Australia : Country Update : September 2018

Suspension of the local referendum for the proposed low-level waste repository in South Australia is the key radioactive waste event of the summer in Australia.  Aboriginal groups were granted an injunction which placed the vote on hold pending further discussions about their potential inclusion in the referendum (16 August).

The case has been referred to the Australian Human Rights Commission (HRC) but there seems some uncertainty about how to move forward (23 August).  The federal government believes a solution will be found, but the HRC has still not made a judgement (7 September).  In the meantime, other aboriginal groups say the vote should be widened (29 August), and the federal government has extended the deadline indefinitely for a public consultation on radioactive waste management (25 September).

There was considerable activity and media coverage in the last weeks/days before the planned referendum, with:

  • conservation groups petition against the facility (2 August)
  • coverage about a town ‘divided’ by the issue (3 August)
  • a South Australia Senator concerned by transparency of the process; a concern rejected by local people (3 August)
  • aborigines concerned they were excluded from vote, despite living well away from the proposed site (3 August)
  • ongoing community meetings and information sessions (6 & 10 August)
  • Western Australians saying they had a better site (7 August)
  • Environmentalists wanting the government to slow down (7 August)
  • fears about the risks of transporting the waste by sea, by the Maritime Union amongst others, were discounted as ‘unfounded’ (7, 8 & 13 August)
  • the economic investment package being described as a ‘bribe’ (15 August)

Following their own investigation, a federal Senate Committee backed the proposed facility and siting process (14 August).

On the day of the planned referendum, a coalition of environmental groups published an economic analysis that claimed the benefits to the community had been over-stated (22 August).

So we now await the HRC’s deliberations and discussions, to see how and when the local referendum will proceed.  While that is going on, a project is touring South Australia asking people how local economies might be reinvigorated (27 August), there are concerns in Melbourne about the relocation of some radioactive waste to more secure storage facilities at the university (5 September), and virtual reality headsets have been distributed in South Australia so that people could then download an app which would take them on a virtual tour of the inside of a reactor to explain how nuclear material for medical equipment is produced (6 September).