South Australia is being targeted as the potential site for two new nuclear waste dumps.
The most immediate threat is to Wallerberdina Station in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. On 29 April, the federal government announced that the shortlist for a dump to hold national waste had been reduced to just this one site. This has angered local traditional owners, of the Adnyamathanha people, and other parts of the community.
Previous plans to put such a dump at Muckaty in the Northern Territory and at Woomera or elsewhere in South Australia have been defeated through community opposition.
The dump will be used for the long-term storage of low-level nuclear waste and temporary storage of intermediate level waste. The nature of radioactive waste means that the dump will remain on the site forever and any leakages would be potentially catastrophic for the area.
The site is on crown land, 500 kilometres north of Adelaide, on a perpetual lease to former Liberal Senator Grant Chapman.
While native title does not apply to the land, some heritage protections do. Yappala Station, which borders Wallerberdina Station, is one of just 72 sites nation-wide listed as an Indigenous Protected Area of cultural and environmental significance. Remains and artefacts from Aboriginal inhabitants of the area thousands of years old, including an ancient Aboriginal skull fragment, have been found in multiple locations around the site.
Regina McKenzie, who lives on Yappala Station, says that a 70 kilometre song line runs through Wallerberdina all the way to Lake Torrens.
“We were devastated” to hear of the plans, she says. “We’ve got cave paintings in around the corner, and we’ve got archaeology and we’ve got rock carvings up there on that hill… we’ve got ancient graves”.
The waste dump could devastate the environment and many of these sites, most of which have not yet been officially listed. Local Aboriginal people still hunt and gather and carry out traditional ceremonies around the area. McKenzie argues that the dump would be a “desecration of our belief system”.
Conservation Council SA Chief Executive Craig Wilkins says the dump would create “a maximum of just six on-going jobs” and would also seriously risk damaging jobs in the tourism industry around the iconic Flinders Ranges. Farmers are also concerned about the effect the dump will have on agricultural land.
The government says that no final decision has been made. Locals had just 120 days to learn about the plans, gauge community sentiment and organise opposition to the dump before it became the sole candidate for the dump site. CEO of the Adnymathanha Traditional Lands Association Vince Coulthard claims that the Federal Government has twice cancelled meetings with his board members at the last moment.
The news of the plans came just as Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commissioner Kevin Scarce handed a report to the SA government recommending that it construct another waste dump for high-level international waste. Its location is yet to be decided. The Royal Commission claimed that the dump could generate large amounts of revenue for the SA economy.
In May, a “No Dump Alliance” was launched in Adelaide. It is made up of unions, community groups and traditional owners, including the Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Conservation Council, Maritime Union of Australia and the Uniting Church.
The alliance believes waste dumps in the state would violate Aboriginal rights and put public health, the environment and the state’s finances at risk and are calling for greater community consultation about the plan.
The Commonwealth’s “out of sight, out of mind” approach to dumping radioactive waste on remote Aboriginal lands shows the racism and contempt with which they continue to treat Aboriginal people. Federal and state governments have been trying to use Aboriginal land around the country as dumping sites for decades, often with the promise of funding long-neglected essential public services in return.
But plans have been beaten back many times in the past as Traditional Owners have refused to see their lands desecrated. Most recently a proposed dump at Muckaty, near Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory, was defeated by a strong movement lead by local Traditional Owners. The movement reached out to and won the active support of trade unions, community and environmental groups across the country and succeeded in forcing back the Commonwealth and the Northern Land Council. This campaign showed the way forward for the fight against nuclear dumping and environmental destruction—a fight that is just beginning in the Flinders Ranges.
By Caitlin Doyle-Markwick