New radioactive disposal sites announced

The push for a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility has gone a step further, with six possible sites identified by the Federal Government.

Out of 28 nominations by landholders to provide land for radioactive waste disposal, the six shortlisted sites are in the Northern Territory, New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland.

A statement from the minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia Josh Frydenberg said Australia currently has “the equivalent of around two Olympic-sized swimming pools of such waste, which may include laboratory items such as paper, plastic and glassware, and material used in medical treatments”.

The minister said each site has been assessed against technical, economic, social and environment factors, with a view to ensuring  community information and engagement through the project.

A 120 day consultation period will see engagement with local stakeholders with an interest in the sites.

The final decision on which site to use will be made before the end of 2016.

Australian Conservation Foundation anti-nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney said after two decades of failed attempts to impose a nuclear waste facility in South Australia and the Northern Territory, it was crucial that the federal government “carefully consider the full range of available options and to actively advance open and responsible radioactive waste management”.

“The approaches of the past – secret deals, surprise announcements, emotively linking the separate issues of nuclear waste and nuclear medicine, commercial-in-confidence ‘agreements’ and the carrot and stick politics of division – have all failed,” he said.

“It is time to do things differently and better and stop looking for quick ‘fixes’ to long lasting challenges.

“There are no compelling public health or technical reasons to rush any of this waste to another location.”

With waste returning from Europe set to be moved to and managed at ANSTO’s Lucas Heights facility in southern Sydney, Sweeney said we should “shut the door” on unwanted waste from other nations.

South Australian Chamber of Minerals and Energy chief executive Jason Kuchel welcomed the announcement and comments from Dave Sweeney, while questioning the motives of green groups who opposed the move to establish a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility.

“It was pleasing to see Dave Sweeney from the Australian Conservation Foundation acknowledge that there is ‘no compelling public health or technical reasons to rush any of this waste to another location’,” he said.

“However, this is contrary to the views reported by the ABC of Jim Green from Friends of the Earth who claims these facilities pose serious risks to the environment and the health of those living nearby.”

“If it is too dangerous to store in a remote area, then it is definitely too dangerous to store it where it is, in hospitals and universities.

“If it is not dangerous at all and perfectly safe in universities and hospitals, then why should anybody be worried about moving it to a remote location where it can be better and more effectively managed.”

Kuchel said the process undertaken by Government to centralise and better manage radioactive material with worlds best practice was the correct approach.

“Engaging with the community early on the proposed facility, having people volunteer freehold land, and then communities engaging in detailed consultation over many months is a robust process,” he said.

“The federal government should be commended for this approach.

“All groups concerned about this material must support this process.”

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