Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Opposition growing to SA nuclear plan



'We are not a dump is SA, we want to keep it beautiful' — Umoona Community. 'We've got to think about the country' — Ceduna.

Protest rallyThe last 30 days have seen some big developments in the ongoing attempts of SA Premier Weatherill's plan to import high-level and intermediate level radioactive waste into South Australia.

On Sunday 6 November came the surprising decision of the Premier-initiated Citizens Jury. By the end of their six day deliberations, the 350 second round jurists showed a decided shift in opinion. Their 50 page report, presented to a somewhat discomfited Premier, had a strong two thirds majority declaring the international nuclear dump was not to go ahead 'under any circumstances'.

Contrary to expectations, my own included, the jury, realising the bias of the royal commission and other government initiated forums, had insisted on their own choice of counter experts. In particular they invited four economists (Richard Denniss, Richard Blandy, Barbara Pocock, Mark Diesendorf), whose convincing analyses led to their firm conclusion of 'no confidence in the economics'.

The jury also insisted on a strong second round of Aboriginal Traditional Owner witnesses: Pitjatjantjara, Yankunyjatjara, Adnyamathanha, Nukunu, Kokatha and others from various language groups across the state. Witnesses reported that various jurists were very moved by these many powerful and passionate statements, with their final report quoting Keith Peters from Yalata — 'Any damage to the environment is damage to spirit and body' — along with several extracts from the Aboriginal Statement, as above.

The title Citizens Jury, however, remains a misnomer. A genuine Citizens Jury has the power to make a decision. The Premier has made it clear he retains that power. Still, in the ABC Q&A program held in Adelaide, he had assured Karina Lester, chair of the Yankunyjatjara Native Title Corporation, that without Aboriginal consent 'it will not go ahead'.

The 15 October rally (pictured) of 3000 strong must have been one of the first revelations to the Premier that his extraordinary push for the project has major concerted opposition, despite the $10 million 'persuasion campaign'.

On this 63rd anniversary of the Emu Field British bomb explosion in north eastern SA, Karina Lester, daughter of Yami Lester, who was blinded by the 'Black Mist' explosion, was co-MC. Traditional Owners Mima Smart (immediate past chairperson of Yalata Community) and Keith Peters (immediate past chairperson and present member of Maralinga Tjarutja) spoke their history and present fiery opposition.


"With just 15 protestors the previous year, it was clear again that voter opposition had mushroomed, with hundreds of protestors, almost all with their own banners, greeting delegates."


Union rep Joe Szakacs protested the risks to workers of the international waste plan, explaining how few long term jobs would result. Media reports on ABC, 9 and 7 all included a well-known SA identity noted in the crowd. Introduced as 'an Academy Award nominated film director', Scott Hicks was incredulous at the proposal: 'Let's find smart industries! Don't just get in on the end of a failed industry.'

Two weeks later, on 29 October, the ALP State Convention revealed divisions within the party, such that the matter reportedly threatened to take over the whole convention until being deferred to a proposed dedicated meeting. With just 15 protestors the previous year, it was clear again that voter opposition had mushroomed, with hundreds of protestors, almost all with their own banners, greeting delegates.

Sean McDonagh, the Columban environmental theologian, visited Adelaide on 5 November. Astounded by my explanation of the Premier's plan, he asked, 'Including plutonium?' Yes — a total of 138,000 tonnes of high and 390,000 tonnes of intermediate-level waste — simply dumped for at least the first 28 years.

Stephen Long's ABC revelations on 8 November meant a rare entry into national media coverage. In summary: 'Let's be clear on what this means — lobbyists and former nuclear company executives co-wrote large parts of the SA Nuclear Royal Commission report.'

On Friday 11 November, the Conservation Council of SA and Aboriginal reps presented the Premier with 5000 'Don't Waste SA' signed protest postcards, and the Australian Conservation Foundation's 30,000 strong petition. That same day a bombshell from the Liberal opposition leader. Removing the necessary bipartisan support, Stephen Marshall declared, 'I have a much greater vision for SA than becoming the world's nuclear waste dump.'

