Exposed: Nuclear Waste Dump Propaganda

Taiwanese energy firm rejects Martin Hamilton-Smith’s claim it would help set up SA nuclear waste dump

Daniel Wills, State political editor, The Advertiser
15 Dec 2016

TAIWAN’S state-owned energy company has bluntly rejected Investment and Trade Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith’s claim the country would consider paying to help set up a nuclear waste dump in SA, saying in a letter that it “hereby declares this is a false information”.
Just days after Premier Jay Weatherill’s citizens’ jury last month overwhelmingly dumped on plans for nuclear storage in SA, amid concerns about trust, Mr Hamilton-Smith insisted he had met with Taiwanese officials who expressed a “clear message” of interest in investment.
“There’s clearly a demand and our neighbours may be in a position to put hundreds of millions, if not billions, into infrastructure and then paying to dump waste on an ongoing basis,” he said.
However, correspondence from state-owned power company Taipower and the country’s Atomic Energy Council to government party MP Su Chih-Feng rejects Mr Hamilton-Smith’s claim.
While they note there was a meeting with Mr Hamilton-Smith on November 10, Taipower says his spin of the events in Adelaide three days later was “a false information”.
The translation from Mandarin to English was done by a Taiwanese NGO and provided to The Advertiser by antinuclear activists Friends of the Earth Australia. It states Taipower was interested in using a dump which had been established, but not paying to help set one up.
“A foreign solution is one of the options for Taipower. However, foreign solution is also sensitive case in terms of international relationships,” the letter states.
“Therefore, foreign solutions should carefully consider both domestic and foreign regulations.
“Foreign solutions is a sensitive case with a lot of uncertainties.
“Taipower will consider to be a ‘customer’ after the country has developed a disposal facility.”
Taiwan’s Atomic Energy Council also said Mr Hamilton-Smith’s claim was “a false information”.
“We also notice that the Citizen Jury in Australia deny the proposal,” it states. “Without the understanding and support from Australian … nuclear waste storage cannot be developed.”
One of the major criticisms of the SA nuclear proposal by the SA Liberals and green groups has been the risk of spending state taxpayer money up front with no certainty of future revenue.
Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commissioner Kevin Scarce found in his report that countries may be willing to provide a cash precommitment to SA to fund the building of enabling infrastructure.
Mr Hamilton-Smith said Friends of the Earth were “distributing information which talks down the market for storage of low-medium or high level waste”, as studied by the Royal Commission.
“Until that debate is put back on track with bipartisan support, there will be no progress,” he said. “It’s clear however from the informal discussions in November that I and other senior officers of the State Government had that there is interest and potential to work together to better secure the world’s nuclear waste. Storage and investment were both informally discussed but no official position was sought or offered. To get to that stage, we would have to continue the discussion on the Royal Commission’s work and determine a position of our own.”
Opposition treasury spokesman Rob Lucas said Mr Hamilton-Smith “stands condemned for misleading everyone” about Taiwan’s views, if the translations were accurate.
Friends of the Earth Australia nuclear campaigner Jim Green said Mr Weatherill should now “have the good sense to swallow his pride and to dump the dump proposal”.

Media Release – 15 December 2016 – Friends of the Earth

Documents released by Friends of the Earth reveal that:

  • Taiwan will not pay SA to accept high-level nuclear waste if that requires investing in waste storage and disposal infrastructure.
  • Taiwan would not send nuclear waste to Australia unless and until a repository is built and operating.
  • Taiwan would not send nuclear waste to Australia in the face of widespread public opposition.

Dr Jim Green, national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia, said: “Taiwan’s power utility Taipower states clearly and repeatedly that Taiwan will not pay for nuclear waste storage and disposal infrastructure in SA. Yet foreign investment in that infrastructure is central to the state Labor Government’s plans. Preliminary and exploratory studies could cost up to $2.4 billion and Premier Jay Weatherill must now come clean on whether he intends to gamble billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on this project.”

Taipower’s statements are directly at odds with statements made by Martin Hamilton-Smith. Opposition treasury spokesman Rob Lucas is quoted in this morning’s Advertiser saying that Hamilton-Smith “stands condemned for misleading everyone” about Taiwan’s views.

Dr Green continued: “Taiwan would not send nuclear waste to Australia unless and until a repository is built and operating. Yet the Final Report of the Royal Commission clearly states that unless nuclear waste is imported prior to the establishment of a repository, the project would not be profitable.” [See p.300 of the Royal Commission’s Final Report.]

“Taiwan will not send nuclear waste to Australia in the face of widespread public opposition. A clear majority of South Australians oppose the nuclear waste dump plan. A statewide consultation process found 53% opposition compared to just 31% support. A recent poll commissioned by the Sunday Mail found just 35% support. Two-thirds of the Citizen Jurors rejected the dump plan ‘under any circumstances’. The Premier himself has acknowledged the ‘overwhelming opposition of Aboriginal people’.

“It is unlikely that any country would send nuclear waste to SA in the face of widespread public opposition and overwhelming opposition from Aboriginal people. It is unlikely that any country would pay for waste storage and disposal infrastructure in SA. It is unlikely that any country would send waste to SA in the absence of a built, operating repository. The Labor Government’s plan fails on all three counts.

“South Australians opposed to the dump will be spoilt for choice at the March 2018 election with the Liberal Party, the Nick Xenophon Team and the SA Greens all opposed to the Labor Government’s plan to turn SA into the world’s high-level nuclear waste dump. The Premier should have the good sense to swallow his pride and to dump the dump before he puts the Labor Party in an unwinnable position leading up to the state election,” Dr Green concluded.

Email Friends of the Earth for briefing notes and translations of statements from Taipower, Taiwan’s Atomic Energy Council, and governing Democratic Progressive Party MP Su Chih-Feng. Mandarin-language original versions of these statements are available on request.


SA Premier silent while Flinders Ranges threatened

Regina McKenzie

The federal government has announced that the Flinders Ranges has been selected as the preferred site for a national nuclear waste dump. The land was nominated by former Liberal Party Senator Grant Chapman and his nomination has been endorsed by the Liberal government in Canberra.

Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners weren’t consulted about the nomination. Even Traditional Owners who live next to the proposed dump site at Yappala Station weren’t consulted.

The proposed dump site is adjacent to the Yappala Indigenous Protected Area. On the land with the proposed dump site, we have been working for many years to register heritage sites with the SA government.

The area is Adnyamathanha land. It is Arngurla Yarta (spiritual land). The proposed dump site has springs. It also has remnant ancient mound springs. It has countless thousands of Aboriginal artifacts. Our ancestors are buried there.

