Legal challenge to Australian radwaste repository wins; site search back to square one

19 June 2014

Australian government body the Northern Land Council has settled a lawsuit opposing a nuclear waste facility at Muckaty, Northern Territories.

According to Aboriginal liason body the Northern Land Council, it nominated a site for the facility on 225 hectares in the south-east section of the Muckaty Aboriginal Land Trust area in June 2007. The Commonwealth approved the site in September 2007.

"The NLC notes that its acceptance of the offer is done without any admission of liability - that is, without any admission that the nomination was made in error," said NLC Chief Executive Officer Joe Morrison. He said the NLC remains satisfied that it made the nomination with the consent of traditional owners and after consultation with other Aboriginal people with interests in the land.

Morrison said:
“However, it is apparent for various reasons - largely due to outside pressures, including pressures caused by divisive litigation - that a number of individuals have shifted their position since the nomination and no longer want the facility to be constructed on the nominated land.

“Because of the divisions within the Aboriginal community, the NLC is now of the view that it would be preferable if the Commonwealth did not act on the nomination. The Commonwealth has agreed with our proposition."

The site was proposed on a voluntary basis following the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012. According to the Australian government's department of industry, if the facility cannot be used, a national volunteer process for siting a facility will be initiated.

It said that under the Act, a facility will be established to manage radioactive waste generated by Australia's medical, industrial, agricultural and research use of nuclear materials. This waste is a very small fraction of the hazardous waste that is produced and routinely disposed of in Australia.

Currently, Australia's radioactive waste is stored at more than 100 sites around Australia, many of which were not built for this purpose.

According to Australian newspaper the St George & Sutherland Shire Leader, ANSTO's Lucas Heights centre could not be nominated to house a long-term repository for nuclear waste because the area has high rainfall, is not far from Sydney and is in a growing suburb. However, radioactive waste generated from the ANSTO OPAL research reactor will be stored on-site until a national facility is built, the newspaper reported.

ANSTO confirmed on its Facebook page that it would not be nomiated as a potential site. But it did say, "ANSTO welcomes funding for a National Radioactive Waste Management facility which moves us along the path to identifying the right location for a central, unified and safe storage location for radioactive waste, consistent with international best practice."

The Australian government committed $22.6 million to site and build a national radioactive waste management facility.


Photo: Northern Land Council CEO Joe Morrison at a press conference announcing the decision



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