Coalition's Kimba nuclear dump exploits local area and puts nation at risk

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(Image by Christian Fischer via Wikimedia commons)

How is a small rural town to cope with a proposition that may transform the community by providing an economic boon or be a long-term curse?

This is the dilemma facing the towns of Kimba and Hawker, both in the Eyre Peninsula, South Australia.

Individual landowners offered their land to the Turnbull Government for a radioactive waste storage site and the Government's National RadioactiveWaste Management Facility (NRWMF) team swung into action.

There's quite a hurry on, about this. Resources Minister Matt Canavan announced that, on 20 August, there will be a local ballot to gauge community support for a nuclear waste dump.

Following that, said Canavan:

"The decision will be made in the second half of this year ... We do not want this overlapping with a Federal election."

Much can be said about this plan, not least that it contravenes South Australian law. One might ask, too, why the inquiry stipulates South Australia when the waste to be stored would have to travel 1,700 km from the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in Sydney? However, the most notable immediate ramifications concern its impact on Eyre Peninsula rural communities. 

As one local resident put it:

'Stress levels are through the roof for a lot of people within our communities. People are getting sick, and some are just sick and tired of hearing about it, with many wanting the dump to just go away!'

And in the words of another resident:

'Before a nuclear waste dump came into our lives, people enjoyed cultural activities together ... Today it isn't like that, a once close family ruined and torn apart all because of a proposed nuclear waste dump that could be put on Adnyamathanha traditional lands, which will destroy our culture and ... cause cultural genocide.'

Community division is obvious when one reads the submissions that local and Eyre Peninsula residents have sent to a Senate Committee of Inquiry. The Inquiry called for submissions, stipulating fairly narrow Terms of Reference (TOR), about the 'Selection process for a national radioactive waste management facility in South Australia'

Among the 40 supporters of the plan, most are local residents, enthusiastic about hosting the waste dump.

Repeatedly, their submissions include phrases like 'no negative impacts' and 'comfortable and satisfied with the prospect of hosting the proposed nuclear waste facility' (Senate Inquiry submission numbers shown in brackets):  

'Kimba is struggling, population is declining ... we are in need of a lifeline.' ~ Jodie Joyce (33)

'This project will ensure the long-term viability of this small country town.' ~ Janice McInnis (4)

The idea expressed by Annie Clements (35)of a nuclear waste dump 'powering Kimba community into the future', highlights another aspect of their support for the waste dump plan. It's not just that Kimba might be "powered into the future", it's the thought that Kimba might not have a future unless it hosts the dump.

A third, much repeated, theme in these submissions is that this matter concerns only the local community.

This is frequently expressed with the dismissal of the opinions of people outside the immediate area and also, at times, with downright hostility to those who oppose the dump:

'People outside our area could be influenced by anti-nuclear scare campaigns and wild allegations that have no relevance to this facility.' ~ Annie Clements (35)

'Activists and politicians who have been using [this] project as a vehicle for their anti-nuclear stance should not be entitled to any say ...' ~ Heather Baldock (64)

'We disagree that we need "broader community views" and the need to stretch the boundaries outside of our District Council. What is happening in our Community is exactly that: our community.' ~ Margaret and Charlie Milton (34)

These three themes of enthusiasm for the project, distrust of critics and resistance to the involvement of outsiders, merge into a kind of local patriotism allied to trusting loyalty to the Federal Government, which has run a huge informational campaign in the towns.

As to the 58 submissions opposing the plan, at least half come from residents of the Eyre Peninsula. As with other opponents, they express a variety of arguments, but local submissions are most often concerned with the local area.

Above all, they are dissatisfied with the community consultation process and the lack of clarity about what is meant by "broad community support". They want the wider community of Eyre Peninsula, South Australia, to be consulted, they are dubious about claims of Indigenous support for the project and, indeed, they see the nuclear waste facility as a national issue.

Readers of all 98 submissions can't fail to notice that, generally, the 55 opposing submissions employ more detailed and referenced writing than the pro-nuclear ones — particularly the measured arguments of the local farmers.

These raise some issues which are rarely mentioned on the pro-nuclear side:

  • concern about co-location of low and intermediate level wastes, especially the prospect of stranded "temporary" wastes, with no plan for final disposal;
  • transport dangers; 
  • seismic and flood dangers; 
  • impacts on agricultural markets and tourism; and
  • the fear that this waste dump would lead to a full-scale commercial importation of nuclear waste.

Kay Fels (63), a Flinders Ranges farmer's submission, is representative of the concerns of many others:   

Our stock ... may also be stigmatised ... and our organic status compromised ... as the clean, green image of the Flinders Ranges is tarnished. The sites are located ... where the underground water table is almost at surface level. This could lead to contamination of the ... water source ... [which is] prone to flooding.  

Given that the proposal is to store low-level waste in an above-ground facility, and temporarily store intermediate waste in that same facility, it seems ludicrous that this is even considered given the geological and environmental features and risks involved.

The consultation phase was a tokenism with ANSTO telling us what will be happening, how safe it is ... it has not been a true reflection of the community’s views and concerns.

The consultative committee is a rubber stamp. 

Consultations held by the Department of Industry Innovation and Science (DIIS) and ANSTO's information campaign have sparked scepticism within the community.

This view has been fuelled by the nomination of Wallerberdina property by non-resident and former Liberal Senator Grant Chapman, who has close links to the nuclear industry together, with the misleading and biased information from DIIS, which, some say, has dismissed and excluded critics:

'I am not against having a [waste] facility in Australia ... [but] the way in which DIIS have gone about finding a quick fix for something that will affect all South Australians for centuries to come. It should not be up to a small council area to overrule our Prohibition Act 2000, if we are to vote for something of such national importance.' ~ Leon Ashton (73)

'There are far too many discrepancies in the information, consultation process and long term impacts to have such a facility based at Kimba (or Hawker). [It] has been an insult to the intelligence of rural people. ~ Leanne Lienert (50)

'Shambolic Barndioota Consultative Committee.' ~ Sue Tulloch (32)

A submission from Regina McKenzie (107), a well informed Indigenous owner of the selected area at Barndioota, focuses on the cultural heritage rights of traditional owners and the State/Federal obligations regarding those rights. She says DIIS has ignored Australia’s commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, poorly assessed Aboriginal cultural heritage and engaged inappropriate consultants.

And the following statements sum up what it must be like to be part of a community caught in this dilemma:

Our biggest worry ... is the detrimental effect it will have and is already having on the local community as a whole. Along with my family, we have never seen an event in this area cause so much angst and division in a once very proud close-knit community, which was the envy of many other communities. Philip Fels (84)

The mental health and well-being of communities is completely ignored in this process ... This process makes communities feel powerless — no support is given to those with opposing views, it is ... heavily favoured towards those pro-nuclear and when the rules keep changing to suit those in favour, it really gives people a sense of hopelessness.Chloe Hannan (61)   

Whatever the outcome of the Federal Government's plan, it is clear the communities of Kimba and Hawker will never be quite the same again.

Read more by Noel Wauchope at antinuclear.net and nuclear-news.net and follow her on Twitter @ChristinaMac1.

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