The nominated site is a significant women’s site. Throughout the area are registered cultural heritage sites and places of huge importance to our people.

The site is an ancient trade route. It is a very important archeological site for Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners and also for non-Aboriginal people.

There are frequent yarta ngurra-ngurrandha (earthquakes and tremors). At least half a dozen times each year, we see and feel the ground move.

It is flood land. The water comes from the hills and floods the plains, including the proposed dump site. Sometimes there are massive floods, the last one in 2006. The massive floods uproot trees − you can come out here now and see huge trees uprooted by the 2006 flood. Ten foot tall, lying on their sides! In 1956 a massive flood destroyed Cotabena homestead and all the houses in Hookina township.

We don’t want a nuclear waste dump here on our country and worry that if the waste comes here it will harm our environment and muda (our lore, our creation).

We call on the federal government to withdraw the nomination of the site and to show more respect in future. We call on all South Australians − all Australians − to support us in our struggle. Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners and Viliwarinha Yura Aboriginal Corporation will fight the proposal for a nuclear waste dump on our land for as long as it takes to stop it.

Last year I was awarded the SA Premier’s Natural Resource Management Award in the category of ‘Aboriginal Leadership − Female’ for working to protect land that is now being threatened with a nuclear waste dump.

But Premier Jay Weatherill has been silent since the announcement of six short-listed dump sites last year, three of them in SA. Now the Flinders Ranges has been chosen as the preferred site and Mr Weatherill must speak up.

The Premier can either support us ‒ just as the SA government supported the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta when their land was targeted for a national nuclear waste dump from 1998-2004 ‒ or he can support the federal government’s attack on us by maintaining his silence. He can’t sit on the fence.

Regina McKenzie is a Yappala Station resident and member of Viliwarinha Yura Aboriginal Corporation.

Published in Chain Reaction, national magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia, August 2016

Note: In 2017 Premier Weatherill wrote to the federal government suggesting that affected Traditional Owners should have a right of veto over the planned national dump – similar to his proposal in relation to the (abandoned) plan for an international high-level nuclear waste dump.


Paper for nuclear Citizens Jury – October 2016


Jim Green B.Med.Sci.(Hons.), PhD

National nuclear campaigner ‒ Friends of the Earth, Australia.

Editor ‒ World Information Service on Energy’s Nuclear Monitor newsletter

0417 318 368,

October 2016

“Tonnes of enormously dangerous radioactive waste in the northern hemisphere, 20,000 kms from its destined dump in Australia where it must remain intact for at least 10,000 years. These magnitudes − of tonnage, lethality, distance of transport, and time − entail great inherent risk.”  ‒ Prof. John Veevers, Macquarie University


The Royal Commission (RC) was biased ‒ the Royal Commissioner and most of the Expert Advisory Committee members were nuclear advocates, and there wasn’t a single nuclear critic on the RC staff to provide any balance. That bias is now being replicated with the SA government’s so-called ‘Consultation and Response Agency’ which is exerting influence on the Citizens’ Jury ‒ the Agency doesn’t have a single, token critic to provide balance.

The RC report is littered with misinformation and it repeatedly ignores important issues. A critique of the RC’s report is posted online, as is a detailed critique of the RC process ( Using the RC report as a ‘factual’ basis for further discussions is highly problematic. The RC report should be read in conjunction with other literature such as the 257-page submission from national environment groups, the remarkable submission by British environmentalist Jean McSorley, reports by the Australia Institute, and David Noonan’s briefing papers. All of that material is posted at See also Prof. Richard Blandy’s important economic critique.[1]

Royal Commission misinformation is now being fed into the statewide ‘consultation’ exercise and the Citizens’ Jury. Statements made by Royal Commission personnel are at odds with established scientific knowledge. For example, Royal Commission personnel told the Citizens’ Jury that there is disagreement as to whether exposure to low level radiation can cause fatal cancers. But in fact, the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence holds that even the smallest doses can cause fatal cancers. As the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation states: “The current balance of available evidence tends to favour a non-threshold response for the mutational component of radiation associated cancer induction at low doses and low dose rates.”

Recent scientific evidence finds that the radiogenic risks of leukemia among nuclear workers to be more than double the risk found in a previous similar study in 2005.[2] And in recent years the International Commission on Radiological Protection has upwardly revised (nearly doubled) its estimate of the carcinogenicity of radon.[3]

The Citizens’ Jury was also told that there were only 28 radiation-related deaths from Chernobyl ‒ but scientific estimates of the Chernobyl death toll range from the UN’s estimate[4] of 9,000 deaths in the most contaminated parts of Eastern Europe, to estimates of 16,000 to 93,000 deaths across Europe.[5]


Judging from submissions to the Royal Commission, and from other sources, it is clear that the plan to import nuclear waste for storage and disposal in SA is overwhelmingly opposed by Aboriginal people. Please see the many statement of opposition posted at: Governments have a long history of promising to respect Aboriginal people, land rights and heritage protections ‒ and a long history of breaking those promises. A recent statement from Traditional Owners calls on the Citizens’ Jury to support them by rejecting Jay Weatherill’s plan to impose a nuclear waste dump on Aboriginal land: “Governments stripped Aboriginal people of land, land rights and heritage protections for atomic bomb tests and uranium mining, and exactly the same thing will happen with the high-level nuclear waste dump.”


The Royal Commission insists that a nuclear waste storage and dumping business could be carried out safely. But would it be carried out safely? The Royal Commission ought to have considered evidence that can be drawn upon to help answer the question ‒ but it failed to do so.

What sort of evidence might be considered? The experience of the world’s one and only deep underground nuclear waste dump ‒ the Waste Isolation Pilot Plan (WIPP) in the US ‒ is clearly relevant. And Australia’s past experience with nuclear waste management (and mismanagement) is clearly relevant.

WIPP is a case study of a sharp decline in safety and regulatory standards over a short space of time ( A chemical explosion in a nuclear waste barrel in February 2014 was followed by a failure of the filtration system, resulting in 22 workers receiving small doses of radiation and widespread contamination in the underground caverns. WIPP has been shut down for 2.5 years since the accident. The long-term costs could exceed US$2 billion.[6] A US government report details the many failings of the operator and the regulator.[7]

Kevin Scarce said that WIPP was ignored in the RC’s interim report because it involved different waste forms (long-lived intermediate level waste) of military origin. In fact, the high level nuclear waste that the RC recommends that SA import is vastly more hazardous than the waste managed at WIPP, so Scarce’s argument is disingenuous. WIPP gets one token paragraph in the RC’s final report ‒ that speaks volumes about the RC’s bias and selectivity.

