Australia chooses site for national nuclear waste facility

Article by Amanda Jasi

THE Australian Government has selected Napandee as the site for its National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF), located near Kimba, South Australia (SA).

Traditional owners continue to oppose the project, and reportedly plan to launch a judicial review. Environmentalists and others have also spoken out against the project, questioning the safety of moving radioactive waste and jobs claims made by the Government.

The planned site would provide a single, purpose-built facility to consolidate waste in line with international best practice. Australian Governments have been working to create such a site for more than 40 years. It would provide a permanent disposal site for low-level radioactive waste and temporary storage for intermediate-level waste. A separate future facility will permanently store the country’s intermediate level waste.

According to a 2020 joint report, Australia had about 4,146 m3 of radioactive waste suitable for near-surface disposal that was in civilian programs awaiting disposal, and about 535.1 m3 that was unsuitable.

Currently, Australia’s radioactive waste is stored at more than 100 locations across the country including the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANTSO) Lucas Height’s site, other scientific facilities, universities, and hospital basements.

Though Australia has almost one third of the world’s uranium reserves it lacks nuclear infrastructure such as power plants; though earlier this year it joined an international alliance to acquire nuclear powered submarines. However, according to World Nuclear Association, the country has a well-developed usage of radioisotopes in medicine, research, and industry.

Napandee, which is 24 km from Kimba, has a total property size of 908.7 ha. The planned facility will be built on the approximately 211 ha of land which the commonwealth has acquired from the landowner. Resources Minister Keith Pitt said it will be built after detailed designs, and technical and heritage studies are completed.

The site’s delivery and operation will be managed by the Australian Radioactive Waste Agency (ARWA), which is leading the process to responsibly manage the nation’s radioactive waste. ARWA has also been responsible for the site selection process. The Government says the agency’s commitment to working in a way that respects the views of those who have concerns will be paramount.

The announcement is a step towards a A$31m (US$22.2m) Community Development Package to support the local host community.

The Guardian reports that the traditional owners of the land, the Barngarla people, will continue to fight to stop the planned facility. They unanimously opposed the proposal before the recent decision was announced but were reportedly excluded from the related ballot because they do not live in the council area. Now they intend to lodge an application for judicial review of the entire project.

Friends of the Earth Australia highlighted other hurdles for the Government including environmental assessment, assessment by the federal nuclear regulator Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), a state parliamentary inquiry, and upcoming state and federal elections.

Jim Green, National Nuclear Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Australia disputed the number of jobs that would be created and questioned the safety of moving intermediate-level waste to the new site temporarily. He argued that “intermediate-level waste should be stored at ANSTO’s Lucas Heights site until a suitable disposal facility is available”.

“The [Australian] Government’s plan to move intermediate-level waste from secure above-ground storage at Lucas Heights to far less secure storage at Kimba is absurd and indefensible.”

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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