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Opinion

They have let it come: now build it

Opinion

An Eyre Peninsula community’s decision to host a national nuclear waste repository should be respected, argues Sean Edwards.

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No one is obliged to agree with Kimba’s decision to host our radioactive waste facility. But it was theirs to make. In response to the opinion from Dr Margaret Beavis (InDaily February 23), let me provide an alternative view.

Much, not all, of Australia’s radioactive waste is safely in storage at ANSTO. This situation will remain operationally deliverable for years to come. But that can no longer remain an excuse for inaction. Australia’s failure to deliver proper waste disposal must be corrected.

The commissioning of the facility is still many years away. It is unfair to run down the clock until we face a genuine crisis. While essentially safe, Australia’s management of radioactive waste is not fit-for-purpose nor in keeping with our ultimate obligations.

The 100-plus locations currently holding radioactive sources were not chosen, designed, or licenced with indefinite storage in mind. Australia is long-overdue the development of a facility that moves us towards global good practice.

This is not only about the fast-decaying medicines themselves. Australia has significant volumes of low-level waste from ANSTO, the CSIRO, various industrial sources including-but-not-only hospitals, and Defence. There will be further arisings from the responsible decommissioning of our old reactor, HiFAR. Hospitals will continue to “delay and decay” their very short-lived material. But we also have low-level waste that will not just decay in short order distributed around the country requiring disposal.

The facility we are on track to deliver will be a purpose-designed, professionally engineered, licensed, low-level waste disposal facility, with an independent operator. There is nothing cheap or second-rate about it.

It is no secret that that this facility will also temporarily house intermediate level waste, in purpose-designed storage.

Centralising material from sites all over the country to a properly licensed and designed facility, under technical oversight, is a worthy step forward.

We need to remember, Australia has been on this challenge for decades. This process alone commenced in 2012, with the passage of the National Radioactive Waste Management Act. A taskforce called for voluntary site nominations in 2015 – that’s six years ago, folks. It worked with an independent advisory panel to get a shortlist, from a tremendous response of 28 nominations. The community of Kimba fought their way back into the process in 2016.

The District Council Area of Kimba has since had several years of consultation – not “one-sided marketing”. The people of Kimba, the experts in their region who had to make a decision for their future, engaged with the information and chose to vote. An amazing 90% of the region returned a ballot, and 61.6 % said “yes”. You wouldn’t even need to go to preferences on that. It deserves our respect, as does the Hawker region result of just 52% against.

It is right to recall that the support of the traditional owners has not been attained. It is also right to recall that this volunteered site was considered advantageous for being in long-established farming community; it holds just 7% vegetation cover; and no known Aboriginal, State or Local Heritage sites – but is to be fully surveyed with the participation of the traditional owners.

It is right to consider the plan “to identify opportunities for Aboriginal business development and to set a minimum number of Aboriginal jobs”. This 100 ha, at the corner of Tola and Larwood Road, offers the opportunity of jobs and a return to country for traditional owners. That, surely, is a conversation worth continuing.

This process was started by a Government I was part of. I am proud of that, but this is a national imperative now. Labor’s Alex Gallagher, in recommending the passage of this Bill following Senate review, had the wisdom and grace to see this as “as good as it gets. We’ve had a community that has worked some years to come to this position.”

We sure have. The people of Kimba don’t want judicial review. They have pleaded with the Senate to get out of their way and let them take charge of their future.

Whether we agree or not, it is time for the rest of us to respect that call and let a region build its future.

Sean Edwards is the executive chairman of Enterprise Corporation and a former Liberal Senator for South Australia (2011 -2016).

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