Moreover the Royal Commission overlooks the fundamental lesson from the WIPP fiasco – initially high safety and regulatory standards gave way to complacency, cost-cutting and corner-cutting in the space of just 10–15 years. The Royal Commission notes that high level nuclear waste “requires isolation from the environment for many hundreds of thousands of years”. How can we be confident that high safety and regulatory standards would be maintained in SA over centuries and millennia when WIPP shows that the half-life of human complacency, cost-cutting and corner-cutting is measured in years or at most decades?

There is no logical reason to believe that the SA government would perform any better than the US government. On the contrary, there are good reasons to believe that nuclear waste management would be more difficult here given that the US has vastly more nuclear waste management expertise and experience than Australia.

While ignoring the world’s one and only existing deep underground nuclear waste dump, the RC talks at length about deep underground repositories under construction in Finland and Sweden. According to the RC, those two countries “have successfully developed long-term domestic solutions” for nuclear waste. But in fact, neither country has completed construction of a repository let alone demonstrated safe operation over any length of time.

The RC gives great weight to abstract, theoretical safety assessments while ignoring what is happening in the real world. It ignores examples of the spectacular mismatch between theoretical safety assessments and real-world experience. For example, a safety analysis conducted before WIPP opened predicted one radiation-release accident every 200,000 years. Yet WIPP was open for just 15 years before the chemical explosion in February 2014.

The Royal Commission had little or nothing to say about other problems overseas, e.g. fires at radioactive waste repositories[8], the current project to exhume 126,000 waste barrels from a dump in Germany following extensive water infiltration and corrosion, the liquid nuclear waste explosion at Mayak in the USSR, and many others.

Politicians are reinforcing the selectivity of the RC. Premier Weatherill recently visited the dump under construction in Finland (20 times smaller than that proposed for SA). Why didn’t he visit WIPP, or the German repository, or Mayak? Why didn’t he visit places whose names are synonymous with dangerous and hideously expensive nuclear waste mismanagement ‒ Dounreay, Sellafield, Hanford, etc.? Why didn’t he visit the wine producers in France who took the operator of a nuclear waste dump to court in a failed attempt to have the dump shut down?

The RC notes that most countries that have attempted to establish high level nuclear waste repositories have failed in those attempts. But it glosses over the implications of those failures. This is highly significant for the SA proposal since the plan is to import large amounts of nuclear waste before a repository is established.[9] This is incredibly irresponsible. Australia has not been able to establish a repository for domestic low and intermediate level waste, yet the RC proposal assumes that it will be possible to establish a repository for vast amounts of foreign high level nuclear waste ‒ 138,000 tonnes of high level nuclear waste and 390,000 cubic metres of intermediate level nuclear waste. No country has succeeded in completing construction and beginning operation of a repository for high level nuclear waste and many countries have failed, e.g. the USA wasted over 20 years and US$13.5 billion on the Yucca Mountain project before abandoning it. Yet the RC ‒ and now Jay Weatherill ‒ are so confident that it can be achieved in SA that they propose importing the waste on the assumption that a repository can be established.


“The disposal of radioactive waste in Australia is ill-considered and irresponsible. Whether it is short-lived waste from Commonwealth facilities, long-lived plutonium waste from an atomic bomb test site on Aboriginal land, or reactor waste from Lucas Heights. The government applies double standards to suit its own agenda; there is no consistency, and little evidence of logic.” ‒ Nuclear engineer Alan Parkinson[10]

The Royal Commission largely ignored the mismanagement of radioactive waste in SA ‒ and it did not recommend clean-up and rehabilitation of any contaminated sites.

A radioactive waste repository at Radium Hill “is not engineered to a standard consistent with current internationally accepted practice” according to a 2003 SA government audit.

The Port Pirie uranium treatment plant is still contaminated over 50 years after its closure. It took a six-year community campaign just to get the site fenced off and to carry out a partial rehabilitation. As of July 2015, the SA government’s website states that “a long-term management strategy for the former site” is being developed.[11]

SA regulators failed to detect Marathon Resource’s illegal dumping of low level radioactive waste in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. If not for the detective work of the managers of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, the illegal activities would likely be continuing to this day. The incident represents a serious failure of SA government regulation. The Royal Commission report dealt with this scandal in two sentences and failed to note that the SA government regulator did not detect the illegal dumping of radioactive waste.

The explosion of nuclear bombs at Maralinga in the 1950s has nothing to do with the current nuclear waste import proposal. However, aspects of the Maralinga experience are highly relevant. In particular, the ‘clean-up’ of nuclear waste at the Maralinga nuclear test site in the late 1990s is relevant and it was a fiasco:[12]

  • Nuclear engineer Alan Parkinson said of the ‘clean-up’: “What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land.”
  • Scientist Dale Timmons said the government’s technical report was littered with “gross misinformation”.
  • Dr Geoff Williams, an officer with the Commonwealth nuclear regulator ARPANSA, said that the ‘clean-up’ was beset by a “host of indiscretions, short-cuts and cover-ups”.
  • Nuclear physicist Prof. Peter Johnston (now with ARPANSA) noted that there were “very large expenditures and significant hazards resulting from the deficient management of the project”.

The Maralinga experience is also relevant to current proposals because the racism associated with the bomb tests is just as acute now.[13] The federal government tried but failed to impose a national nuclear waste dump on Aboriginal land in SA from 1998‒2004, then tried but failed to impose a dump on Aboriginal land in the NT from 2005‒14, and now the federal government is trying to impose a dump on Aboriginal land in SA despite the near-unanimous opposition of Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners.[14]

Federal Labor and the Coalition both supported the profoundly racist National Radioactive Waste Management Act, which permits the imposition of a dump on Aboriginal land without any consultation with or consent from Aboriginal Traditional Owners (to be precise, the nomination of a site is not invalidated by a failure to consult or secure consent).

The Royal Commission claims that “South Australia has a unique combination of attributes which offer a safe, long-term capability for the disposal of used fuel”. But SA has a track record of mismanaging radioactive waste (Radium Hill, Maralinga, Port Pirie, Arkaroola, etc.) and no experience managing high level nuclear waste. The Royal Commission’s claim that SA has “a mature and stable political, social and economic structure” needs to be considered in the context of the longevity of nuclear waste. Australia has had one profound political revolution in the past 250 years (European invasion/settlement) and is therefore on track for 1,200 political revolutions over the 300,000-year lifespan of nuclear waste.

