Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Friends of the Earth condemns shameful Radioactive Waste Management Bill, offers positive alternatives

Friends of the Earth,. to Senate Committee on National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020 [Provisions] Submission 54 

The National Radioactive Waste Management (NRWM) Amendment Bill is deeply flawed and should be rejected. Further, the existing Act is deeply flawed and should be repealed.

The proposal to proceed with the nuclear waste facility despite the unanimous opposition of the Barngarla Traditional Owners is unconscionable and must not be allowed to stand. Shamefully, the federal government excluded Barngarla Traditional Owners from a ‘community ballot’ held in 2019. Therefore the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation initiated a separate, confidential postal survey of Traditional Owners, conducted by Australian Election Company. This resulted in 100% of respondents voting ‘no’ to the proposed nuclear facility. If the results of the two ballots are combined, the overall level of support falls to just 43.8% of eligible voters (452/824 for the government-initiated
ballot, and 0/209 for the Barngarla ballot) ‒ well short of the government’s benchmark of 65% for ‘broad community support’.

There is no consent from Barngarla Traditional Owners let alone free, prior and informed consent. The National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment Act systematically disempowers and dispossesses Traditional Owners, and the Amendment Bill worsens the situation and strips Traditional Owners of their legal review rights. Legal advice in a Feb. 2020 report by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights notes that the Bill “would enable native title to be extinguished, without the consent of the traditional owners”, and it raises further concerns about the Bill’s intention to permit the acquisition of land for an access route without any Parliamentary oversight or right of appeal.
The Act, the Bill, and the proposed nuclear waste facility are all inconsistent with the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD Committee) has said that Australia’s historically “racially discriminatory land practices have endured as an acute impairment of the rights of Australia’s indigenous communities”. Imposing a nuclear waste facility on Barngarla Country will clearly exacerbate the problems identified by the CERD Committee
In 2017, the CERD Committee expressed concern “about information that extractive and development projects are carried out on lands owned or traditionally owned by Indigenous Peoples without seeking their prior, free and informed consent” and recommended that Australia “ensure that the principle of free, prior and informed consent is incorporated into the Native Title Act 1993 and in other legislation as appropriate, and fully implemented in practice”.
The Senate Committee should recommend rejection of the NRWM Amendment Bill, and rejection of the proposed nuclear waste facility, in light of the clear opposition of the Barngarla Traditional Owners. The Senate Committee should also recommend that the government follow the advice of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to “ensure that the principle of free, prior and informed consent is incorporated into the Native Title Act 1993 and in other legislation as appropriate, and fully implemented in practice”.
It should be noted that the willingness to override the rights and interests of the Barngarla Traditional Owners is opposed by the SA Labor Party. The SA Labor Party argues that Traditional Owners ought to have a right of veto over nuclear projects given the sad and sorry history of the nuclear industry in SA, stretching back to the British atomic bomb tests. That position dates from 2017, if not earlier. In 2017, then Premier Jay Weatherill wrote to then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recommending that the federal government adopt the policy of allowing a right of veto by affected Traditional Owners in relation to the planned national nuclear waste facility.
Deputy Leader of the Opposition Susan Close says that SA Labor is “utterly opposed” to the “appalling” process which led to the announcement regarding the Kimba site.1 The SA ALP State Conference on 13 October 2018 endorsed a resolution which pledged to support Traditional Owners in the Kimba region in their struggle to prevent a national nuclear waste facility being constructed on their country. The 2018 State Conference resolution further
committed the SA Labor Party to “support communities opposing the nomination of their lands or region for a dump site, and any workers who refuse to facilitate the construction and operation or transport and handling of radioactive waste material destined for any contested facility or sites including South Australian Port communities.”
The federal government’s willingness to override the rights and interests of Traditional Owners, and to strip them of further rights (including legal appeal rights) through the NRWM Amendment Bill, makes for a sad contrast with the situation in Canada. Earlier this year, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation voted against plans for a nuclear waste repository near Lake Huron after a lengthy consultation period. The Canadian government then announced that it will respect the decision and will no longer target the site.2
Deputy Leader of the Opposition Susan Close says that SA Labor is “utterly opposed” to the “appalling” process which led to the announcement regarding the Kimba site.1 The SA ALP State Conference on 13 October 2018 endorsed a resolution which pledged to support Traditional Owners in the Kimba region in their struggle to prevent a national nuclear waste facility being constructed on their country. The 2018 State Conference resolution further
committed the SA Labor Party to “support communities opposing the nomination of their lands or region for a dump site, and any workers who refuse to facilitate the construction and operation or transport and handling of radioactive waste material destined for any contested facility or sites including South Australian Port communities.”

