Disposal of spent nuclear fuel, or nuclear waste, is a rising issue in today’s world. More and more countries continue to develop and produce nuclear energy that results in high levels of extremely toxic waste that needs to be stored in proper locations. The issue here is finding those locations and installing proper safety features in order to make sure radioactive elements are not exposed to the population of the surrounding areas. Put it underground, who is to say that an earthquake would not damage the holding cells and expose it to our water supply? Store it above ground, and any number of natural disaster or human errors can occur to where we have a major issue on our hands for the surrounding areas. Those are some of the issues for individual countries trying to figure out what to do with their own nuclear waste. Now, imagine if your homeland was asked to house the entire EARTHS nuclear waste, take that issue and multiple it by roughly 30 considering there are a little over 30 countries with the capability to produce nuclear energy. Sounds crazy, but this is what is being asked of Australia as a proposed world nuclear dumping site is in the works for construction in South Australia, one of Australia’s 8 states or territories. With every nuclear proposal comes pushback from the surrounding community, and I am here to bring you their story along with details from the ridiculous idea to make this beautiful country responsible for the rest of the world’s nuclear waste issues.
The proposal is calling for a facility to be built in a sparsely populated region of Southern Australia but is receiving a lot of push back from the people of the proposed location, most of them being native to the area. The plan is to have multiple storage facilities throughout the state to house high to intermediate nuclear radioactive materials both above and below ground. Once the facilities are operational and the necessary agreements are made, Australia will then begin to import spent nuclear fuel in order to house it at these set locations. Imported spent nuclear fuel will be coming onto the shores of Australia at a rate of 3,000 tons/year for the first 30 years of operations and then 1,500 tons/year for the next 50+ years. What I see happening is countries will dump all of their problems onto Australia’s shoulders and produce nuclear energy without any downside for them, while Australia will be stuck with all of the mess. Doesn’t completely seem right, does it?
Think that’s bad, the worst is yet to come honestly. It will take 28 years from when the first nuclear waste is stored above ground before it would actually enter the below ground storage sites. After year 28 of the project the plan is to continue to bury high-level nuclear waste underground for the next 90+ years at an average rate of 1,500 tons/year with the last barrel being buried in year 120 of operations. Think of it like this, importing will start at year 11 after the plan receives the go-ahead. This results in 109 years (first barrel being placed in above ground storage at year 11) of high-level waste being above ground in these selected areas. For decades there would be radioactive material just sitting there in interim storage facilities, just waiting for something to happen. Does that sit right with you?
One of the main reasons that this project has been put on pause is due to the pushback that is being experienced from the surrounding communities. It is obvious to the investors and shareholders that a majority of the peoples living in the area do not want this in their backyard, and for good reason. Nuclear waste is some of the most toxic substances known to man and thousands of tons of it are going to be stored in your homeland, wouldn’t you want your voice to be heard? Thousands of Southern Australian residents are coming together in order to have their voice be heard and so far it seems to be working. The town in which officials have chosen for the proposed building site is Hawker, Southern Australia with a population of 250 people. The issue here is most of the population are farmers who own a majority of the land as well as native peoples who see the land as their family heritage, past present and future, and do not want to put a nuclear dump on top of their beloved land. To much amazement of people who are following this issue, the voices of these people have indeed been heard. In early November 2016 a decision of a 350 person jury decided that the project would not receive the go ahead and will need to go to vote on a statewide basis. They have won the battle for now, but the war will continue to wage over this ongoing issue.
Although nearly 80% of the population agrees that they do not want this going on in their backyard, some of the town has opposing views. Landowner Jeff Baldock has offered his land to the government in order to build the nuclear waste housing facility. This is resulting in a split community so to speak; he describes it as ‘townies’ versus the farmers of the community. His proposed land would be housing intermediate-level radioactive waste from a processing plant outside of Sydney as well as low-level waste from other areas of the country.
“We’ve got five grandkids living here on the properties with us,” he says. “If we thought it was dangerous we wouldn’t do this. If I thought it’d upset our grain or sheep we wouldn’t be doing it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our town – sorry, our community. The antis talk about farmers versus the townies. To me it’s one community.” -Jeff Baldock
The two main issues the community is facing is the actual production of the housing facility as well as dealing with a divided community, both unwilling to see the other side’s viewpoint. One side is to build the facility; it would produce a job market unlike any currently within the area and would provide Australia a disposal site that would allow the country to continue their nuclear research. On the other side, disaster could strike at any moment and desolate the area and force a majority of the population to move elsewhere away from their homes. A majority is in favour of no building, while the percentage of people for the building of the facility seem to be in it for the compensation they would receive as well as development of the surrounding area for the ‘good.’ To me, the potential risks involved are far greater than any rewards that could come from the faculties being built and put into operation.
A community divided as the discussion will be taken into 2017 where a state-wide vote is set to take place on wether or not the go-ahead will be received here. There are pros and cons when it comes to any major decision such as the one that will be made within the year, what we have to do as a population is decided wether or not the pros do indeed outweigh the cons and that is where the major issues are coming up. Is the safety of the surrounding populations worth putting in jeopardy? Should Australia have to sit back as the world dumps all of its nuclear waste into their hands? These questions and more will be all but answered as state and federal governments will be having the final say in the matter, hopefully the population can sway their opinions enough in the next coming year in order to protect what is theirs. Either way, what do you think? Should this operation take place, bringing in billions in revenue and creating jobs or should the world have to find a different location to put their problems? Only time will tell but until then, all of the people within the area can do is continue to fight for what is theirs and what they believe in order to save and protect their homes and future generations.
As always, this is a brief write up of what is happening in Southern Australia… for more information feel free to use any of the sources below to dive into this issue even more! Thanks!