Ferguson dumping election promises

Federal resources minister Martin Ferguson's announcement that he will pursue plans for a national nuclear waste dump at the Muckaty site, north of Tennant Creek in the NT, continues the shabby and unfair process set in train by the Howard government.

FRIENDS OF THE EARTH, AUSTRALIA
FEBRUARY 23, 2010

Ferguson dumping election promises

Federal resources minister Martin Ferguson's announcement that he will pursue plans for a national nuclear waste dump at the Muckaty site, north of Tennant Creek in the NT, continues the shabby and unfair process set in train by the Howard government.

Mr Ferguson's media release falsely claims that the nomination of the Muckaty site has the support of the Ngapa Traditional Owners. He well knows that many Ngapa Traditional Owners oppose the dump; for example he was sent a letter opposing the dump in May 2009 signed by by 25 Ngapa Traditional Owners and 32 Traditional Owners from other Muckaty groups (the letter is posted at <www.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/oz/nontdump>).

Mr Ferguson is also well aware of the unanimous resolution passed by the NT Labor Conference in April 2008 which called on the federal government to exclude Muckaty on the grounds that the nomination "was not made with the full and informed consent of all Traditional Owners and affected people and as such does not comply with the Aboriginal Land Rights Act".

Mr Ferguson should redress the glaring conflict of interest whereby Land Councils are meant to represent Traditional Owners yet stand to profit if they can persuade Traditional Owners to host a dump.

His comments linking the dump to nuclear medicine are disingeuous. The ongoing practice of nuclear medicine is in no way dependent on securing a dump site anywhere let alone pursuing the hotly-contested Muckaty nomination. Only 10-20% of the waste arises from nuclear medicine.

Mr Ferguson's claims that it is low-level waste and that it will be safely buried are false. Measured by radioactivity, over 90% of the waste comes from the overseas reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from Lucas Heights nuclear research reactors. This long-lived intermediate-level nuclear waste (LLILW) will be stored above ground adjacent to the dump site. This 'interim' above-ground storage could last for decades or centuries since the government has made no progress establishing a deep underground repository for LLILW.

Mr Ferguson's handling of the issue has been highly secretive – a clear breach of Labor's 2007 election promise to handle the issue in a transparent and accountable manner. He says he intends to consult after announcing a dump site. But that is not consultation - it is an insult.

None of the sites under consideration in the NT was short-listed when scientific and environmental criteria were used by the federal government's Bureau of Resource Sciences to assess alternative sites around in Australia for a radioactive waste repository in the 1990s. The NT was selected on purely political grounds, just as NSW was excluded on purely political grounds.

Mr Ferguson should repeal the nomination of the Muckaty site and start from scratch with an inquiry into all the options available for managing Australia's radioactive waste, including the option of ongoing storage at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor site – the source of most of the waste and most of Australia's radioactive waste management expertise. Mr Ferguson's department, the Lucas Heights nuclear agency ANSTO, the regulator ARPANSA, and the Australian Nuclear Association have all said that waste can continue to be stored at Lucas Heights.