Illegal under SA law: The proposed nuclear waste facility is illegal under South Australia’s
Nuclear Waste Facility (Prohibition) Act, introduced by the SA Liberal Government in the
year 2000 and strengthened by the SA Labor Government in 2002. The federal government is expected to take the draconian and unacceptable step of using regulations to specifically override the SA Nuclear Waste Facility (Prohibition) Act. South Australians are opposed to the proposed nuclear waste facility: a 2015 survey found just 15.7% support for a nuclear waste dump, and a 2018 survey found that those who strongly agreed with stopping the dump outnumbered those who strongly disagreed by a factor of three (41:14).

1 https://www.transcontinental.com.au/story/6454080/state-labor-party-weighs-in-on-nucleardebate/?
cs=1538
2 https://phys.org/news/2020-02-tribal-vote-nixes-radioactive-storage.html

Breaching NH and MRC siting guidelines: Only 4.5% of South Australia is arable land. It is of deep concern that a radioactive waste could be allowed to jeopardise the Eyre Peninsula’s agricultural industries. Indeed the government’s proposal is a clear breach of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s ‘Code of Practice for Near-Surface Disposal of Radioactive Waste in Australia’ which states that “the site for the facility should be located
in a region which has no known significant natural resources, including potentially valuable mineral deposits, and which has little or no potential for agriculture or outdoor recreational use”.

Long-lived intermediate-level waste: Measured by radioactivity, long-lived intermediate level
waste currently stored at ANSTO’s Lucas Heights site in NSW accounts for an overwhelming majority (>90%) of the waste destined for the nuclear waste facility in SA. There is no logic behind the proposal to move intermediate-level waste from interim abovegroundstorage at Lucas Heights to interim above-ground storage at the Kimba site. The proposed double-handling is illogical, it exposes communities to unnecessary risk, and ARPANSA’s Nuclear Safety Committee has indicated that it is not consistent with international best practice.
 
It beggars belief that double-handling ‒ and the movement of long-lived intermediate-level waste from a site with greater safety and security provisions to a site with lesser provisions ‒ is even being contemplated. This absurd situation demonstrates the incompetent handling of this matter by successive ministers and departmental officials over many years. The Senate Committee should recommend that portfolio responsibility for this matter is shifted
from Industry, Innovation and Science to another minister and department (e.g. health) who might do a better job.
The existing 2012 Act is flawed
Friends of the Earth Australia wishes to emphasise that not only is the NRWM Amendment Bill deploy flawed, the existing National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012 (NRWMA) is undemocratic in many respects. The Act should either be repealed or radically amended to remove clauses which disempower Australians and in particular First Nations.The current Bill does the exact opposite..
A 2017 report released by Friends of the Earth Australia points to serious problems with the NRWMA.

Monash University fifth-year law student Amanda Ngo ‒ is posted at www.nuclear.foe.org.au/nrwma

The NRWMA gives the federal government the power to extinguish rights and interests in land targeted for a radioactive waste facility. In so doing the relevant Minister must “take into account any relevant comments by persons with a right or interest in the land” but there is no requirement to secure consent from Traditional Owners.

