29 April 2016
by Michael Koziol

Australia's first nuclear waste dump to be located on former Liberal senator's land

Barndioota Station near Quorn in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia

Australia's first nuclear waste dump will be located in a remote part of South Australia, on land partly owned by a former Liberal senator.

Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg confirmed the government's intention to acquire 100 hectares of Barndioota station, 130 kilometres north-east of Port Augusta, for the storage of low-level and intermediate radioactive waste.

It followed four months of community consultation and an expert panel assessment of six shortlisted sites around the country, voluntarily nominated by their owners. Three of the potential sites were in SA, while there was one each in New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory.

"Overwhelmingly, the strongest support was in this site," Mr Frydenberg told ABC Radio National on Friday. "This is a long-term solution to a long-term problem."

The minister said the Barndioota site excelled based on its geological settings, technical capability and access to transport - it is close to a railway line. But further technological, environmental and safety assessments would need to be conducted before it could finally be confirmed.

Former Liberal senator and state Liberal Party president Grant Chapman is a part-owner of the 25,000 hectare cattle station. In 1996, he chaired a Senate committee whose majority endorsed a national repository for radioactive waste.

It is almost 40 years since such a facility was first proposed under the Fraser government for the storage of radioactive material arising from medical, scientific and industrial endeavours.

Mr Frydenberg said that although Mr Chapman had volunteered his property for consideration, he had not been involved in the assessment process. "Obviously Grant Chapman had no say in the final outcome, it was all done at arm's length," he said.

Nor would the owners stand to gain much financially, since land in the remote area was very cheap and the government only intended to acquire about 100 hectares.

"Even if you're getting four times the value of your property, you're only talking about a few thousand extra dollars," Mr Frydenberg said.

Surrounding communities, including the township of Hawker about 30 kilometres away, will be given $2 million in compensation, to be allocated as required by a regional committee.

When the Barnidoota site was shortlisted in November, local Indigenous groups voiced their strong disapproval. Spokeswoman Jillian Marsh told The Australian people were "shocked" about the possibility of a nuclear waste dump being imposed on the area. "We want no further expansion of the ­nuclear industry," she said.

It is understood the site is held under a perpetual lease and cannot be subject to a native title claim.

The Greens' nuclear spokesman Scott Ludlam said he was "gobsmacked" at the government's decision, predicting it would face the same battles against Indigenous community leaders as the protracted, failed bid for a dump site in Muckaty, in the Northern Territory.

"I'm really surprised that the government thinks this is an appropriate course to pursue," he said. "It will be fought to a standstill."

Senator Ludlam visited the site several weeks ago and said traditional owners there were "unequivocal in their opposition" to the idea. He said governments on both sides of politics had proceeded on the "wrong premise" that the best way to handle nuclear waste was to "chuck it at a convenient remote site and walk away from it".

"If that's the answer you came to then you must be asking the wrong question," he said. "How come after 60 years the industry still doesn't have a containment and isolation solution for this material?"