Australian news, and some related international items

Senator Rex Patrick explained why the Woomera prohibited area would be a more suitable site for a nuclear waste dump

Senator PATRICK (South Australia) Senate 21 June21, (19:50): I think Industry did make inquiries to the Department of  Defence. In a two- or three-page submission, they sought to rule that out. You’ll be aware that the committee that  examined this piece of legislation took a trip to Woomera and had a look at the site. I note in your speech in the  second reading debate you said that Woomera was not suitable; it’s a test range. Just to inform you, Minister—you  may already know this—Woomera is 13 per cent of the area of South Australia. It is twice the size of Tasmania.  It’s beyond comprehension that anyone would accept from the Department of Defence the idea that you can’t fit a  facility there. It is a massive area. If you look to the north-eastern corner of the Woomera prohibited area, you will  find there’s a uranium mine at Roxby Downs. It’s something like 20 or 30 kilometres inside the WPA. There is a  community that clearly doesn’t have any particular issue with radioactive material, noting that their livelihoods  depend on that. I’m sure you’ve been up there, as I have, to Roxby and the Olympic Dam. 

I also heard during your speech in the second reading debate the idea that we were going to mix a radioactive  waste site with a missile firing range. This has all been dealt with by the committee. The Department of Defence  advises that, whenever they conduct a missile firing, they have a safety template. So they lay out the area for  which there is a danger so that if a missile, aerial vehicle or drone goes rogue it will actually most likely land in  that particular safety template. The Department of Defence provided the committee with an overlay map of all of  the safety templates that have been used since 2014, and there are massive areas of the Woomera prohibited area  that, in actual fact, do not overlap with any test sites. It’s an area that is remote. It’s not on prime agricultural land.  There is quite a thick study that shows that it’s quite feasible. It’s done all of the geological work and all of the  safety work. On the idea that you can’t find a location there, this is Defence defending Defence land like no other.  This is the department that came to the government in 2009 and said, ‘Let’s have a $12 billion Future Submarine  project,’ and then that project got estimated up to $50 billion and then grew to $89 billion and now we have to pay  an extra $10 billion to extend the life of the Collins class in order to get it to the point where it can last until the  future submarines arrive sometime after 2035. This is the same department you’re talking about. It’s clearly  incompetent in relation to these sorts of projects. 

Any person could reasonably go up to Woomera, have a look at the sites and have a look around the airfield up  there. You’ll see that there are ammunition areas and fuel storage areas, all of which are manageable from an  aircraft perspective well away from the range. We’ve got the road to Roxby Downs that’s a stone’s throw from the  airfield. It’s never been shut, under the various rules. There’s lots and lots of space up there. You’ve got a list of  three sites that appear to be face-saving sites. Why wouldn’t you simply accept the possibility that Woomera is not  a bad facility? Remember, at the start of this we ended up with the three sites that you have named in your table,  in the amendments, by asking people whether they’d want to have their land as a radioactive waste management  site—not by looking and asking, ‘What’s the best place to put it?’ but simply, ‘Who wants to have one—which  landowner wants to sell their land at four times the market rate to have a facility?’ So they can move on and go  somewhere else and leave behind a facility. 

I’ve got an amendment on the sheet, and that amendment includes consultation with Indigenous parties and  indeed the community. It beggars belief that the government doesn’t want to add another potential site where there  could well be broad community support, where in the past proper studies have been done that say that this can go 

there. It’s a government that seems to be scared of the Department of Defence and takes a two- or three-page  submission to rule out something—afraid of the brass, afraid of the shiny uniforms—and basically takes at face  value what they’ve said yet doesn’t listen to the community in Kimba and what their concerns are. That doesn’t  seem to matter. 

I’m left flabbergasted as to why it wouldn’t be considered, particularly in circumstances where there are two  radioactive waste sites up in the Woomera Prohibited Area. Hangar 5 has 10,000 CSIRO drums sitting there that  will have to be moved at cost. Koolymilka has defence waste that includes intermediate-level waste. That’s  somehow managed to survive for 20 years—longer, actually—without causing interruption to the operations up in  the Woomera Prohibited Area. So, I wonder, Minister: how do you reconcile the fact that we’ve had radioactive  waste up there since the 1990s, yet Defence have been able to operate perfectly well with the two facilities that we  have up there? I wonder whether you can reconcile that. 

Senator PATRICK: I don’t mean to ambush you, Minister, but I have two amendments on the table that look  at Woomera as a site. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable question to ask, noting that in your second reading speech  you said that a radioactive waste site is not consistent with the operations at Woomera, when in fact we’ve had  radioactive waste stored at Woomera since about the mid-nineties. It may well be that it will continue to be stored  there, because the waste at Koolymilka is not suitable to be shifted, in which case the whole thing becomes a bit  of a shambles with Defence saying, ‘We can’t have it here,’ knowing full well that it’s going to stay there. That’s  the burden of my question. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask that question, noting I have a couple of  amendments on the table that look at Woomera, which you’re knocking out for what appears to be quite shallow  reasons. If you’ve gone through the process completely—not you personally, Minister—if the department has  gone through the process or the minister has gone through the process properly, when that advice came back from  Defence you would think that you might have challenged some of it, particularly to get an understanding of  whether or not that waste will go to, presumably, Kimba. Maybe we can start with hangar 5. Hangar 5 has 10,000  drums of low-level radioactive waste that is stored very close to the range head. Perhaps you can say whether it’s  the intention that that material, noting it’s in a pretty perilous state—I know CSIRO is working to tidy that up—go  from hangar 5 at Woomera to the new facility? ………….

Senator PATRICK (South Australia) (20:04): In some sense, the question is as much about Woomera as it is  about Kimba because if the circumstances are that you can’t store that particular type of waste—as I said, there are  small amounts of plutonium stored there—then, in fact, you’re going to be in a situation where you have a facility  at Kimba, presumably, but you still have a radioactive waste storage area in the very place that Defence says it  can’t exist, because it’s not consistent with their operations. I wonder if that question was ever asked of Defence in  order to test their assertions in relation to the claim that you can’t put this waste there. Is it the intention of the  government to close the Koolymilka site at Woomera and in what time frame?

June 28, 2021 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Federal nuclear waste dump, politics

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