Aboriginal Traditional Owners, local communities, pastoralists, business owners, local councils and State/Territory Governments are all disadvantaged and disempowered by the NRWMA.
The NRWMA goes to particular lengths to disempower Traditional Owners. The nomination of a site for a radioactive waste facility is valid even if Aboriginal owners were not consulted and did not give consent. More precisely, the NRWMA states that consultation should be conducted with Traditional Owners and consent should be secured ‒ but that the nomination of a site for a radioactive waste facility is valid even in the absence of consultation or consent.
The NRWMA has sections which nullify State or Territory laws that protect the archaeological or heritage values of land or objects, including those which relate to Indigenous traditions. The Act curtails the application of Commonwealth laws including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 and the Native Title Act 1993 in the important site-selection stage. The Native Title Act 1993 is expressly overridden in relation to land acquisition for a radioactive waste facility. The NRWMA has been criticised in both Senate Inquiries and a Federal Court challenge to an earlier federal government attempt to impose a national radioactive waste facility at
Muckaty in the Northern Territory.
The NRWMA also puts the federal government’s radioactive waste agenda above environmental protection as it seeks to curtail the application of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. A senior government official told a public meeting in Hawker in 2016 that the NRWMA is based on ‘world’s best practice’. In fact, the legislation systematically disempowers local communities and Traditional Owners and weakens environmental protections. It needs to be radically amended or replaced with legislation that protects the environment and gives local communities and Traditional Owners the right to say ‘no’ to radioactive waste facilities.
Some positive proposals
Previous, failed attempts to establish a Commonwealth radioactive waste facility (repository and store) assumed the need for off-site, centralised facilities. This assumption continues  with the current project configuration. However, a closer examination indicates both that this assumption may not be warranted and that there are major information gaps that need to be addressed before informed decisions can be made.
An important, preliminary task is to establish an accurate and up-to-date inventory of Australia’s radioactive waste stockpiles. That must include consideration of the nature and adequacy/inadequacy of current storage conditions, and the nature and adequacy/inadequacy of institutional control. Serious consideration of those issues is necessary if informed decisions about future waste management options are to be made, yet successive Governments have largely ignored these issues and information on waste inventories is superficial and unhelpful. The government should adopt a more nuanced approach which may allow it to make progress in a contested public policy area where previous governments have failed. This approach would involve:
(i) Differentiating waste that needs to be moved vs. waste that does not need to be moved, consistent with the net-benefit clause in the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act – the ARPANS Act. This in turn would require a more detailed inventory than has been compiled to date and consideration of issues (detailed in a 2014 briefing paper3 co-authored by Friends of the Earth) such as the number of legacy waste sites and
the adequacy/inadequacy of existing storage sites. The failure to actively address these basic issues has worked against progression to the resolution of this contentious public issue in recent decades.
(ii) Differentiating waste arising from the operations of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) from non-ANSTO waste. ANSTO is quite capable of managing its own waste, at least in the medium term. Permanent disposal of ANSTO waste should be explored and addressed in subsequent decades, keeping in mind
that ANSTO is likely to be operating at its current site for many decades to come.
Importantly, the current national facility proposal at Kimba explicitly does not seek to dispose of ANSTO’s most problematic radioactive wastes.
(iii) Differentiating low level radioactive wastes from long-lived intermediate-level waste. Plans to move intermediate-level waste from Lucas Heights (and elsewhere) to an above-ground store co-located with the low-level waste repository, and then to an unspecified site at an unspecified later date, make no sense from a policy perspective and
they significantly raise public-acceptance obstacles. The current co-location proposal would mean double handling i.e. transport to the interim national store then future transport to a currently non-determined disposal site. Such an approach would be likely fail the net benefit test that ARPANSA would need to apply in response to any license application
With a detailed inventory completed, thorough consideration of all waste management options is required. That work should be carried out by a dedicated National Commission or comparable public inquiry mechanism. A detailed discussion on how that Commission might be constituted and the issues it might address is contained in the 2014 briefing paper.4 For ANSTO waste, ongoing storage at Lucas Heights needs consideration. Relevant government agencies (and others) have acknowledged that ongoing radioactive waste storage at Lucas Heights is a viable option:
• Andrew Humpherson, ANSTO: “Lucas Heights is a 70-hectare campus with something like 80 buildings. It’s a large area. We’ve got quite a number of buildings there which  house radioactive materials. They’re all stored safely and securely and all surrounded by  a high-security perimeter fence with Federal Police guarding. It is the most secure facility we have got in Australia.”6
• Dr Clarence Hardy, Australian Nuclear Association: “It would be entirely feasible to keep storing it [radioactive waste] at Lucas Heights …”7
• Then ARPANSA CEO John Loy: “Should it come about that the national approach to a waste repository not proceed, it will be necessary for the Commonwealth to devise an approach to final disposal of LLW from Lucas Heights, including LLW generated by operation of the RRR [Replacement Research Reactor]. In the meantime, this waste will
have to be continued to be handled properly on the Lucas Heights site. I am satisfied, on the basis of my assessment of the present waste management plan, including the license and conditions applying to the waste operations on site, that it can be.”8
• Department of Education, Science and Tourism: “A significant factor is that ANSTO has the capacity to safety store considerable volumes of waste at Lucas Heights and is unlikely to seek the holding of frequent campaigns to disposal of waste holdings generated after the initial campaign.”9
• Dr Ron Cameron, ANSTO, when asked if ANSTO could continue to manage its own waste:
“ANSTO is capable of handling and storing wastes for long periods of time. There is no difficulty with that. I think we’ve been doing it for many years. We have the capability  and technology to do so.”5
3 Friends of the Earth, Beyond Nuclear Initiative, Australian Conservation Foundation, November

2014, ‘Responsible Radioactive Waste Management in Australia: The Case For An Independent
Commission Of Inquiry’, https://nuclear.foe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/Responsible-Radioactive-
4 Ibid. proposing double handling. With a detailed inventory completed,

6 September 2008,
7 ARPANSA forum, Adelaide, 26 February 2004,

8 April 2002, Decision by the CEO of ARPANSA on Application to construct the Replacement Research
Reactor at Lucas Heights. Reasons for Decision”, p.30.
9 Application to ARPANSA, 2003, Vol.iii Ch.9 Waste – Transfer and Documentation p.5.

May 29, 2020 - Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Federal nuclear waste dump, politics

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