On Sunday 13 November the Community Review Report which the Premier had urged South Australians to wait for, delivered another surprise with far from positive approval for the dump. Then, this week, on 14–16 November, the first ever Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle conference took place in Adelaide to 'examine top level topics associated with establishing an international waste and fuel management facility in SA'. Attending nuclear industrialists were 'expecting a policy statement'.

At 2.30pm Monday 14 November Premier Weatherill, faced with all of the above, declared a referendum would be held on the issue. Result: a widespread media eruption. On Tuesday 15 November the State Government's official response to the Royal Commission — no doubt the expected 'policy statement' — citing expansion for the mining industry but seeming to withdraw from the referendum (at least for now).

So the saga continues. And as Pitjantjatjara Elder Keith Peters and Glenn Wingfield, Kokatha, remind us, 'This is an issue for all Australians! Once it gets out, it gets out for every one of us!'


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.

Photo by Kathy Whitta

Topic tags: Michele Madigan, South Australia, nuclear waste, Edie Nyimpula King



submit a comment

Existing comments

In your previous article (cited in this one) I expressed concern about your lack of 'openness' to the process, notwithstanding a justified degree of concern about certain aspects. The 'no' promoters have said the process was biased towards a 'yes' and the 'yes' promoters (eg the local business lobbies) have said it was biased towards a 'no'. Either way it is a resounding 'no'. Given that, it would be great if the church, especially the local church, was more visible in its opposition, especially in the context of Laudato si'. As an (almost) aside, Weatherill's strategy here is mystifying. Why, after such a decisive 'no', he thinks a referendum is a good idea is not at all clear. Maybe he sees a 'wedge' with the opposition that will carry the next election?

Tony | 18 November 2016  

This is the Luddites on steroids. Why is nuclear "waste" regarded as dangerous? Because it's radioactive. Which means...it's an intense source of ... energy!!! So nuclear "waste" is in fact an incredibly valuable resource. And it becomes more valuable as the new generation nuclear reactors come on stream which are able to reprocess more and more components of the "waste", turning it into energy. Don't worry, fearful waste-phobes: even if S.A. signs up to this proposal, the window is a small one. If the world gets sane about nuclear energy (which it is, gradually) within a few decades almost all nuclear waste will be reprocessed, and the waste in S.A., if any, will be sold off ... to the benefit, inter alia, of the aboriginal land owners, need I add. Once again, I'm reminded of John D Rockefeller, who was unhappy that the black sludge from his oil refineries was being thrown away. He decided to see what it could be used for ... and came up with over 200 products that we rely on today ... plastics, etc. That's called 'forward thinking'. By the way, for the carbon-phobes: nuclear energy is "clean" energy, if that floats your boats.

HH | 18 November 2016  

Just imagine if this volume of waste leaches partially into the underground water table. A major flood could cause that. There is no way it could be safely contained. Selling off ports and infrastructure is one thing. Selling off a landfill space for nuclear waste is scraping the bottom of the barrel in job creation and politically reckless as to the unknown future spread of contamination.

Francis Armstrong | 18 November 2016  

'Please don't confuse me with facts, I've made up my mind.' For the first time ever, I think I have some empathy with HH's position. Michele seems to have made up her mind long ago as to what outcome she wants. With good science ignored, she and her friends cast around for a consultative process that will come up with the right answer that must then, and only then, be accepted as authoritative. Since when did unelected citizen juries make decisions? Or, for that matter, plebiscites? For better or worse, ours is a representative form of democracy, not a direct form. We elect parliaments to make public policy decisions.

Ginger Meggs | 18 November 2016  

Well said GM !!

john frawley | 18 November 2016  

The responses of HH and GM alarm me. There is plenty of 'good science' which substantiates Michelle's position and she is to be applauded for her advocacy of one point of view. Let us hear both sides of the argument from 'good science'.

