Make peace by defying SA nuclear dump

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As Aboriginal elder and justice campaigner Kevin Buzzacott has said: 'If we can't make peace for the country, and look after the country — what's the good of us?'

Wilpena PoundSunday 29 April 2018 marked the second anniversary for many such South Australian peacemakers. It was on that date in 2016, at 2.30am, that Adnyamathanha Elder Aunty Enice Marsh heard the news that the federal government had 'chosen' the Flinders Ranges to be the 'top of the list' site of the proposed national nuclear dump.

Incredulous at hearing this on the 8am news, I rang Aunty Enice. 'I'm sitting here trying to eat my weetbix and keep my thoughts calm,' she said. 'But do you know what I was thinking? Colonisation is again attacking the First Nations people and poisoning their land.'

For her colleague, Regina McKenzie, it was 'like getting news of a death': death to a 60,000-year cultural heritage.

Since then, South Australia's international grain farming area of Kimba has again emerged as an alternative site. At last month's first joint meeting in Port Augusta, both Kimba and Flinders Ranges peoples opposing the dump reported that after 'a quiet last few months', the pressure from the federal government is now back on with a vengeance.

The announcement of $2 million in 'untied' government grants to various local applicants in each region has been integral to this. What was surprising to the Kimba opponents, faced with the absence of five of their key colleagues, was the unannounced (at least to them) appearance of the Minister, National Party Senator Matt Canavan, at this announcement.

When challenged about this lack of notice, the senior public servant's response was that he hadn't been 'really sure' that the Minister was coming. Kimba opponents cite this as just another example of the government campaign strategy: 'It's all about stealth.'

 

"This is a national issue, not something that a regional community should be left to deal with." — Barry Wakelin

 

The Minister also announced that the Australian Electoral Commission local voting for and against either region becoming Australia's national nuclear dump would take place on 20 August. Currently there is a Senate Estimates Committee examining the process of site selection and related matters, with its recommendations due on 13 August — leaving hardly time for a dispersion, reading and respectful cognisance of its findings prior to the vote.

Political maneuvering is again evident in the insistence of the Minister to tightly restrict the voting area — as if the small numbers of local people will be the only ones affected. Kimba farmer opponents warn constantly of the danger to their international markets of other crops and produce (such as Port Lincoln's seafood trade) on the whole of the Eyre Peninsula region.

The oft-repeated government saying: 'We will not impose the federal nuclear dump on an unwilling community' continues to fly in the face of the lately renewed state legislation, which actually forbids the transportation of such waste into South Australia.

On 28 April, some of us 'southerners' joined locals at the glorious Wilpena Pound (pictured) site to inform national and international tourists of the Australian government's intention to make the region home to Australia's highest level nuclear waste — if permitted.

Predictable reactions to the news ('Incredible!' 'Why?') included inquiries about the distance from the Pound. Amazement followed the map sighting: that any government would deliberately jeopardise such an internationally recognised site by proposing, just 40km away, a dump site for nuclear waste. Measured by radioactivity, over 90 per cent of the waste would be intermediate long lived nuclear waste from the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in Sydney — waste that will be hazardous for thousands of years.

Our dinner at the camping ground was accompanied by ring-necked parrots and, later, flocks of apostle birds. In the morning, my prayer companions included a mother kangaroo, who fossicked among the leaves while keeping herself discreetly behind the wire fence. Her joey however was a close encounter type, constantly circling within a metre of my chair.

The Flinders is an idyllic place. Kimba is important grain farming country. No wonder much of the emphasis in the government campaign, and by local proponents for both regions, continues to be on the low level nuclear waste component.

With the campaign stretching past its third year since the announcement of the respective leaseholders simply 'offering' their respective properties, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal opponents are rock solid in their constant efforts 'to look after the country'. But it has come at huge personal and communal costs.

Barry Wakelin, the retired Coalition federal member, is one of the farmers fiercely opposing the plan. In the face of groundwater, transport and serious, hugely long-term safety risks, Wakelin insists, 'This is a national issue, not something that a regional community should be left to deal with.'

A national response (in the form of a petition being circulated by Conservation South Australia) can be made in solidarity with the country and peoples who will be affected by the proposed site. Click here to sign the petition.

