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Kimba nuclear waste site go-ahead but opponents still fighting

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The federal government says it has acquired more than 200 hectares of land near Kimba on the Eyre Peninsula to build a nuclear waste storage facility while confirming the site’s go-ahead overnight, but opponents are threatening to seek a judicial review of the decision.

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Resources minister Keith Pitt said that the Commonwealth had acquired a 211-hectare agricultural site in Napandee, 24 kilometres west of Kimba, for a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility.

The site will consolidate low and medium level radioactive medical waste that is currently stored in more than 100 locations across the country.

There is no start date for construction on the project, which is now under the management of Australian Radioactive Waste Agency, but the facility is expected to be in place for more than 100 years.

The confirmation came after the federal government in August formally declared its intention to establish a waste facility at the Napandee site.

Pitt said the additional 60 days of consultation following the formal declaration reaffirmed that “this is still the right decision at the right site”.

“It’s certainly got all of the right geological requirements, we have support from the local community – or a majority support from the local community – and we should never forget that this has taken 40 years, and my understanding, some 16 ministers,” he told ABC Radio Eyre Peninsula this morning.

“We’ve had advice recently from ANSTO (The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) that every single Australian will utilise nuclear medicine in their lifetime.

“Now, if we are going to use this technology, it produces low level radioactive waste and we have to deal with it and store with it – this is the best option on the table.”

But the decision is likely to face a legal challenge from the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation, which holds native title in the site’s surrounding areas.

The group resolved at their last general meeting to pursue a judicial review of the matter in the Federal Court should the federal government push ahead with the waste facility.

A BDAC spokesperson confirmed they would be contacting their lawyers later today to “see what the timeframe is for bringing a judicial review”.

“There have been significant and repeated grave problems with the Government’s conduct regarding the site selection process and we remain confident that, once assessed by the Court, the declaration to locate the facility at Napandee on our Country will likely be overturned,” the spokesperson said.

Pitt, asked about the potential of the BDAC bringing a legal challenge to the project, said: “that’s a matter for them.”

“I’ve met with Barngarla people twice, and my predecessor [Queensland senator Matt Canavan] has done a lot of work as well in terms of portfolio, and as I’ve said, this has taken six years,” he said.

“We’ve had submissions put forward from BDAC, from the Barngarla people as well, and of course, we consider what their issues and concerns are.”

Conservation Council CEO Craig Wilkins said the issue “still has a long way to run”, and called on state parliament to establish an inquiry into the facility.

Wilkins said the inquiry was a requirement under the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000.

“While expected, it’s still deeply disappointing the Queensland National Minister Keith Pitt continues to push ahead with the controversial dumping of Australia’s most dangerous radioactive waste in farming country in SA’s Eyre Peninsula against the wishes of the Barngarla – the area’s Traditional Owners,” Wilkins said.

“The federal government can only proceed by explicitly over-riding SA legislation that originally passed the SA Parliament during the Liberal Olsen era. It’s essential that all sides of SA Parliament stand up on behalf of our state by committing to a comprehensive inquiry to ensure South Australians have a say.”

Wilkins said even if the BDAC judicial review is dismissed, the facility is “at least a decade away and faces many opponents and hurdles”.

“There is a much better alternative: $60 million was allocated in the last federal budget to extend waste storage at Lucas Heights in Sydney – the most secure and appropriate site in Australia,” he said.

However, Kimba District Council Mayor Dean Johnson hailed today’s decision, saying it had been a “long time coming”.

“It is a bit of a relief to have final designation of Napandee as the final siding for the national radioactive waste management facilities,” he said.

“It’s really a chance now to consolidate that process and move forward and I guess … start planning for what’s going to be significant growth coming Kimba’s way in the future.”

Johnson said the facility would help diversify Kimba’s primarily agricultural economy.

“This discussion has been going on for more than 40 years now, and a small rural town like Kimba has put its hand up to hold what is a nationally important infrastructure project for the country,” he said.

“We are basically guaranteeing the future for nuclear medicine that benefits every single Australian.”

Federal MP for Grey Rowan Ramsey, whose electorate covers Kimba, also welcomed the decision, saying he was “confident” of the Napandee site’s suitability.

“I know that the majority of the local community are behind the project that will bring jobs and new economic opportunities for our region and look forward to the facility proceeding,” he said.

“This is not to say there are not some people with concerns and I will work with them to resolve those issues wherever possible, as we move into the detailed design, delivery and operational phases.”

A poll of 824 Kimba residents conducted in 2019 returned 61.6 per cent support for the nuclear waste proposal.

However, a separate poll of BDAC members returned a unanimous “no” vote from 83 participants.

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