another site.”

She said she knew of plenty of people who were for the facility.

“The classification that the whole community don’t want it has bugged a lot of people,” she said.

“I will speak up as some in our community are understandably too frightened to stand up and say they want to progress further in the selection.”

She said she spoke up for the future of her children and generations to come and the opportunities in education, farming and health.

“We cannot disadvantage those that can or cannot afford it and it would be devastating to let this opportunity go without exploring it further.”

This sentiment was echoed by Kerri Cliff who said she fully supported what Mrs Lienert said.

“I fully support what Meagan said about how strong our community is and the support that is needed for those who are having mental health issues,” Mrs Cliff said.

“We are historically a strong community with a long history of strong leadership and we need to accept that we need new opportunity to secure the growth rather than the decline of our community,” Mrs Cliff said.

She said there were about 40 houses for sale in Kimba and local businesses were feeling the pinch of a tight economic environment.

“I remember when it seemed that everyone was leaving Kimba for the opportunites at Roxby Downs and I am old enough to remember how long it took us as a town to climb back from that,” she said.

“We will have bad years, that is the natural cycle and we need to have something permanent that will keep the community financial and solvent”