words by Jack Crawford
While Jay Weatherill’s international nuclear dump project has been defeated for now, South Australians are still threatened by the Federal Government’s plans to establish a nuclear waste dump. They are targeting the Flinders Ranges and Kimba as potential sites.
In the 1950s and ’60s, South Australia hosted nuclear weapons testing in Maralinga and Emu Field, unleashing untold suffering on Aboriginal communities. It seems that today the tradition of racist disregard for human life still stands strong. The government has wilfully ignored the opposition of local Indigenous activists, who have pointed out that the Wallerberdina site in the Flinders Ranges is of high cultural and historical importance, being a home to burial mounds, fossilised bones and stone tools.
Regina McKenzie, an Adnyamathanha woman and unceasing campaigner against the nuclear threat, told me her message: “Vatarni wunthaka, leave the poison alone.”
I couldn’t agree more. This dump is intended to store long-lived intermediate-level nuclear waste, which remains hazardous for hundreds — potentially thousands — of years. The proposed facility would indefinitely store waste above ground, until being moved again for underground disposal. For all we know, the waste could be stored above ground for vast stretches of time.
This kind of radioactivity is a huge threat to humans and the environment. Advanced attempts to contain it have resulted in leaks in countries such as Germany and the US. Radiation is invisible but powerful, contaminating land and taking sickly effects on the human body.
While locals will be put under threat for generations, we should also expect dangers for workers. Transport workers will be expected to handle the material all the way from Lucas Heights in Sydney to rural South Australia. Construction workers and site operators will also have close contact with the poison. When a drum of radioactive waste burst open in New Mexico in 2014, it was not the rich and powerful decision-makers who were exposed to radiation, but the workers on the site.
The push for a nuclear waste dump is about the Australian ruling class maintaining and expanding its role in the global nuclear industry. Australia’s traditional role in the global nuclear fuel cycle has been uranium mining and export. By establishing a serious nuclear waste dump, a precedent is set that Australia might play a new role as a permanent home for some of the world’s most dangerous substances. A dump will further normalise the production of nuclear waste.
It doesn’t stop at waste dumps. The right in Australia have an unquenchable thirst for all things nuclear. In September, Tony Abbott called for the construction of nuclear power plants. On November 13, Cory Bernardi introduced a bill in parliament seeking to lift Australia’s bans on nuclear power plants, and enrichment and processing facilities. Deregulating the nuclear fuel cycle will, in Bernardi’s words, “send a powerful signal to the world that we are… open for an Australian nuclear industry.”
The bans on nuclear energy are a legacy of Australia’s history of social struggles and militant trade unionism. It’s up to us to resist the current nuclear madness, and the system that unleashes it. Especially today, with Donald Trump continually threatening nuclear war in East Asia, we need to take a stand against each and every aspect of the nuclear fuel cycle.
Jack Crawford is the outgoing Environmental Officer on the Adelaide SRC.
There is a rally on December 2, 2017 to protest against the waste dump in the Flinders Ranges. It starts at 11am outside Parliament steps, Kaurna Land.