Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Fight against nuclear waste not over yet



On January 31st, just three days before he offered his resignation as Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Senator Matthew Canavan made his long awaited, if predictable, announcement: Australia’s long lived intermediate radioactive waste will be stored, and the low level waste deposited, at the Napandee site in the Kimba region of South Australia.

Nuclear waste barrels (Credit: Charissa Van Straalen/Getty Images)Canavan’s decision was a natural follow on from his December 13th announcement that with just 47 per cent of voters in favour, the Flinders Ranges site of Wallerberdina was no longer under consideration. As such, the Kimba decision was predictable. However it still came as a jolt to most of the farmers and others rightly fearful of the plan to host nuclear waste which even the government now admits will remain toxic for an unimaginable 10,000 years.

The early November Kimba vote of 61.17 per cent in favour on the proposed project followed the four year divisive government campaign. On December 5th, Kimba region farmer Terry Schmucker explained the vote’s long history: ‘We have already been through this once already where everyone was on equal terms. The minister at the time had already ruled there was not broad community support. However the landholder that nominated his land the first time then renominated a different part of his farm and his friends and family within the Kimba council moved for a vote of only the council area. The community funding has now been restricted to the Kimba council area only because of this — people are looking at the large inducement, not the radioactive waste issues.’ He concluded that ‘if the 50 km radius was applied at Kimba like it is at Hawker the vote would fail at these waste sites.’

After their 20 year struggle to successfully obtain their native title rights, which included the Kimba region, the Barngarla people were astonished at their own exclusion from the vote. As Jeanne Miller movingly explains in Kim Mavromatis’ four minute film, as Aboriginal people with no voting power they are put back 50 years, ‘again classed as flora and fauna.’ The Barngarla case against the Kimba Council will return to the Federal Court on February 21st.

After the Kimba region announcement, most predictable was the delight of the man due to profit the most from the arrangement in monetary terms. Jeff Baldock of Napandee is to be paid four fold for the 160 hectares of his land that the federal government plans to acquire.

Not much doubt, however, that Baldock and his family over future generations may get much more in repercussions than bargained for. At our privileged gathering on 5th February in Adelaide’s CBD, every time a guest referred to ‘intermediate long lived nuclear waste’, Dr Helen Caldicott, an internationally known anti-nuclear campaigner, insistently corrected the term to ‘high level’ nuclear waste. Somewhat surprisingly, on February 6, ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) senior nuclear officer Hef Griffths voiced the same opinion. Speaking to the ABC’s Paul Culliver, Griffiths admitted France classifies waste from reprocessed spent nuclear fuel as high level nuclear waste  and when the waste gets shipped back to Australia it is reclassified as intermediate.

Unsurprisingly, there has been more media coverage of this issue in the Murdoch owned Adelaide Advertiser since Senator Canavan’s anouncement. One opinion piece to one (extreme) side, more facts than usual have been reported. Unswerving however has been the insistence by many correspondents of the repetition of the government mantra that the project is all about medical nuclear waste. The reality is that over 90 per cent of the waste, measured by radioactivity, is intermediate long-lived waste including the nuclear spent fuel rods and also the parts of the previous nuclear reactor. And no, X-rays and radiotherapy aren’t nuclear medicine.


'After their 20 year struggle to successfully obtain their native title rights, which included the Kimba region, the Barngarla people were astonished at their own exclusion from the vote. As Jeanne Miller movingly explains in Kim Mavromatis’ four minute film, as Aboriginal people with no voting power they are put back 50 years, "again classed as flora and fauna"'.


To avoid any unnecessary repetition of details regarding the medical waste argument I suggest that any interested reader would do well to read the respondents’ questions and information to my last published article. In addition, there is always the valuable Friends of the Earth scientific information source.

