Opposing a nuclear waste dump in the Northern Territory

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A protest against a proposed nuclear waste dump is continuing this week in Australia's Northern Territory. The traditional owners of the site in the Arrernte Nation say they will continue to protest against the facility near the Stuart Highway about 20 kilometres north of Alice Springs.

The Federal Government wants an operating licence for a new reactor in Sydney, to replace the ageing Lucas Heights facility. One of the key conditions for the operating licence of a new reactor is the establishment of a viable waste management plan. In July the federal government announced a short list of three locations in the Northern Territory as potential sites for a radioactive waste dump. The Government wants a facility to store and manage low and intermediate level radioactive waste resulting from the medical, industrial and research use of radioactive materials by Commonwealth agencies.

Traditional owners of Athenge Alhere - an estate group of the Arrernte Nation - have voiced their dissent to the nuclear dump and say they don’t want waste from Sydney’s Lucas Heights nuclear reactor brought to their land. "Because the land we take care of, because all our ancestors lived in this land and hunted on this land as well, so it's mainly because of the animals and the next generation of our kids and their children, so we still say no," traditional owner Benedict Stevens said.

The Medical Association for Prevention of War condemned as "scaremongering" the claims by Federal MPs that the health of Australians would be in jeopardy if a nuclear waste dump was not imposed on the Northern Territory by the Commonwealth Government.

The three proposed sites include:

  • Fishers Ridge, a defence site 42km south-east of Katherine.
  • Harts Range, a defence site 165km north-east of Alice Springs.
  • Mount Everard a defence site 27km north-west of Alice Springs.

The NT Government cannot prevent the dump from proceeding, as all three sites are all on Commonwealth land. Although the Northern Territory Parliament has passed legislation banning the storage or transport of any nuclear waste, the Federal Government is able to use its external affairs power to override the legislation.

The Federal Government abandoned locating the dump in South Australia and Western Australia following local opposition.

A final decision is expected to be made by the end of 2006, with the preferred site to be operational by 2011.