New documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal details of an 18-month contract to collect soil, groundwater and marine water samples at the future subs site and the nearby sanctuary to establish a baseline for checking future radiation levels.
Documents released to former federal senator and submariner Rex Patrick show samples will be delivered to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation “for radiological analysis”.
The test findings will be used to build an Environmental Contamination Baseline Assessment so radioactive activity where the nuclear-powered submarines are built or docked can be closely monitored.
Patrick said the papers raised new concerns about South Australians not being consulted about regulations and the handling of operational nuclear waste at the $2 billion shipyard, saying there “is absolutely no community engagement, there’s no attempt to establish social licence” about having nuclear reactors on site.
“(The monitoring is) in order to be able to understand the magnitude of a leak or the nature of a problem that might develop in the future,” Patrick said, adding that people living in Port Adelaide and Osborne “probably aren’t aware that this activity is taking place”.
“Sadly, the Defence Department is not interested in being open and transparent about what they are doing around nuclear stewardship and safety,” Patrick said.
“There is no community engagement and there is no social licence being developed. It’s a foolish approach noting that ANSTO has warned defence of the need for social licence.
“Perhaps they’re setting themselves up for another ‘Kimba’ style court case.”
Patrick was referring to a recent court decision that led to the dumping of a site for a low-level radioactive waste site at Kimba in South Australia despite years of consultation and the more than $100 million spent on the process.
In a written response to InDaily, a spokesperson from the Australian Submarine Agency said they had informed the State Government, Port Adelaide Enfield Council, and the Port Adelaide residents Environment Protection group of the environmental baseline contamination assessment at Osborne.
“This assessment will determine existing levels of non-radiological contaminants and background radiation on the preferred site for the Submarine Construction Yard and surrounding areas,” the spokesperson said.
“Australia is committed to upholding the high standards of nuclear stewardship of not only Australia, but our AUKUS partners as well and ensure we keep our people, the public, and the environment safe and secure.”
Under the AUKUS deal with the United States and United Kingdom, Australia is obtaining eight nuclear-powered submarines at an estimated taxpayer cost of $268-$368 billion.
Defence Minister Richard Marles has said submarines will be built at Osborne and also that waste from spent nuclear reactors from the submarines will be stored on defence land.
Port Adelaide Enfield Mayor Claire Boan said the local council “has not been briefed on the specifics of this matter i.e. management of radioactive materials”, but said council staff has had an initial meeting with defence staff regarding the environmental impact assessment for this development required under federal and state regulations.
“It’s council’s understanding that this sort of baseline monitoring will inform and, is a critical part of, the due diligence required for this impact assessment process, particularly given the site’s setting in proximity to major hazard facilities, residential areas and areas of ecological significance,” she said.
“It is also council’s understanding and expectation that the environmental impact statements and reports would undergo public consultation.”
The documents released to Patrick show the Submarine Construction Yard will span about 75 hectares and is made up of four distinct areas.
Nearby is the 12,000-hectare Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary which is the home of up to 60 bottlenose dolphins and is visited by another 400 to feed and nurse their calves in the Port Adelaide River and Barker Inlet.
Mutton Cove Conservation Reserve is also nearby.
South Australia’s Defence Minister Susan Close, who is also Port Adelaide’s member of parliament, did not respond to questions about whether people living in her electorate have been consulted about work at the nuclear-powered submarine construction site.
The Minister and Premier Peter Malinauskas have been vocal supporters of the project, the Premier having flown to the United Kingdom to meet with the UK submarine builders.
Close said any questions about radiological testing at the site should be referred to the Australian Submarine Agency.
“The State Government was made aware of baseline contamination testing at Osborne by the Australian Submarine Agency (ASA) as part of its due diligence for the site. Inquiries regarding the testing should therefore be directed to the ASA,” she said.
“As is typical for a greenfield site, tests, surveys and other preliminary works are being conducted to ensure works comply with relevant planning, environmental and other controls.”
Australian Conservation Foundation nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney said there has been a “deeply disturbing” lack of consultation over nuclear-powered submarines and more information should be given to people living near the construction site as well as to people across the state.
“This is new territory for Australia, we would expect there to be significant consultation and information about why this is a good idea,” he said.
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