Western Australian iron ore company Ginbalbie Metals' nomination of a section of its land to host Australia's proposed radioactive waste management facility comes as the third known nomination in WA. The two-month nomination period for the project closed on May 5.
Another known nomination comes from a landowner in Leonora, against local opposition but supported by Leonora Shire. The Shire had been keen on nominating freehold land itself but could not identify any suitable land.
The third revealed nomination from WA involves land in Kanpa, near Warburton in the eastern part of the state, and lacks support from the Ngaanyatjarra elders.
Similarly, Ginbalbie Metals's nomination of a land near Badga station in the mid west of the state faces opposition from the traditional custodians of the land. Neither the local community nor Yalgoo shire had been consulted on the nomination. The site is even subject of a current native title claim by the Widi Native Title Claimant Group. The group expressed its strong opposition to Federal Industry Minister Macfarlane, stating that 'the proponent has displayed an appalling level of disrespect' for the traditional owners by failing to consult them. They generally reject radioactive waste dumps and uranium mining on their homelands.
This opposition to hosting a radioactive waste facility follows failed attempts by Canberra to impose a facility on communities in South Australia (1998-2004) and the Northern Territory (2005-2014). Community trust in the federal government's handling of the process has eroded drastically over this period of time. The government hopes to rebuild trust – and to fin a site for the waste facility – with its new approach based on voluntary land nomination.
In March, Minister Macfarlane therefore called on landowners across Australia to nominate their land to host a radioactive waste management facility. Although the government, on the National Radioactive Waste Project website, clearly stated that that 'the Commonwealth will publish the name and address and other information identifying all Nominations made for possible sites', it has now intends only to release a short-listed selection of sites, expected by July this year.
This clearly undermines transparency - and the confidence and trust the government is hoping to rebuild. A genuine commitment to volunteerism would require providing affected communities with ample time to deliberate on their willingness to host or live near a facility through publishing the full list of nominated sites.
Confidence in the responsible handling of radioactive waste is further undermined by a recent statement by WA's premier Colin Barnett. Mr Barnett has taken a completely different approach in response to the nominations by denying that the waste is nuclear waste at all, saying it originates from X-rays and 'normal activities'. The Premier is thereby downplaying public concern over the waste whose storage or disposal requires high levels of safety measures to protect humans, animals and the environment from dangerous ionising radiation.
Although the government stresses that it does not want to impose a nuclear waste facility on any community, there is no guarantee that this Government (or a future one) will not revert to earlier habits of trying to do so. Community consent is in fact not a prerequisite for its siting decision. The process (and the relevant legislation) is lacking clear participatory, deliberative mechanisms, meaning that the community and wider civil society are not given an arena for actually influencing the decision-making. In addition, WA actually has state legislation in place prohibiting the storage of radioactive waste from outside the state. This means that, although the National Radioactive Waste Management Act gives the Minister the right to override state legislation, the voluntary and democratic aspects of the WA nominations are highly compromised.
Internationally, socio-economic factors and community consent have proven to be essential to any successful radioactive waste facility siting process. Australia is rather original in its approach of calling landowners instead of communities or municipalities to volunteer to host the waste facility. As nuclear waste is unique in its properties and cannot simply be handled as other waste materials, it has far stretching environmental, health and socio-economic impacts on the wider surrounding of a facility, way beyond the piece of land it is situated on. It requires the involvement of the local and even neighbouring communities and, to be truly voluntary, their consent.
There is therefore a clear need to engage with the targeted communities from the early stages and throughout the whole duration of the project. Failing already during this essential first part of the process might actually poison the whole of it and leave the Government with nothing but another failed attempt to deal with Australia's radioactive waste.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
20 posts so far.