Push to Change Location of Radioactive Waste Facility: Prime Agricultural Land or Remote and Secure Woomera Prohibited Area?

10 June 2020

Senator Rex Patrick has revealed today that he will move amendments to the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility Bill to allow for the selection of the Woomera Prohibited Area as the site, rather than Kimba.

"The Federal Parliament will be given a choice on whether the site should be on prime agricultural land on the Eyre Peninsula in a community that is bitterly divided about it being built there, or in the remote and highly secure Woomera Prohibited Area where a significant amount of low and intermediate level radioactive waste has been stored for more than two decades," said Senator Patrick.

In 2012 the Parliament passed the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012 to empower the Government to make arrangements for the safe and secure management of radioactive waste generated, possessed or controlled by the Commonwealth. The Act was based on volunteerism, as no site could be considered as a potential location for a radioactive waste management facility without the voluntary nomination of that site and agreement of persons with relevant rights and interests.

The Government commenced a site selection process in September 2014 promising that no site would be selected without broad community support, which former Minister Canavan told the Senate on 22 March 2017 meant a nominal vote of the community of 65% and other factors "including the neighbouring landholders and their support" and "the views of any traditional owners who might be present or might have rights on land that has been brought forward through this voluntary process". 65% support was never achieved and neither was unanimous support amongst neighbouring landholders. As for traditional owners, they are so disaffected with the Government; they have been litigating the matter for more than a year.

The Government knew if they selected Kimba under the original Act that it would likely be overturned by judicial review on account of the process being completely flawed. So they stopped the process and have now introduced the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020. A choice of the Parliament cannot be overturned by the court except on narrow Constitutional grounds.

"My amendment will give the Parliament a real and much better choice. My amendment will, instead of selecting Kimba as the site, allow the Minister for Defence to nominate a site in the Woomera Prohibited Area. If the Minister can't find a suitable site somewhere within that 12.7 million hectares of desert, then she's not looking hard enough." 

There are already two radioactive waste storage facilities inside the Woomera Prohibited Area, one CSIRO building (Hanger 5 at Evetts Field) and one Defence bunker (Koolymilka). The material stored there includes radium 226, caesium 137 and small amounts of other radionuclides including plutonium 239. The material was transported there after a May 1994 Cabinet decision that the Woomera Range Head was a suitable and secure storage site.

Then in 2002 a comprehensive study was undertaken by the then Department of Education, Science and Training and found three highly suitable areas in the Woomera Prohibited Area.

"Woomera is the obvious choice," Senator Patrick said.

"It’s remote. It's an area controlled by Defence and includes enormous tracts of land that are not used for weapons testing. There's already a significant amount of radioactive waste stored there. The nearest large township (Roxby Downs) is a uranium mining community. Environmental studies into the Woomera Prohibited Area's suitability have already been done.”

"My proposed amendments will require the Minister to consult with affected parties, including First Nation's people, before making her decision as to the preferred Woomera site."

"I will not seek to amend the community funding being directed at Kimba by the Bill. Kimba has been through a highly flawed process which has sadly pitched local against local. Kimba deserves some compensation for what can only be described as a Government sham process."

 

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