The hosts of the Kimba Rally for Sunday February 2nd, expecting 100, were overwhelmed and delighted with the crowd, a physical count revealing five times that number. Mrs Waniwa Lester, widow of the late Yami Lester blinded by the 1953 British nuclear tests at Emu Junction, travelled the 467 kilometres from Adelaide with me to attend. Weeks in the planning, it turned out the rally took place two days after the Minister’s actual announcement of the nuclear site.

MC Peter Woodfold, President of No Radioactive Waste on Agricultural Land in Kimba or SA, summarised the local divisive campaign in his speech, saying ‘if you want to know what intimidation is, you stand between people and money.’

Perhaps most moving of all the excellent speeches were those from other farmers, James Shepherdson and Tom Harris. As reported in the Stock Journal, Shepherdson said the community had not initially been told that the facility would be used to temporarily store intermediate-level radioactive waste, in addition to the storage and disposal of low-level waste. He said funding injections, such as a $20 million government community fund, did not outweigh potential problems with grain quality. ‘Farmers are under scrutiny and at the beck and call of buyers and brokers, and to risk what is an $80m income for this district every 12 months, for a one-off $20m payment, that's absurd,’ he said.

Kimba farming land is an important part of South Australia’s just 4.5 per cent agricultural cropping land. Tom Harris revealed with some distress the current doubt by insurance agents regarding his insurance viability because of its proximity of his farm to the nuclear storage site; this may jeopardise his sons’ succession.

Reflecting the determination of local No campaigners, ACF ‘s Dave Sweeney warns that the fight is far from over. Various hurdles along the way in which opponents can be involved include the required Environmental Impact Statement and then the assessment the regulator ARPANSA (The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency) must make. The inclusion of other opponents is more likely when transport routes are finally revealed.

Coming from a long established Eyre Peninsula family, P Boylan is clear: all of SA’s West Coast will be affected and must have a say. Peter Woolford goes further, in view of the extraordinary ramifications of this decision for the whole state, a referendum is needed.

No, it’s not over yet. Nor will it be. On an issue that will have implications for every generation to come, just 452 local residents cannot be allowed to speak for 1.7 million South Australians.



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

Main image: Nuclear waste barrels (Credit: Charissa Van Straalen/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Michele Madigan, South Australia, nuclear waste, Aboriginal Australians



submit a comment

Existing comments

Thank you Michele for this informative article. Thank you for being one of those who look to the welfare of future generations, in contrast to the short-sighted, profit-driven, irresponsible ones who occupy too many positions of power.

Susan Connelly | 11 February 2020  

Dear Michele, I laud your advocacy for those that don't and should have a voice, and for justice to rule over self interest. Could we also look at perhaps broad framing this a little more? The nuclear waste is already there and needs to be stored. As one of the most geologically and politically stable countries in the world don't we have an obligation to store it if we're going to be good global citizens? Objectively choosing the safest site with the highest safety standards would be a given (If unfortunately never a guarantee). If we then charge heavily for the service the revenue could be used to fund social services, environmental initiatives, etc, etc. Lots of "ifs" and "buts", but it presents a huge opportunity. Meanwhile there are always going to be those who say "Not in my backyard!"

Dave Barker | 11 February 2020  

For decades radioactive waste has been building up across the country in adequate temporary storage, with an increasing potential for a mishap affecting the wellbeing of members of the public. I cannot comment on this specific location or the adequacy of the consultation of the local peoples, including the First People. Public pressure can assist in better consultation on site selection and safeguards. However there is an urgency in finding a safer location for permanent storage. This also needs to be part of any discussion as well as the health of those communities where the radioactive material is currently being stored.

Kevin | 11 February 2020  

Which is our biggest waste problem, carbon or nuclear? I suspect it's the former, in terms of the number of people affected and scale of the ecological impact. That's where the effort needs to go. The latter is mostly about in whose back yard it goes, isn't it ? So that should be (relatively) easy to solve. What about placing it in a deep shaft on the site of the old refinery at Kurnell ? No wait, that's in the federal electorate of Cook, isn't it? Go Sharks !

