The federal Labor government − with Opposition support − is attempting to establish a national radioactive waste dump at Muckaty, 120 kms north of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. When the federal Bureau of Resource Sciences conducted a preliminary site selection study in the 1990s, based on environmental and scientific criteria, the Muckaty area did not even make the short-list as a ”suitable” site for a nuclear dump. Yet Muckaty is the only site now under consideration.
A small number of Traditional Owners support the proposed dump in return for a $12 million package likely to be used for basic services and infrastructure − services and infrastructure that ought to be available without having to host a toxic waste dump. The systematic stripping back of resources for small remote Indigenous communities is the current policy approach of both the NT and Federal governments. Such a context increases the pressure on people to consider accepting long-term and high impact projects like the waste dump to maintain funding for outstations and smaller communities.
Most Traditional Owners oppose the dump and have been ignored by the government. Resources minister Martin Ferguson has refused countless requests to meet with them.
Above and below: Muckaty Traditional Owners at a Senate Committee hearing in Darwin.
The Labor government − with Opposition support − passed the National Radioactive Waste Management Act (NRWMA) into law in March 2012. The NRWMA is draconian, overriding all state/territory laws including NT legislation which seeks to ban the imposition of nuclear dumps. The Act limits the application of federal environmental protection laws, Aboriginal heritage protection legislation, and appeal rights. It limits rights to ‘procedural fairness’. It permits the establishment of a radioactive waste dump even if there is no consultation with or consent from Traditional Owners. Labor has broken all of its promises to handle this issue in an open, transparent and fair manner.
Senior Muckaty Traditional Owners have initiated legal action in the Federal Court challenging the nomination of the Muckaty site. There is also strong opposition from the NT government, trade unions, environmental and public health NGOs, church groups, etc. Councils and communities along potential transport routes have begun to voice their opposition. Thousands have attended public meetings around Australia to listen to Muckaty Traditional Owners voice their concerns.
Most of the waste is at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor site south of Sydney, operated by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). All relevant organisations − including ANSTO, the regulator ARPANSA, the Australian Nuclear Association, and even Martin Ferguson’s own department − have acknowledged that ongoing storage at Lucas Heights is a viable option.
• Beyond Nuclear Initiative www.beyondnuclearinitiative.com
• Friends of the Earth www.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/oz/nontdump
• Central Land Council, New waste dump legislation fundamentally flawed, 14 March 2012, http://www.clc.org.au/media-releases/article/new-waste-dump-legislation-fundamentally-flawed
• Federal government: www.radioactivewaste.gov.au
NSW Parliament – Joint Select Committee into the Transportation and Storage of Nuclear Waste, 2004: www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/nuclearwaste
More videos: Beyond Nuclear Youtube channel www.youtube.com/user/beyondnuclear
[This webpage last updated March 2012]