If there was some honesty about the mismanagement of radioactive waste in SA, coupled with remediation of contaminated sites, we might have some confidence that lessons have been learnt and that radioactive waste will be managed more responsibly in future. But there is no such honesty from the SA government or the Royal Commission, and there are no plans to clean up contaminated sites. On the contrary, the plan is to make a bad situation worse with the importation of vast amounts of intermediate and high level nuclear waste.


Some argue that Australia has a moral responsibility to accept the nuclear waste arising from the use of Australian uranium in power reactors overseas. But there are no precedents for Australia or any other country being morally or legally responsible for managing wastes arising from the use of exported fuels, or from the export of any other products. The responsibility for managing nuclear waste lies with the countries that make use of Australian uranium.

The World Nuclear Association ‒ the industry’s main international representative body ‒ states: “At present there is clear and unequivocal understanding that each country is ethically and legally responsible for its own wastes, therefore the default position is that all nuclear wastes will be disposed of in each of the 50 or so countries concerned.”[15]

If any moral responsibility lies with Australia, that responsibility rests with the uranium mining companies (which are foreign-owned or majority foreign-owned) rather than with Australian citizens or federal or state governments.

One plausible scenario is uranium being mined on Aboriginal land regardless of Aboriginal opposition, and high level nuclear waste being dumped on Aboriginal land, again without consent. That scenario is immoral twice over.

It is also argued that Australia has a moral responsibility to accept high level nuclear waste because Australia has more suitable geology than other countries, and/or or a more stable political system. Those arguments rest on questionable assumptions. Australia is less tectonically stable than a number of other continental regions according to Dr Mike Sandiford.[16] And there are social as well as technical dimensions to risk assessment. On the basis of Australia’s track record of mismanaging domestic low and intermediate level waste, there is no reason to believe that a high level nuclear repository would be carefully and responsibly managed in Australia, or that regulation would be rigorous and independent.




[3] ICRP, 2010, ‘Lung Cancer Risk from Radon and Progeny and Statement on Radon’, ICRP Publication 115, Ann. ICRP 40(1),








[10] Alan Parkinson, 2002, ‘Double standards with radioactive waste’, Australasian Science,





[15] See section on ‘Responsibility for Wastes’.



The Flinders Ranges Nuclear Waste Dump & Tourism

Average annual expenditure on tourism in the Flinders Ranges: $304 million. (Source: SA Tourism Commission,

The tourism industry directly employs approximately 1,400 people in the Flinders Ranges. (Source: ‘Regional Tourism Satellite Account: Flinders Ranges and Outback 2013-14’,


— If the proposed national nuclear waste dump in the Flinders Ranges reduces tourism by just 1% ($3 million / year), the $10 million compensation package for the nuclear waste dump is swallowed up in just over three years … and the Flinders Ranges continues to lose $3 million / year for decades beyond that.

— If a nuclear waste dump reduces tourism employment by just 1%, that’s a loss of 14 jobs … the same number as the government says the nuclear waste dump will provide.

— If a nuclear waste dump reduces tourism by 5%, the $10 million compensation package for the nuclear waste dump is swallowed up in less than one year … and the Flinders Ranges continues to lose $15 million / year for decades beyond that.

— If a nuclear waste dump reduces tourism employment by 5%, there will be a net loss of approx. 55 jobs.

The Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta and the proposed radioactive waste repository in SA: 1998-2004

This is an excerpt from a joint submission to SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission by Friends of the Earth, Australian Conservation Foundation and Conservation SA.

In 1998, the Howard government announced its intention to build a radioactive waste repository near Woomera in South Australia. Leading the battle against the dump were the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta[1], a council of senior Aboriginal women from northern SA. Many of the Kungkas personally suffered the impacts of the British nuclear bomb tests at Maralinga and Emu in the 1950s.

The late Mrs. Eileen Kampakuta Brown, a member of the Kungka Tjuta, was awarded an Order of Australia on Australia Day in 2003 for her service to the community “through the preservation, revival and teaching of traditional Anangu (Aboriginal) culture and as an advocate for indigenous communities in Central Australia”. On 5 March 2003, the Australian Senate passed a resolution noting “the hypocrisy of the Government in giving an award for services to the community to Mrs. Brown but taking no notice of her objection, and that of the Yankunytjatjara/Antikarinya community, to its decision to construct a national repository on this land.”

The proposed repository was also opposed by Native Title claimant groups, namely the Kokatha and the Barngala.

The proposed repository was opposed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. (ATSIC). Acting Chair of ATSIC, Lionel Quartermaine, argued in a submission to ARPANSA in 2003:[2]

“The Nulla Wimila Kutju Regional Council is fully supportive of the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta … who have been vocal in their opposition to the proposed [repository] siting. Many witnessed the effects on their people of the Atomic Tests conducted in their country in the 1950s. It is patently unfair that these should now once again face the prospect of being at risk of radiation exposure.”

A 14 April 2003 letter from the Federal Environment Department’s Indigenous Advisory Committee stated:

“The Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, senior Aboriginal women of north SA, fundamentally oppose this nuclear waste dump which they see as the imposition of poison ground onto their traditional lands.

The Kokatha people, as registered native title claimants, oppose the nuclear waste dump and the intended acquisition and annulment of their native title rights and interests.

Throughout the EIS process under the EPBC Act, the Native Title claimants and other community members feel that there has not been adequate consultation. Traditional owners have also not been able to find out about the intended legal approach of the Commonwealth Government in carrying out key aspects of the proposed project.”

All of these clear and public objections were ignored by the federal government.

Public relations

The proposed dump generated such controversy in SA that the federal government hired a public relations company.[3] Correspondence between the company and the government was released under Freedom of Information laws. In one exchange, a government official asks the PR company to remove sand-dunes from a photo to be used in a brochure.[4] The explanation provided by the government official was that: “Dunes are a sensitive area with respect to Aboriginal Heritage”. The sand-dunes were removed from the photo, only for the government official to ask if the horizon could be straightened up as well.

False consultation and coercion

The Federal Government’s approach to ‘consultation’ was spelt out in a document leaked in 2002.[5] The document states: “Tactics to reach Indigenous audiences will be informed by extensive consultations currently being undertaken … with Indigenous groups.” In other words, sham ‘consultation’ was used to fine-tune the government’s promotion of the repository.

Aboriginal groups were coerced into signing agreements consenting to test drilling of short-listed sites for the proposed dump. The Federal Government made it clear that if consent for test drilling was not granted by Aboriginal groups, that drilling would take place anyway. A clear signal of the Government’s intent to proceed regardless of Aboriginal support for or engagement in the process came on 30 April 1999, when the Federal Government issued a Section 9 notice under the Land Acquisition Act 1989 which gave the government legal powers to conduct work on land that it might acquire to site the dump.