Hunter | 18 November 2016  

Tony - Members of the Citizens Jury are to be congratulated - as the article points out the second Jury insisted on more input from Aboriginal peoples and alternative economists. The first Jury's task according to the invitation seemed extremely limited. I couldn't agree more that it would be great if the church was more visible in opposition. The SA Uniting Church and UC Aboriginal Congress have led the way. Recently the Sisters of Mercy in Australia have united in written opposition. The 'Josephites Question Nuclear Waste Proposal.' media Statement was in March.The Multi Faith Association have recently sponsored a forum. Much more needs to be done. Ginger Meggs - 35 years of being with Aboriginal peoples who suffered the reality of nuclear radiation- personally - and witnessing the damage to their lands and groundwaters has given me many facts. As well as being informed from much other study in the previous and current campaigns. Radiation is radiation. Most scientists agree 'there is no 'safe' level of exposure to ionising radiation. Aboriginal people ask - Would you like it in your backyard? Mrs Crombie would ask, ' Don't white people have grandchildren?' All the consultations were the Government's processes.

Michele Madigan | 18 November 2016  

Thanks for the best wrapup of this story that I have ever read. One interesting point. The witnesses on the question of economics were predominantly anti nuclear. I always thought that this was a mistake - I mean - showing an anti nuclear bias. DemocracyCo did try to provide balanced witnesses. I can only conclude that they were unable to find any credible economist who could come out in support of the plan. Mr Johnson, a chemist from Jacobs Engineering, was clearly not up to the job.

Noel Wauchope | 21 November 2016  

For those who support the nuclear dump, I suggest you ask your state government to locate it in your area close to your home. Not where those with the least resources and most voiceless live.

Patricia | 21 November 2016  

Over recent times the covers have been pulled off and our governments and corporations have been revealed holding the cash and the political control of public policy. This was most starkly emphasised in the US response to the GFC where the corporate criminals were awarded rather than jailed. At any rate, the public has twigged that it's a scam and that they are being sidelined. Increasingly, they are calling for things like direct representation democracy. Corporations respond by saying "me too," grab those memes and co-opt them for their own purpose, as we see here. The process parallels many of the so-called 'independent' think tanks currently agitating for regime change around the world. They spout endlessly about expressing the "will of the people" and "free choice," but it is always of the libertarian markets kind. Publicly, they promote human rights issues, but their real aim is always economic exploitation. New Democracy and the 'jury' process is an assault on real democracy. It is corporations pursuing their own agendas while standing next to us and joining the cries for popular reform.

Damien | 15 September 2017  

David Price, writing in 2000 in the Journal of Medical Ethics , rejected the practice Citizens' juries which have been applied in delivering health services. Their usefulness is said to derive from a reliance on citizens' rational deliberation rather than on the immediate preferences of the consumer. But Price questioned the claim of critical detachment and asked whether juries do in fact employ reason as a means of assessing the facts. He showed that juries promote not so much a critically detached point of view as "a particular evaluative framework suited to the bureaucratic idiom of social welfare maximisation." He found a tendency among juries to suppress by non-rational means the everyday moral language of health care evaluation and substitute for it a system of thought in which it can be deemed permissible to deny treatment to sick people. Price concluded that juries are chiefly concerned with non-rational persuasion and because of this they are morally and democratically irrelevant. Essentially, they are a mechanism for bypassing critical safeguards on contentious public policy issues.

Damien | 15 September 2017  

Similar Articles

US goes rogue on climate

  • Greg Foyster
  • 17 November 2016

Here we go again. Just a few days after the historic Paris Agreement on climate change entered force, another Republican climate denier has snatched the White House. Donald Trump isn't just a closet sceptic, paying lip-service to climate change while doing nothing about it. He's an out-and-proud conspiracy theorist. All signs point to the US returning to its role as international climate saboteur, and for much the same reasons: Republican paranoia over the economic rise of China.


Leaders out of step with their faiths' climate teaching

  • Thea Ormerod
  • 17 November 2016

The evangelical Christian vote no doubt assisted the climate-denying Trump to his election victory, yet it is remarkable how out-of-step it is with the general view of faith communities globally. This view was made abundantly clear the day after Trump's victory on 10 November, with the release of an Interfaith Statement in Marrakech, Morocco, and it should stand as a challenge to those in public life who continue to block climate action.