Ginger Meggs | 11 February 2020  

To the Premier and to my representatives in State Parliament - Our laws are clear, there are ten year imprisonment penalties and multi million dollar fines for offences relating to planning and promotion and establishment and operation of a nuclear waste dump in South Australia – these are very serious penalties, in accord with the gravity of the threat. These laws have been breached by recent bribery and deception activities ... and there are clear public statements of intention to breach these laws further in the near future, recently moving from conspiring to breach the importation prohibition, to specifying a precise place where an illegal dump is planned, on farm land in the middle of a large area of precious farm land. Please act to fight this evil criminal activity. As specified in the legislation, this is a matter of acting "to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of South Australia and to protect the environment in which they live by prohibiting the establishment of certain nuclear waste storage facilities in this State." (Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000 https://www.legislation.sa.gov.au/LZ/C/A/NUCLEAR%20WASTE%20STORAGE%20FACILITY%20(PROHIBITION)%20ACT%202000.aspx ) Best wishes from Brett Stokes resident of Willaston 5118 =========================== as sent To:premier@sa.gov.au,light@parliament.sa.gov.au,connie.bonaros@parliament.sa.gov.au,emily.bourke@parliament.sa.gov.au,john.darley@parliament.sa.gov.au,john.dawkins@parliament.sa.gov.au,franks.office@parliament.sa.gov.au,JustinHanson.office@parliament.sa.gov.au,Dennis.Hood@parliament.sa.gov.au,hunter.office@parliament.sa.gov.au,Jing.Lee@parliament.sa.gov.au,DHSMinisterforHumanServices@sa.gov.au,treasurer.dtf@sa.gov.au,maher.office@parliament.sa.gov.au,mclachlan.office@parliament.sa.gov.au,tung.mlc@parliament.sa.gov.au,pangallo.office@parliament.sa.gov.au,parnell@parliament.sa.gov.au,irene.pnevmatikos@parliament.sa.gov.au,OfficeofMinisterRidgway@sa.gov.au,scriven.office@parliament.sa.gov.au,terry.stephens@parliament.sa.gov.au,Stephen.Wade@parliament.sa.gov.au,russell.wortley@parliament.sa.gov.au 3 Feb at 1:23 pm

Brett Stokes | 11 February 2020  

The Battle For Kimba is on. Thanks Michele for your good work. Clearly there has been bribery and deception. That alone invalidates any claims of community support. The beagle and I were at Kimba on 02Feb2020 and I concur with your description of the rally and would add that ALP's Eddie Hughes and Centre Alliance's Senator Rex Patrick both spoke well, while there was no Greens presence at all. Hopefully the new federal leader of the Greens will soon get involved to actively support the resistance to this illegal and unwanted radioactive poisons importation scheme. Hopefully our state Greens including MLCs Parnell and Franks will soon get involved to actively support the resistance to this illegal and unwanted radioactive poisons importation scheme. As shown by many misinformed comments in the media and even here in another comment, as shown by the history of 25 years of struggle against the nuclear industry's plans for South Australia as a dumping ground, we have work to do.

Brett Stokes | 11 February 2020  

Thanks to Michele Madigan and EUREKA STREET for another fine article on this important issue, which is being covered most inadequately in the media at large. I reply here to Dave Barker, whose comment on this page is that of a wolf in sheep's clothing - purporting to support Michele's views. In the first place, the Kimba dump is meant only for Australian-produced radioactive trash. Secondly, accepted best practice is for nuclear wastes to be disposed of as close as possible to the point of production, NOT exported dangerously for 1000s of kilometres across the world. Australia has NO OBLIGATION to import radioactive trash - a dangerous and also illegal activity.

Noel Wauchope | 11 February 2020  

Your advocacy in this is admirable Michelle, what I don't understand is why when proposing a site they don't and it would seem never have ( if you can by the disasters that have already occurred as a result of moving the stuff, particularly on Aboriginal land) put the question "What does the future hold if something goes wrong?