Aboriginal groups were put in an invidious position:

  • they could attempt to protect specific cultural sites by engaging with the Federal Government and signing agreements, at the risk of having that engagement being misrepresented or misunderstood as consent the dump per sé; or
  • they could refuse to engage in the process, thereby having no say in the process whatsoever.

It is important to note that given the current absence of any effective veto right over mining proposal on their lands – with the exception of some provisions on the Aboriginal Land Rights Act – this unsatisfactory and fundamentally unfair power imbalance remains the common Aboriginal experience today.

Aboriginal groups were between “a rock and a hard place” according to Stewart Motha from the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, which represented the Antakirinja, Barngarla, and Kokatha people in negotiations over the dump. Mr. Motha said:

“If Aboriginal groups do get involved in clearances [for test drilling] they face the possibility that the Government will point to that involvement as an indication of consent for the project. If they refuse to participate, who will protect Aboriginal heritage, dreaming and sacred sites?”

Parry Agius, manager of the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement’s Native Title Unit, said:

“The nuclear waste repository issue highlights the inadequacy of native title rights as they are currently constituted under the Native Title Act and is a showcase for the consequences of the 10 Point Plan. While native title purports to recognise Aboriginal peoples’ particular relationship to the land, and the negotiations we are currently undertaking are aimed at protecting Aboriginal heritage, the commonwealth government may extinguish these rights by compulsory acquisition.”

Dr. Roger Thomas, a Kokatha man, told an ARPANSA forum on 25 February 2004[6]:

“The Commonwealth sought from the native title claim group the opportunity to carry out site clearances. They presented to us, as a native title group, some 58 sites that they would like us to consider for the purpose of cultural significance clearance. Of the 58, there were seven sites that they saw as being the priority locations for where they had intentions to want to locate the waste repository. I would like it to be registered that, of the 58, the senior law men and women had difficulty and made it quite clear that there was no intent on their part to want to give any agreement to any of those sites. … The point of concern and controversy for us is that we were advised − and we were told this by the various agencies involved − ‘If you don’t proceed with signing the agreement, the Federal Government will acquire it under the constitution legislation.’ From our point of view, we not only had the shotgun at our head, we also were put in a situation where we were deemed powerless. If this is an example of the whitefella process and system that we’ve got to comply with as Indigenous Australians, then we attest that this whole process needs to be reviewed and looked at and we need to be given under the convention of the United Nations the appropriate rights as Indigenous first nation people. Our bottom line position is that we do not agree with any waste material of any level being dumped, located or deposited in any part of this country.”

Aboriginal groups did reluctantly engage in surveys resulting in the signing of so-called Heritage Clearance Agreements. Heritage assessment surveys were conducted by three groups:

  • Antakirinja, Barngala and Kokatha Native Title Claimant Groups;
  • Andamooka Land Council Association; and
  • Kuyani Association.

One risk was that those Heritage Clearance Agreements would be misrepresented by the Federal Government as amounting to Aboriginal consent to or even support for the dump per sé. That risk was in fact realised. Federal Government politicians and bureaucrats repeatedly made reference to the surveys and the resulting Agreements without noting that those Agreements in no way amount to consent to the dump. The following excerpt from Senate Hansard provides an example of this type of misrepresentation-by-omission (30 October, 2003, p.16813, question 2118):

Senator Allison (Australian Democrats) asked the Minister representing the Minister for Science, upon notice, on 18 September 2003:

(e) have any Indigenous groups consented to the construction and operation of the repository at the site known as Site 40a; if so, which groups;

(f) have any Indigenous groups stated that Site 40a has no particular Indigenous heritage values; if so, which groups;

Senator Vanstone — The Minister for Science has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:

(e) The site has been cleared for all works associated with the construction and operation of a national repository, with regard to Aboriginal heritage, by the Aboriginal groups with native title claims over the relative site as well as other groups with heritage interests in the region. These groups are the Antakirinja, Barngala and Kokotha Native Title Claimant Groups, the Andamooka Land Council Association and the Kuyani Association.

(f) See answer to (e).

There was no recognition in the above statement of Aboriginal opposition to the dump.

The same misrepresentation-by-omission occurred in the Environment Department’s Environmental Assessment Report regarding the planned dump and in numerous other Federal Government statements.

Jeff Harris, an official with the federal government, told an ARPANSA forum that: “… those Aboriginal groups that have heritage interests in those lands we have consulted extensively with them, and each of the three sites that are going through environmental impact assessment has been inspected by these Aboriginal groups and have cleared for the construction and operation of the repository.”[7]

The claim that the sites were “cleared for the construction and operation of the repository” was false.

The conflation between Heritage Clearance Agreements and consent for the construction and operation of a radioactive waste repository occurred repeatedly despite the fact that the Heritage Clearance Agreements specifically noted Aboriginal opposition. One such Agreement, between the Federal Government and the Antakarinja Native Title Group, the Barngarla Native Title Group and the Kokatha Native Title Claimant Group, dated May 12, 2000, included the following clauses:

E. The agreement to undertake Work Area Clearances is not to be deemed as consent, and the COMMONWEALTH do not under this Agreement seek such consent, by the Claimants to the establishment of a NRWR in the Central North Region of South Australia.

I. The COMMONWEALTH acknowledges that there is “considerable opposition” to the NRWR within the Aboriginal community of the region, but notwithstanding that the Claimants have made a commitment that the heritage clearance and the contents of the Work Area Clearance Report will not be influenced by such opposition.

The Federal government never publicly released those clauses of the Agreement.

Land seizure

In 2002, the Federal Government tried to buy-off Aboriginal opposition to the dump. Three Native Title claimant groups − the Kokatha, Kuyani and Barngala − were offered $90,000 to surrender their native title rights, but only on the condition that all three groups agreed. Two of the groups − the Kokatha and Barngala − refused, so the government’s ploy failed.

Dr. Roger Thomas, a Kokatha man, told an ARPANSA forum on February 25, 2004[8]:

“The most disappointing aspect to the negotiations that the Commonwealth had with us, as Kokatha, is to try to buy our agreement. This was most insulting to us as Aboriginal people and particularly to our elders. For the sake of ensuring that I don’t further create any embarrassment, I will not quote the figure, but let me tell you, our land is not for sale. Our Native Title rights are not for sale. We are talking about our culture, our lore and our dreaming. We are talking about our future generations we’re protecting here. We do not have a “for sale” sign up and we never will.”

