The Australian government has passed legislation today that allows nuclear waste to be stored at a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory, a decision Aboriginal groups and environmentalists have vowed to fight.
The Guardian reports:
The Australian government has passed legislation that will create the country's first nuclear waste dump, despite fierce opposition from environmental and Aboriginal groups.
The passage of the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 through the Senate paves the way for a highly controversial plan to store nuclear waste in Muckaty Station, a remote Aboriginal community in the arid central region of the Northern Territory.
The ruling Labor party received support from the conservative coalition opposition to approve the bill, despite an ongoing federal court case over the legality of using the Muckaty site to store radioactive material.
Currently, nuclear waste from the medical and mining industries is stored in more than 100 "temporary" sites in universities, hospitals, offices and laboratories across Australia.
Anti-nuclear protesters disrupted proceedings in the Senate as the legislation was debated earlier on Tuesday, with the group heckling lawmakers from the public gallery over their support for the bill.
A recent medical study warned that transporting nuclear waste over long distances to such an isolated location, which is 75 miles north of the Tennant Creek township, could endanger public health.
"The site is in an earthquake zone, it floods regularly, there are very long transport corridors, there are no jobs being applied and it's opposed from people on the ground, on the front line from Tennant (Creek) all the way up to the NT government and people around the country," said senator Scott Ludlam of the Greens, which successfully added an amendment to the bill that bans the importing of foreign nuclear waste to the site.
Many community members are vowing to fight the decision. The Age reports:
Muckaty Station was nominated by the Northern Land Council in 2007. But since then several traditional owners have argued they were not properly consulted and did not give their consent. That dispute is before the Federal Court.
Traditional owner Lorna Fejo says she remains opposed to the dump despite the passage of the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010. ‘‘It’s our land and we are going to continue fighting for it,’’ she said in a statement.
‘‘It’s my heritage and no one has the right to take that away from us.’’
"We have been fighting against this for years and we will keep fighting."
The Beyond Nuclear Initiative (BNI) has said the newly passed legislation is "deeply flawed" and remains committed to fighting the dump.
Muckaty Traditional Owner Penny Phillips said, “At the start Senator Nigel Scullion said ‘not on my watch’ will the waste dump happen. He should be fighting against it and look after people in the Territory. Its very confusing for us- the Senators are meant to represent us. Do they care about Traditional Owners, do they care about people in the Barkly, the cattlemen? The government should come and see this country. We have been inviting them many times and they have ignored us”.
“The government should wait for the court case before passing this law. Traditional Owners say no to the waste dump. We have been fighting against this for years and we will keep fighting. We don’t want it in Muckaty or anywhere in the NT, “ Ms Phillips added.
BNI coordinator Natalie Wasley said, “Passing this law before consulting with the affected community is putting the radioactive cart before the horse. The Minister has never visited Tennant Creek to talk with Traditional Owners or the broader community. The discussion about Muckaty should be had sitting on red dust, not the red carpet of the Senate”.
Ms Wasley concluded “BNI welcomes the passing of Senator Scott Ludlam’s amendment that international waste cannot be stored at the facility, however, the rest of the legislation is neither new nor good. It builds on the mistakes of the Howard era and lacks credibility and consent. There are still many hurdles for the government before a dump is up and running, and this proposal will be challenged every step of the way.”
"We are more determined than ever to ensure a radioactive waste dump doesn't end up in the Territory.”
The Environment Centre Northern Territory echoes the calls to fight the proposed dump:
“Canberra may now have its legislation, but we are more determined than ever to ensure a radioactive waste dump doesn't end up in the Territory” said Cat Beaton, Nuclear Free NT Campaigner at the ECNT.
“This legislation spits in the face of the NT Government who have legislated against a waste dump, Muckaty Traditional Owners who have said consistently said no, and unions, church groups, green groups and Territorians who do not want the risks that come with a radioactive dump in their Territory” continued Ms Beaton.
Last month a NT news poll revealed that a majority 65% of readers did not want a nuclear waste dump in the NT.
"Minister Ferguson continues to ignore the risks to the Territory and override our rights. The passing of this draconian legislation through the senate has just added fuel to our campaign fire. We will continue to contest this waste dump proposal and push for a responsible approach to radioactive waste management” said Lauren Mellor, Uranium Education Project Officer at the Arid Lands Environment Centre in Alice Springs.
“It was recently revealed in Senate Estimates that the Australian Nuclear Science Technology Organisation (ANSTO) could store the waste from overseas indefinitely at their Lucas Heights facility in NSW. The government’s insistence on finding a remote dump site, imposed without community consent and before knowing the outcome of the Muckaty Traditonal Owner’s Federal Court challenge to the nomination of the site, seems to be more political expediency than finding a safe, secure and negotiated long term storage site for this waste” continued Ms Mellor.
"The recent spill of more than a tonne of radioactive ore into the Edith River at Christmas is warning enough to Territorians about the safety and security of government plans to transport and store long-lived intermediate level radioactive waste in shallow trenches and sheds at Muckaty” said Ms Mellor.
“Minister Ferguson continues to misjudge us if he thinks a bad Federal law will defeat a good Territory fight. The Territory has too much to lose by accepting this dump, and we know it” concluded Ms Beaton.