Traditional owners put hands up for nuclear dump
Brendan Trembath, ABC March 29, 2010, 11:16 pm
Traditional land owners from the Northern Territory have visited Australia’s only nuclear reactor to see what they are in for if a radioactive waste dump is built on their land.
The owners come from Muckaty Station, 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek.
They say they want the waste site because it will provide jobs now and for generations to come – but they are insisting on a thorough environmental assessment.
Automatic gates and armed guards are just some of the security measures at the Lucas Heights reactor in southern Sydney.
The site includes a vast warehouse where radioactive waste is stored until a permanent waste facility is established in Australia.
It is amazing to think that an Indigenous community in northern Australia would want this in their backyard, but that is exactly what they do want.
Amy Lauder, an elder of the Ngapa people, is a long way from home.
With a walking stick in hand, Ms Lauder has led a delegation through the reactor at Lucas Heights.
“We proposed our land because we thought we’d get benefit out of it,” she said.
The man in charge of waste processing, Geoff Parsons, showed off the waste storage area and did his best to reassure everyone it was all perfectly safe.
“This drum here was packed in 1988, some time back. And when it was packed it had a reading of 20,” he said.
“The units are microsieverts per hour. But just think, it was units of 20. And now it’s reading about 1.5 to two.”
As he waved his radioactive measuring wand, they talked amongst themselves in the Warlmanpa language.
Ms Lauder came away more convinced that a radioactive waste dump should be built at Muckaty Station.
“Looking at it personally I think everything is going to be safe and secure. I don’t think we’ll have any problem there,” she said.
“We’ve been told how long it’s going to be. And it’ll be there for so long and we feel that it’s going to be safe.”
She says the community would put its income to good use.
“We’ve got a cattle station, we’ve got Muckaty Station. We would like to get that going as a cattle station again and have a business,” she said.
“And we’ve got kids, grand-children and great-great-grandchildren who are willing to be on the land later on in the future.”
Ms Lauder hopes the Federal Government will spend at least $12 million in the area if the waste dump plan goes ahead.
But Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson is not prepared to reveal the Government’s hand.
“I am not going to seek to consider publicly what may or may not occur out of negotiations with the Ngapa people as we go forward,” he said.
He says the Senate still has to complete a scientific and environmental assessment study.
“There is no predetermined outcome. I await the Senate consideration of this matter. There are Senate processes in place,” he said.
The low-level waste stored at Lucas Heights in Sydney and maybe soon at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory will remain radioactive for generations to come.
The Australian Government says it will take about 300 years to return to regular radiation levels.
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