According to The Age, the meetings took place at a Port Augusta motel in September 2002 and the Commonwealth delegation included representatives of the Department of the Attorney-General, the Department of Finance and the Department of Education and Science and Training.[9]

Dr. Thomas said: “The insult of it, it was just so insulting. I told the Commonwealth officers to stop being so disrespectful and rude to us by offering us $90,000 to pay out our country and our culture.”[10] Andrew Starkey, another Kokatha man, said: “It was just shameful. They were wanting people to sign off their cultural heritage rights for a minuscule amount of money. We would not do that for any amount of money.”[11]

In July 2003, the federal government used the Lands Acquisition Act 1989 to seize land for the dump. Native Title rights and interests were extinguished with the stroke of a pen.[12] This took place with no forewarning and no consultation with affected Aboriginal people.

Victory for the Kungkas

The Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta continued to implore the federal government to ‘get their ears out of their pockets’, and after six long years the government did just that. In the lead-up to the 2004 federal election, with the repository issue deeply unpopular, and the Federal Court having rejected the government’s use of urgency provisions in the Lands Acquisition Act, the Howard government decided to abandon the dump plan.

The Kungkas wrote in an open letter: “People said that you can’t win against the Government. Just a few women. We just kept talking and telling them to get their ears out of their pockets and listen. We never said we were going to give up. Government has big money to buy their way out but we never gave up.”[13]


[2] Submission No.242 to ARPANSA inquiry into proposed national radioactive waste repository,

See also: Rebecca DiGirolamo, 16 Dec 2003, “ATSIC in fear of N-dump leakage”, The Australian, p.4.



[5] Department of Education, Science and Training, 2002, “Communication Strategy: Announcement of Low Level Radioactive Waste Site in SA”.

[6] 25 Feb 2004, ARPANSA inquiry public hearing,

[7] 17 December 2001, ARPANSA forum transcript,

[8] 25 Feb 2004, ARPANSA forum, Adelaide,

[9] Penelope Debelle, “Anger over native title cash offer”, The Age, May 17, 2003.

[10] Penelope Debelle, “Anger over native title cash offer”, The Age, May 17, 2003.

[11] Penelope Debelle, “Anger over native title cash offer”, The Age, May 17, 2003.

[12] Senator Nick Minchin, Minister for Finance and Administration, Media Release, July 7, 2003


‘We are winners because of what’s in our hearts, not what’s on paper.’

Open Letter from the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta – senior Aboriginal women’s council from northern SA – after the Federal Government abandoned its plan to build a national radioactive waste dump in South Australia.

August 2004

People said that you can’t win against the Government. Just a few women. We just kept talking and telling them to get their ears out of their pockets and listen. We never said we were going to give up. Government has big money to buy their way out but we never gave up. We told Howard you should look after us, not try and kill us. Straight out. We always talk straight out. In the end he didn’t have the power, we did. He only had money, but money doesn’t win.

Happy now – Kungka winners. We are winners because of what’s in our hearts, not what’s on paper. About the country, bush tucker, bush medicine and Inma (traditional songs and dances). Big happiness that we won against the Government. Victorious. And the family and all the grandchildren are so happy because we fought the whole way. And we were going away all the time. Kids growing up, babies have been born since we started. And still we have family coming. All learning about our fight.

We started talking strong against the dump a long time ago, in 1998 with Sister Michelle. We thought we would get the Greenies to help us. Greenies care for the same thing. Fight for the same thing. Against the poison.

Since then we been everywhere talking about the poison. Canberra, Sydney, Lucas Heights, Melbourne, Adelaide, Silverton, Port Augusta, Roxby Downs, Lake Eyre. We did it the hard way. Always camping out in the cold. Travelling all over with no money. Just enough for cool drink along the way. We went through it. Survivors. Even had an accident where we hit a bullock one night on the way to Roxby Downs. We even went to Lucas Heights Reactor. It’s a dangerous place, but we went in boldly to see where they were making the poison – the radiation. Seven women, seven sisters, we went in.

We lost our friends. Never mind we lost our loved ones. We never give up. Been through too much. Too much hard business and still keep going. Sorry business all the time. Fought through every hard thing along the way. People trying to scare us from fighting, it was hard work, but we never stopped. When we were going to Sydney people say “You Kungkas cranky they might bomb you”, but we kept going. People were telling us that the Whitefellas were pushing us, but no everything was coming from the heart, from us.

We showed that Greenies and Anangu can work together. Greenies could come and live here in Coober Pedy and work together to stop the dump. Kungkas showed the Greenies about the country and the culture. Our Greenie girls are the best in Australia. We give them all the love from our hearts. Family you know. Working together – that’s family. Big thank you to them especially. We can’t write. They help us with the letters, the writing, the computers, helped tell the world.

Thank you very much for helping us over the years, for everything. Thank you to the Lord, all our family and friends, the Coober Pedy community, Umoona Aged Care, the South Australian Government and all our friends around Australia and overseas. You helped us and you helped the kids. We are happy. We can have a break now. We want to have a rest and go on with other things now. Sit around the campfire and have a yarn. We don’t have to talk about the dump anymore, and get up and go all the time. Now we can go out together and camp out and pick bush medicine and bush tucker. And take the grandchildren out.

We were crying for the little ones and the ones still coming. With all the help – we won. Thank you all very much.

No Radioactive Waste Dump in our Ngura – In our Country!

Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta

Coober Pedy, South Australia

Ivy Makinti Stewart                           Eileen Kampakuta Brown

Eileen Unkari Crombie                       Emily Munyungka Austin

Angelina Wonga                                Tjunmutja Myra Watson


Australia’s nuclear weapons hypocrisy

Tim Wright

From Chain Reaction #126, April 2016, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia

Among those most vociferous in condemning North Korea’s nuclear test in January and its rocket launch in February were the leaders of nations that themselves possess nuclear weapons. Nations that, over half a century, mastered the art of mass destruction by exploding atomic and hydrogen bombs off Pacific atolls and in the Australian outback.

Were these nations now on the path to disarmament, in full compliance with their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, one might overlook their double standard. But all are instead bolstering their nuclear forces – “refurbishing” old warheads and developing new missiles, submarines and bombers to deliver them.

While North Korea may be the only nation to have conducted a full-scale nuclear test this century, the United States, Russia and China continue to conduct sub-critical nuclear tests – where no chain reaction occurs – allowing them to enhance their nuclear forces without violating the global norm against nuclear testing.

