In addition to uranium mine wastes, Australia has a stockpile of about 4000 m3 of low and intermediate level waste, increasing at the rate of 50 m3 each year. By volume, about half of this is very low level waste (contaminated soil from the processing of ores by the CSIRO) stored at Woomera in South Australia, and most of the remainder is stored at ANSTO’s Lucas Heights facility. Measured by radioactivity, ANSTO accounts for a large majority of the waste.
The former Coalition government planned to establish a national radioactive waste dump in South Australia but abandoned the plan in the face of public opposition in July 2004. Plans to dump the waste an unspecified Pacific island were pursued for the following 12 months. In July 2005 the government announced plans to establish a repository in the Northern Territory. That process has also been pursued by the Labor government since it was elected in November 2007. Just one site is under active consideration − Muckaty, 120 kms north of Tennant Creek. If built the repository will accept low and short lived intermediate level waste.
The proposed repository at Muckaty is controversial. It is opposed by the NT government. The NT Parliament has passed legislation banning the imposition of radioactive waste dumps but the federal government plans to ignore or override the NT legislation.
Resources Minister Martin Ferguson claims that Muckaty Traditional Owners support the nomination of the site. However Mr Ferguson has received a letter opposing the dump signed by 57 Muckaty Traditional Owners. Moreover, Senior Traditional Owners have initiated legal action in the Federal Court challenging the nomination of the Muckaty site. Mr Ferguson has refused countless requests to meet with Traditional Owners opposed to the dump, stating that consultation will take place after decisions have been made.
The NT Labor Party has 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”.
The federal Labor government has put the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill (NRWMB) before Parliament. The NRWMB is draconian, overriding all state/territory laws which could in any way impede the repository plan. The Bill limits the application of federal environmental protection legislation, Aboriginal heritage protection legislation, and appeal rights. Labor’s promise to handle this issue in an open, transparent and fair manner has not been met.
No progress has been made towards the establishment of a deep geological repository for long lived intermediate level waste in Australia. Spent fuel from Lucas Heights is sent overseas for reprocessing. Some reprocessing waste will be returned from the UK and France. The government plans to store this long lived intermediate level reprocessing waste above ground at the proposed repository site in the NT.
The Western Australian government operates a low level waste disposal facility at Mount Walton East in the Goldfields. The Queensland government operates a purpose-built store at Esk while other states store radioactive waste, usually at the point of production.