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Dumping on proposed nuclear waste dump

By: Tom Young
25 August, 2010

Feature of the week: Environmental groups are calling for plans for Australia's first large scale nuclear waste dump at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory to be put on hold, now that the traditional land owners have launched a legal challenge against the scheme.

Opposition to the plan has received a further boost after Federal Member for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon, who has recently said that plans for the dump were not a done deal, was re-elected.

"There's absolutely no guarantee at all that this will proceed at Muckaty," Snowdon told reporters last week.

The traditional owners have filed papers against the Federal Government and the Northern Land Council in a Melbourne court over plans for the dump, with the case due to start in October.

The Government struck a secret deal with a group of traditional landowners that promised them about $12m in government compensation in the form of cash, and access to government services, such as roads and education.

In response the Government says the Ngapa clan volunteered a four square kilometre area to be considered for the facility, which is expected to require one square kilometre of land.

But the contract signed between the Northern Land Council, the Federal Government and the Muckaty Land Trust has not been made public, and the Government is insisting it will remain confidential.

Now other Aboriginal groups are claiming in the legal challenge that all of the correct parties were not consulted in the deal.

Many Traditional Owners from the Muckaty Land Trust have publicly expressed opposition to the scheme, and last year 25 Ngapa Traditional Owners, and 32 Traditional Owners from other Muckaty groups, wrote a letter to federal resources minister Martin Ferguson opposing the dump.

In 2007 the Labor Party was elected to power after it committed to "establishing a consensual process of site selection, which looks to agreed scientific grounds for determining suitability and the centrality of community consultation and support," but campaigners are saying the government has broken that pledge.

By way of example, critics point to a law called the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010, passed earlier this year, which gives the Federal Government the power to override state laws which might impede nuclear waste dump plans.

The government has said that if the legal challenge is successful, it would respect the decision of the court and revisit plans, but work has not stopped on preparing the site, according to green groups.

Dave Sweeney, Nuclear Free Campaigner with the Australian Conservation Foundation, said that at a minimum, work on the site needs to be stopped.

"And ideally, there needs to be an enquiry that examines the full range of options," he said.

These options include storing the waste at the Lucas Heights waste management facility near Sydney, where around half of the current waste is stored, or at a facility in Woomera in South Australia.

These sites have the advantages of reduced transportation, less cost, and better security.

"They are cheaper options, more consistent with international practice," said Sweeney. "But the overriding desire in Government is to set up a remote facility."

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