Sue Gilbey | 11 February 2020  

Michele, I am a bit surprised at both sites being selected as they are in valuable agricultural land, which South Australia has very little. Much better to store further north in the desert regions . Everyone needs to note the Flinders Ranges area is seismically active and NOT a good place to store nuclear waste.

Gavin O'Brien | 11 February 2020  

Thanks for a great article Michele. Further to the reported concerns are of course the concerns of getting the waste to the site, especially given SA statistics on heavy transport road accidents. We can say the vessels will meet the worst scenario, in which case the costs of transport will be extraordinary. As for waste shipped to the site, there is no answer!

Mike Westerman | 11 February 2020  

In reply to Dave Barker, under international law each country producing nuclear waste is solely responsible for its safe storage. Thanks Michelle for a great, informative article. Zac

Zac | 11 February 2020  

Ginger Meggs says "Which is our biggest waste problem, carbon or nuclear? I suspect it's the former" CO2 can be addressed and reversed through the appropriate policies, nuclear waste will be a threat to all biosphere for eternity. Zac

Zac | 11 February 2020  

A fantastic article about the history of the disgraceful consultation process involving the placing of a nuclear waste facility at Kimba and the total betrayal of the Barngarla people where the the site will be. Congratulations to Michelle for the article and Eureka Street for posting it. Personally. I am not surprised that Senator Matthew Canavan came to this decision. He comes from a party and a COALition that has been dismissive of environmental issues and betrayal of our Aboriginal people for a long time.. The politicians making this decision did not like the answer they originally got when they consulted about the siting of the dump so they organised a shonky process to get the result they wanted. In the process, they excluded the very people who have held this land for 60,000 years. As we all know, former PM John Howard of the LNP COALitiion abolished the Aboriginal and Torres Islanders Commission (ATSIC) in 2004 thus denying indigenous people of Australia national consultation. Like the Kimba decision, this is yet another betrayal of the 1967 referendum which essentially recognised Aboriginal people as full Australian citizens. The National Party claims that it is there to support the farming community. Its policies for a long time have show it is far more loyal to the large corporations than to farmers.. Responsible farmers who want to keep the soil and water ways unpolluted for the production of safe food products do not want nuclear waste dumps, fracking or coal mining in the vicinity for obvious reasons. The Nationals have sold these farmers out every time.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 11 February 2020  

I echo the thanks for for another clear and factual article, Michele. I also have to agree with Noel Wauchope's response to Dave Barker. The current National Radioactive Waste Management Facility proposal for the Flinders Ranges and Kimba was never about the disposal of the world's high level nuclear waste . DIIS was at great pains to distance itself from Weatherill's Royal Commission into the Fuel Cycle. We all know the Citizens Jury verdict on that. The suggestion that "good global citizens" should take back the waste from the uranium they export is far too selective. Why is this argument only ever applied to the most toxic waste that mankind produces? For example, we export iron ore and coal, but no one has ever suggested that we bring back the waste from processing or burning this stuff overseas, including the CO2. As a country of 25 million, our rural sector produces enough food and fibre for the needs of 75 million - who has ever lobbied for the return of that waste? I proudly and loudly say, "Not in my backyard" If Dave wants to put it in his, that's fine by me, but hopefully, he'll have a chat to his neighbours first.

Gregory Bannon | 11 February 2020  

i am absolutely cheezed off that this person should be allowed to even want to think about doing such a stupid thing to our beautiful country How dare he

maryellen flynn | 12 February 2020  

Michele has informed us of one of the dirtiest "gerrymanders" in Australia's history - restricting the voting range for approval to construct the nuclear waste dump at Kimba. I agree with Gavin O'Brien - "I am a bit surprised at both sites being selected as they are in valuable agricultural land, which South Australia has very little." Meanwhile the NSW and Federal governments look like giving Santos the go ahead for coal seam gas (CSG) mining and the Federal Government wants Victoria to end its moratorium on exploration and mining for CSG. In both states, farmers are trying to protect their prime agricultural land and precious groundwater in this driest of continents. Food production is inherently more important than yet another energy source.

