Aboriginal landowners in Australia’s far north are battling government plans to construct this country’s long-term nuclear waste storage facility on their land. Diane Stokes, an indigenous woman from the Warumungu and Warlmanpa tribes in the Northern Territory, is opposed to radioactive waste being dumped on her clan’s land at Muckaty Station, a former cattle station located some 200 kilometres north of the Territory town of Tennant Creek. "We don’t want it to come to the Northern Territory. Nobody wants it there," said Stokes at a public meeting held in the southern city of Melbourne on Apr. 21.
The question of what to do with Australia’s radioactive waste from the country’s medical, industrial, agricultural and research use of nuclear material has been ongoing for decades and remains far from resolved. The waste is currently stored at numerous sites around the country and some Australian radioactive waste is also stored at reprocessing plants at Europe (UK and France).
The current Kevin Rudd-led government, as well as the previous government under John Howard, have regarded these sites as temporary and have looked to develop a permanent facility at which to store the waste. A bill presently before parliament rules out the possibility of using one of three previously nominated sites on Australian Defence Force land in the Northern Territory, effectively leaving Muckaty Station as the only potential site currently up for consideration.
While the Minister for Energy and Resources, Martin Ferguson, said that the bill "means that a site can no longer be automatically imposed on a community in any state or territory," the proposed legislation also recognises the "voluntary" nomination of the Muckaty site made by Ngapa clan members in 2007. The clan is one of several aboriginal family groups who are the traditional owners of land at Muckaty Station. "We made our decision; we nominated our land because we wanted to make a better life for our children," said Ngapa spokeswoman Amy Lauder at a senate hearing into the bill on Mar. 30.
Lauder and her kin are expected to receive upwards of A$12 million Australian dollars (US$11.14 million) as compensation for building the waste facility on their land. "We are satisfied that the waste can be stored safely, provided it has been through the environmental impact process to be followed over the next few years. We are united on this decision as the Ngapa clan," Lauder told the senate committee.
It is a position supported by the Northern Land Council (NLC), which represents aboriginal landowners in the north of the Northern Territory. The NLC nominated the Muckaty site on behalf of the Ngapa clan in 2007. Kim Hill, chief executive officer of the NLC argues that "not one person is disputing that the area in question belongs to the Lauder clan."
But that is exactly what appears to be in dispute. "The waste dump that they’re going to put in that land is not Amy Lauder’s country," Diane Stokes, an indigenous woman from the Warumungu and Warlmanpa tribes in the Northern Territory, told those in attendance at the Melbourne public meeting April 21. And Stokes is not alone in disputing the issue of land ownership. A joint letter from members of the Milwayi and Wirntiku clans, as well as other Ngapa clan members, was read out at a second senate hearing on April 12. The letter states that the proposed site is actually on Milwayi land rather than on land belonging to Lauder’s family group. "We are demanding to see the anthropologists’ evidence provided to the Northern Land Council regarding Ngapa clan," say the letter’s signatories.
"Numerous traditional owners outlined how they and their people were completely excluded from the shared decision making process, which is the norm in aboriginal custom on issues to do with kinship of land. Despite claims to the contrary, it is clear that they were not consulted and have never given consent," says Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam. He has called for Muckaty to be scrapped as a potential site for radioactive waste storage as the nomination process for the site was "flawed."
Dave Sweeney, an anti-nuclear campaigner at the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), has slammed Minister Ferguson for breaking away from the principles set out by his own party regarding radioactive waste. The ACF activist said that in 2007 the governing Australian Labor Party promised "a new process, a new site selection study based on community inclusion and consent, based on best science, based on robust and transparent processes and principles."
Source: IPS, 26 April 2010
Contact: Dave Sweeney, ACF, First Floor 60 Leicester Street Carlton VIC 3053, Melbourne, Australia.
Tel: +61 3 9345 1111