Australian waste facility site shelved

19 June 2014

The Australian government will not proceed to establish a national radioactive waste management facility at Muckaty Station after the Northern Land Council (NLC) withdrew its nomination of the site.

The NLC is an elected statutory authority representing Aboriginal peoples in the 'top end' of the state of Northern Territory and it nominated the 225 hectare site for consideration in 2007. Australian legislation, updated in 2012, requires that potential sites for radioactive waste management facilities must be voluntarily nominated, and that people or groups with relevant rights and interests must agree on the nomination.

Some traditional owners subsequently launched legal proceedings against the NLC and two weeks in to a federal court hearing on the allegations against it, the NLC announced that it had reached a settlement with the plaintiffs and as a result had withdrawn its nomination. Australian industry minister Ian Macfarlane then issued a statement confirming that the government would not go ahead with the Muckaty nomination.

NLC CEO Joe Morrison emphasised that the council remained satisfied that it had made the nomination of Muckaty Station with the consent of traditional owners and after consultation with other Aboriginal people with interest in the land. "However, it is apparent for various reasons - largely due to outside pressures, including pressures caused by divisive litigation - that a number of individuals have shifted their position since the nomination and no longer want the facility to be constructed on the nominated land," he said.

Although confident that the legal challenge would have failed, Morrison said because of "divisions within the Aboriginal community" the NLC was now of the view that "it would be preferable if the Commonwealth [of Australia] did not act on the nomination."

The parties to the legal action plan to request that the ongoing court proceedings be dismissed.

Although it has no nuclear power plants, Australia has relatively modest amounts of low-level and intermediate-level radioactive wastes, mostly from its production of radioactive isotopes and their subsequent use in hospitals, laboratories and industry. At present this waste is stored at various facilities, but after several decades of considering various options government policy now calls for a single national repository to be established.

The Australian government will now hold further discussions to identify an alternative site for the national facility. If no suitable site can be identified through discussions, a new tender process for nominations for another site will be held.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News