Ian Fraser | 12 February 2020  

Gavin O'Brien's comment is probably the most pertinent. If you're going to engage in a political issue, and, whatever else is involved, this issue will be decided in the political arena, you need to know your facts.

Edward Fido | 12 February 2020  

'A threat for all eternity' is a bit of a stretch Zac, all radioactive material decays. But even if it was for a long time, how big a threat would it be and how easy is it to manage? We've had a number of nuclear incidents across the world in the last 75 years and none has caused as much trouble as our run-away carbon emissions have already, let alone what's to come. Granted, our carbon problem may still be amenable to 'appropriate policies', but how difficult will it be to get them implemented, globally, in reasonable time? That's why I suggest that is where the effort needs to go. In doing so, I'm not excusing the appalling process to which politicians and others have resorted in this case.

Ginger Meggs | 12 February 2020  

Thanks to responders including those who know the accurate facts and helped others. As Edward Fido notes facts are important in the political arena. If only it were so on this issue! There are many facts in this and in previous articles on this topic. Obviously it's not possible to keep repeating all in every article. Dr Margaret Beavis GP lectures in nuclear waste and teaches medicine at Melbourne University and the sentence in this February article 'X-rays and radiotherapy are NOT nuclear medicine' are from her paper 'Key Questions Regarding Nuclear Waste www.mapw.au/campaigns/nuclear-chain/ Is Gavin clear that the Flinders Ranges site was ruled out by the then Minister in mid December? Is Dave Barker confusing this federal nuclear repository / dump with the now defunct international waste plan? Pope Francis reflection (LS19) well fits the Barngarla, Adnyamathanha peoples and many others in this campaign to find a scientific genuine solution to nuclear waste, 'Our goal ... is to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.' Apologies I write too late for respondents

Michele Madigan | 12 February 2020  

see “Napandee Nuclear Store site nomination also targets Whyalla Port” 2 page Nuclear Brief (Feb 2020) by David Noonan, Independent Environment Campaigner https://nuclear.foe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/Transport-Napandee-Nuclear-Store-targets-Whyalla-Port-Feb2020.pdf Extract: Eyre Peninsula, Whyalla and transport route communities have so far been denied a say on Federal nuclear waste plans. Two shipments of reprocessed nuclear wastes, in 130 tonne TN-81 casks, are intended within the first 2 years of operations of a Napandee Nuclear Store. Premier Marshall must protect all SA regional communities and reject a Nuclear Waste Store in SA. For further Info, see: https://nuclear.foe.org.au/waste

David Noonan | 13 February 2020  

Thanks Michele for entering into dialogue with your responders. I for one truly appreciate it. It's much more effective than giving a 'set piece broadside' and then leaving us responders to squabble amongst ourselves, often about matters irrelevant to the main issue. :-)

Ginger Meggs | 13 February 2020  

Australia, as the biggest, deadest, inactive and sparsely populated land mass in the world is probably the safest place to store nuclear waste on the planet. Storing nuclear waste in a remote part of the continent while caring for a very small number of displaced persons (more than adequately compensated) might be the best thing we can offer to the future world.

john frawley | 17 February 2020  

For the record 10 days later and long after many other articles on this federal dump proposed plan... It's clear that a few readers as well as other people in general, don't realise that the campaign in SA about importing international nuclear waste is long over. Unsurprisingly defeated soundly despite the nuclear advocates' all out efforts. World-wide the nuclear industry is in dire straits with countries like Germany's decided action plans to pull out completely, changing to safe and cheaper -start- up alternative energies with no worries re toxic waste. Hence nuclear advocates constant push for our own country to prop up the industry. The present battle and the point of the article/ most correspondence is about the federal government's proposed facility/ storage. Still surprised and rather shocked to see our country described as the 'deadest and inactive ...land mass in the world.' Certainly shows that there is a long way till as a nation we get to the Aboriginal view of country. And stop viewing it as Pope Francis notes, 'a commodity.' A reality to those of us privileged to have witnessed peoples' love of country Sadly the flipside is suffering endured as continues here with the Barngarla