 

 

Michele MadiganMichele Madigan is a Sister of St Joseph who has spent the past 38 years working with Aboriginal people in remote areas of South Australia and in Adelaide. Her work has included advocacy and support for senior Aboriginal women of Coober Pedy in their campaign against the proposed national radioactive dump.

Topic tags: Michele Madigan, South Australia, nuclear waste, land rights

 

 

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Existing comments

Thank you Michelle for bringing this issue to our attention. It amounts to short term gain followed by an aeon of despair if this desperate Government, clinging to power by its fingernails, consents to this insanity. We dont need to pollute a pristine area. It will drive people from the Flinders Ranges and make it a no go area. There has to be a better method to get rid of this toxic residue. If Musk can jettison a car in outer space, why cant we fire this rubbish out into the universe or why cant some scientist come up with a method to render it neutral. It makes no sense to inflict this poison on the Flinders Ranges or the Kimba area. If Turnbull consents to this dump he has taken leave of his senses.
Francis Armstrong | 18 May 2018


Thank you Michele Madigan for keeping this issue before us. I signed.
Janet | 21 May 2018


The use of the word "dump" is both inaccurate and simplistic but also deliberately emotive and sensationalising. I think this is sort of language is literally anti-social and against he common good. We are talking about a safe long-term repository for the waste tht comes from a very necessary national facility that produces medically vital radioactive isotopes for all of us in the community , including our Aboriginal fellow citizens. There really is nothing to worry about.
Eugene | 21 May 2018


This isn't just a national issue, but an international issue. South Australia should not be the receptacle of other people's rubbish - they need to find a way to dispose of it themselves. Furthermore, to dump nuclear waste on Aboriginal country in South Australia is an act of gross insensitivity (and that it an understatement) given what happened at Maralinga in the 1950s/1960s. It is an abuse of the human rights of the Adnya-mathanha people, literally 'the people of the rocky hills'. If it were to be dumped in say, Burnside or Double Bay, there would be huge community reaction, but to suggest dumping it there on the country of a small group of people who have already been subjected to more than shabby treatment by the colonial group is an outrage. There's also the added factor of the earthquake fault line that runs through South Australia. Thank you for alerting us Michele.
Christine Nicholls | 21 May 2018


I have to endorse Eugene's comments, except his final comment. Any nuclear storage facility does not come with an absolute guarantee-rather the best science can provide at any point in time. As a society we are using nuclear material for medicine and research. The waste products of nuclear medicine are being stored in inadequate and unsafe facilities across the nation, mainly in the suburbs of our cities. We have a responsibility to the people and the environment to store these wastes safely. Ultimately we have to rely on science to identify the safest locations for storage. The final location for this nuclear storage facility is a matter for the well being of the whole society. If there is a sacred site to be protected then that is a serious matter that cannot be ignored. However the postponement on building the nuclear storage facility is a matter of grave concern. A solution does have to be found, even though the general response is 'not in my backyard'. For the well being of society the facility needs to be built as a matter of urgency.
Kevin | 21 May 2018


Hear! Hear! Eugene. Your first sentence says it all!
john frawley | 21 May 2018


Congratulations Michelle on another well written and sensitive article about the attempts of governments to foist radioactive waste dump or repositories in sensitive regions of the country. that will deleteriously affect soil and water purity and have negative impacts on Aboriginal homelands, agriculture and tourism. For South Australians, this is the second time that we have had a government trying to force us into having a radioactive waste facility on our lands. The former SA government and a former SA governor was also pushing strongly for one. In response to Eugene, I do not think it really matters what you call these waste facilities as they will still provide a risk for thousands of years. If this is not so, why do so many nations with excessive radioactive wastes building up from their nuclear industries want Australia to take them? Proponents of safety warn that it can be very dangerous transporting nuclear wastes over long distances. It is much safer to establish waste storage facilities close to where is has been used or generated to overcome this problem. However, wherever such repositories are located, it is negligent to place them on lands that are significant to indigenous populations or in agriculture regions or popular national parks. We need to have responsible planning for dealing with this problem.
Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 21 May 2018


A timely warning of just what informing communities mean at time. Also the way time frames and the framework of debate is import . A well timed comment
terence duff | 21 May 2018


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