In the world of nuclear diplomacy, it’s do as we say, not as we do. The deal to curtail Iran’s nuclear program is another illustration of this. When the agreement was struck last July, five nuclear-armed nations and Germany, which hosts US nuclear bombs on its soil, sat opposite Iran at the negotiating table – all demanding of Iran what they will not accept for themselves.

To be sure, it was a diplomatic triumph: membership of the “nuclear club” remains at nine, a potentially catastrophic military intervention has been averted, and crippling economic sanctions have been lifted. But the Iran deal does nothing to diminish the grave threat to humanity from the 15,800 nuclear weapons that already exist in the world. On the iconic Doomsday Clock, we remain just three minutes from midnight.

Among the largest nuclear stockpiles is that of the United States, a chief architect of the Iran deal. It maintains some 7,200 warheads, amassed during the Cold War, and is now trialling new “low-yield” warhead designs, with the purported aim of minimising “collateral damage”. Yet experts warn that this development will serve only to lower the threshold for initiating a nuclear strike.

In the words of General James E. Cartwright, a retired vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “what going smaller does is to make the weapon more thinkable”. Smaller, though, is perhaps an inapt term. With an explosive yield of up to 50 kilotons, these new weapons could be three times more destructive than the atomic device detonated over Hiroshima seven decades ago, killing 140,000 people.

A ‘rogue state’ such as North Korea – with its much feared, reviled and mocked leader, Kim Jong-un – provides useful cover for alarming developments of this kind. So long as the spotlight shines elsewhere, few will worry about, let alone protest against, the actions of the more ‘responsible’ nuclear powers – nations that, truth be told, have time and again brought us within a hair’s breadth of catastrophe.

Most governments, however, do accept that there are “no right hands for wrong weapons”, to use a phrase of the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon. Regrettably, Australia is not yet among them. While the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, was swift to condemn North Korea’s test, her department claims that US nuclear weapons protect Australia from attack and even “guarantee our prosperity”.

This longstanding policy, known as extended nuclear deterrence, implies that nuclear weapons are legitimate, useful and necessary war-fighting instruments. It incites proliferation and undermines disarmament. It renders Australia an outcast in our immediate region, where all other nations have rejected the bomb outright.

Over the past year, 122 nations have formally pledged to work together to prohibit nuclear weapons through a new treaty. To place them on the same legal footing as other indiscriminate, inhumane weapons – from chemical and biological agents to anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions.

If we are to succeed in eliminating the nuclear threat, we must begin by challenging the double standards that, throughout the nuclear age, have so plagued disarmament efforts. We must declare nuclear weapons unacceptable not just for North Korea and Iran, but for Australia and its allies, too.

Tim Wright is Asia-Pacific director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

Hypocrisy – Australia’s support for nuclear weapons

Australian policy on nuclear weapons hopelessly conflicted

April 10, 2014, Richard Lennane, Sydney Morning Herald…

At a meeting in Hiroshima of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), a group of 12 countries led by Australia and Japan, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made much of Australia’s supposed commitment to ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

But Australian policy on nuclear weapons is hopelessly conflicted. With one hand, it promotes nuclear disarmament, yet with the other, it clings anxiously to US nuclear weapons for national security. Australia wants to get rid of nuclear weapons and keep them too.

There is no secret about this: Bishop wrote in February that Australia “has long and actively supported nuclear disarmament … and worked tirelessly toward the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons” and also that Australia “will continue to rely on nuclear deterrence” for its security as long as nuclear weapons exist. She is the latest custodian of a bipartisan policy that has been passed down through consecutive governments for decades.

As long as nothing much was happening with nuclear disarmament, Australia could safely advocate it. But the emergence of a global movement to examine the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, and a related push for a treaty banning them, has put Australia on the spot.

International conferences held in Oslo last year and in Nayarit, Mexico, in February concluded that any nuclear detonation would completely overwhelm humanitarian and disaster response capabilities, and cause unacceptable long-term harm worldwide.

Australia cautiously participated in these meetings, but clearly with misgiving. And at the United Nations last October, when 125 countries, including Japan and five other NPDI members, made a joint statement on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, Australia baulked – and weaselled out.

Pressed to explain why Australia could not join the statement, officials said the sentence, “It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances,” was incompatible with Australia’s reliance on nuclear deterrence.

Calls for a new treaty to ban nuclear weapons have further exposed the contradictions in Australia’s policy. There is no legal reason Australia could not join such a treaty tomorrow: Australia has no nuclear weapons. As a member of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) it has sworn off them.

The official response, however, has been to oppose such a ban because it would not “guarantee” nuclear disarmament. This is a ludicrous excuse, given that none of the approaches Australia and the NPDI advocate will “guarantee” disarmament either (in fact most of them are hopelessly bogged down).

That a polished performer like Bishop would field such a flimsy rationalisation only shows how bare the intellectual cupboard at the Foreign Ministry is. They can’t find a better argument, because there isn’t one.

Despite the increasing visibility of its inherently contradictory policy, the government blithely continues to seek a high profile on nuclear disarmament.

The people of Hiroshima will surely welcome Bishop’s earnest undertakings to address the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and pursue nuclear disarmament. They will be less impressed by her extraordinary statement that “the horrendous humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons are precisely why deterrence has worked” – in other words, that Australia depends for its security on the very humanitarian consequences it claims to be working to avoid.

The contradictions emerge even within the NPDI. The purpose of the NPDI is to support implementation of the 64-point “action plan” on non-proliferation and disarmament agreed by the 189 members of the NPT. Australia is a prominent proponent of the plan. But the very first of these 64 actions requires Australia to “pursue policies that are fully compatible with the treaty and the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons”. How is relying on nuclear weapons compatible with the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons?

The circle simply cannot be squared. Follow the tortuous reasoning to its conclusion and it reduces to “Australia supports nuclear disarmament, just as soon as it has happened”.

As the humanitarian initiative gathers momentum, and as a ban treaty looms closer, Australia’s policy will become increasingly untenable. It will soon have to choose: nuclear weapons – yes or no. If the answer is yes, the only honest course is to drop the pretence of working towards a world free of nuclear weapons and leave the NPT. If the answer is no, then there are policy challenges ahead – but overcoming them would put Australia on the right side of history.

Richard Lennane is a former United Nations disarmament official and Australian diplomat.

Who wants to keep Aussies in the dark about food irradiation?

Robin Taubenfeld

From Chain Reaction #126, April 2016, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia

Over the past two years Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has supported a push to significantly expand the list of foods permitted to be irradiated in Australia and New Zealand. At the same time, aware of consumer resistance, irradiation proponents have been embarking on a cynical marketing strategy: the removal of mandatory labelling requirements.