Michele Madigan | 20 February 2020  

I was not being completely facetious when I suggested that the disposal site be located in Scott Morrison's electorate. It seems to me that the 'how' of the disposal must be such that the 'where' should not matter. If the method of disposal is not safe enough for it to be located in, for example, Kurnell, or even Parliament House, then it's a tad presumptuous to assert that it's safe enough to be located in some 'terra nullius'. This is the logic that led us in the past to create slag heaps on the sides of Welsh valleys, and rubbish tips in Australian gullies, or swamps, or on mudflats, and more recently to test nuclear weapons in places that were unoccupied, uninhabited, or considered unimportant by 'people like us'.

Ginger Meggs | 21 February 2020  

Dear Sr Madigan. I was referring to the geophysical nature of Australia not to the created notion of tera nullius or the Aboriginal spiritual relationship with the land. The great threat of nuclear storage in terms of the safety of confinement of nuclear waste is geophysical activity with the capability of destroying storage constructions. Volcanic activity which effectively ceased on the mainland 6000 years ago is perhaps the greatest of these natural threats to safe storage. The geophysical inactivity of Australia is what was implied by the word "dead".

john frawley | 24 February 2020  

Like 1950's apartheid, exclusion of the Barngarla people in a major decision on their own soil is inexcusable. The Australian Government may need to say SORRY, again, soon. The Nuclear Waste dump, pushed onto the public by ambush and exclusion, wasted many years, and court time inclusive of money - whilst other non uranium exporting countries, are looking for options, some discussing mine voids. In 2014, I suggested it be buried in a uranium mine as a cradle to grave, one site operation. Australia has had more than 40 years to design a nuclear waste bin. In my opinion, no suggestions or options were allowed in this discussion. Those given the task, were looking for a SITE, not a SOLUTION. I do not think it is too late, to reverse the current decision. Why would the lucky winning town want a REVERSE URANIUM MINE in their vicinity? This is what a nuclear waste facility is, a new mining project. Requiring all the approvals of such. As Basic science, place the waste into the hole of where it came, as part of progressive uranium mine rehabilitation, current, or retrofit. We would not need to dig another hole. This would provide, jobs and royalties. No new environment would be harmed by the process. I do not see any MINING COMPANIES IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA, putting their hands up to help. Why export uranium ore without a solution as a customer service for nuclear waste disposal? You are really exporting nuclear waste. Michele, Just like the late Nelson Mandela, whom I was privileged to meet, one person can make a difference - and that is YOU. He believed it! Even being incarcerated in the process. Basic rights are a given, even to Indigenous Australians. I get nothing out of this. I try, like you.

Claudia Tregoning | 25 February 2020  

Similar Articles

Call to revive Australian tourism

  • Catherine Marshall
  • 20 February 2020

This communal outpouring during the bushfires has an opportunity to perpetuate itself indefinitely, even though the embers have been extinguished and those not directly affected by the fires have gotten on with their workaday lives. For even as the fires burned, Tourism Australia was mounting a campaign to encourage Australians to holiday locally instead of taking their patronage abroad, and to persuade international tourists to visit, too.


A sustainable response to disaster

  • Eliza Spencer
  • 19 February 2020

In the midst of bushfire relief events and community raffles, concerns about how those in need can be best supported continue as emotions run high. While the nation grieves the loss of life and land, we need to begin the conversation of how we can respond mindfully to disaster and find sustainable solutions for disasters to come.