FSANZ is undertaking a review of mandatory labelling requirements for irradiated food to assess the need for the mandatory labelling requirement for all irradiated food to continue, and to assess whether there is a more effective approach to communicate the safety and benefits of irradiation to consumers.

The words are telling. Labelling is identified as an impediment to “uptake” of food irradiation, a process unfamiliar to most Australians and New Zealanders, which the government deems to be safe. Safe or not, global standards require irradiated food to be labelled.

In fact, removing labelling would make Australia the odd-ball amongst its trading partners – and possibly increase costs for food producers who need to ensure their export products are labelled appropriately for overseas markets.

In its consultation paper, FSANZ states:

“FSANZ has reviewed the requirements for food irradiation label information in a number of countries. Most of the countries reviewed appear to have based their requirements on the Codex Standard, although some variations occur.

“For irradiated whole foods that are packaged, it is common for a mandatory statement to indicate that the food has been irradiated. …

“For packaged foods that contain an irradiated ingredient(s), most countries require that the ingredient(s) be identified on the label, usually in the list of ingredients. …

“Most countries require specific signage for unpackaged foods that have been irradiated (e.g. whole produce) and are sold in bulk.”

If labelling is the norm and no-one else is considering getting rid of it, why is there a push to do so in Australia and New Zealand? Who wants to keep us in the dark about irradiation?

The irradiation of fruits and vegetables typically involves their exposure to the energy equivalent of between 1.5 and 10 million x-rays. Now promoted as a fruit fly “treatment”, food irradiation also extends shelf life, sanitises, and alters the nutritional value of the treated foods. The changes made cannot be discerned with our ordinary senses.

At best, scientific opinion around irradiation remains divided. Irradiation causes vitamin and amino acid depletion in food. It changes the molecular structure of food potentially forming toxic chemicals linked to cancer, organ damage, genetic mutations, immune system disorders, tumours, stunted growth, reproductive problems and nutritional deficiencies.1

Even the Australian government acknowledges that irradiation has adverse effects (while claiming that other processing methods and technologies may have similar effects). The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources states: “It is now well established that irradiation does affect certain vitamins and other nutrients and does produce peroxides and other radiolytic by-products, some of which may be toxic and/or carcinogenic, and that these effects are dose related.”2

There is no data to support the claim that irradiated food is safe as no long-term studies of human consumption of irradiated food have been carried out. In fact, a recent document produced by FSANZ in support of irradiating 12 fruits states clearly that “consumption data are not available.”3 With no consumption data available, a statement as to the safe consumption is insubstantial.

The “safety and benefits” that FSANZ want to “communicate” are also unspecified.

“Safety” may refer to the safety of the industry – which in Australia is a nuclear industry carrying its associated risks around the transportation, use and storage of radioactive materials.

Or safety may refer to the inferred “wholesomeness” of irradiated foods – which is at best questionable.

Or safety may refer to the decontamination aspects of some irradiation – which can neutralise but not remove some pathogens from food. The fact is that for the most part, irradiation in Australia has not been authorised for food safety reasons – which could call for higher doses of radiation exposure – but for trade/quarantine purposes which, while possibly beneficial to local environments, are ultimately aimed at increasing profit for food producers, not at benefitting the consumer.

Most Australians and New Zealanders have little experience with irradiated food as little has been put on the market. Australian consumer acceptance cannot be assumed, while their resistance to the technology is well documented.

In recent polling in New Zealand ‒ where irradiated Australian produce is being marketed – 72% of respondents expressed concern.4

Research commissioned by irradiation supporters themselves reveals little public awareness about irradiation and consumer’s desire to be informed through labelling. FSANZ’s consultation papers confirm this.5

“In October 2001, FSANZ commissioned qualitative research to examine Australian and New Zealand consumer understanding and use of various label elements … the general consensus was that even though the word was alarming and off-putting, that it should be used on packaging rather than a symbol, again because people had a right to know what has been done to their food …

“Tomatoes NZ (the industry body that represents the fresh tomato sector) commissioned a telephone poll of 1000 New Zealand adults in April 2015. Poll participants were asked if they would like:

  • the fruit and vegetables they buy that have been treated with irradiation to be clearly labelled as irradiated. (Eighty-five per cent of participants responded that they would).
  • to know if a dish they ordered in a restaurant, café or takeaways includes irradiated food. (Seventy-eight per cent of participants responded that they would).”

The public wants irradiated food to be labelled. To date, all irradiation approvals have been premised on the statement that irradiated foods would be labelled.

Industry sees the use of irradiation as a fruit fly control and shelf-life extender. And industry understands that people have an aversion to food exposed to radiation. At a 2012 Horticulture Australia Limited Forum in Sydney, Paul Harker, head of produce at Woolworths, said the industry needed a united voice on the subject before it proceeds.

“It’s going to be an extremely emotional product and we are not going to stand alone trying to convince Australian consumers that there is nothing wrong with irradiation,” Harker said.6 “We’ve communicated that back to industry and we said unless there is a concerted campaign that is led not only by the people peddling irradiation as an alternative, but unless the government and everyone else is involved in actually talking to the customer about it, the last thing I am going to do is plonk it on my shelf because I can tell you that fresh produce sales will die. People won’t shop there.”

In its review document, FSANZ and the Ministerial Council clearly link labelling to the low “uptake” of irradiation foods.

Should labelling be removed so that people will buy irradiated food?

Australian and New Zealand labelling standards already fall short of world standards. Rather than being removed, labelling should be improved to prescribe clear and accurate statements such as “Irradiated”, or “Treated with irradiation”.

In a free market economy, the demand for irradiated products should be driven by consumers making informed and intentional decisions to purchase such products. Irradiators who are confident that their products are wholesome, healthy and desirable should be proud to label their products irradiated and let the market play out.

With Australia and New Zealand increasing the amount of irradiated foods available on the market and in people’s diets, the push to remove mandatory labelling and signage requirements is unacceptable ‒ and must be stopped.

Take action! The public comment period on FSANZ’s labelling review “consultation paper” has ended. However each state and territory has representatives on the Ministerial Council who have the power to determine what happens next. Let them know that you care:

More information:

Robin Taubenfeld is a national nuclear spokesperson for Friends of the Earth, Australia.


1. Public Citizen, Questioning Food Irradiation, April 2003,


3. FSANZ A1092: SD1, p.3


5. FSANZ Review document, p.14‒15


Fukushima Fallout: Updates from Japan

Jim Green

From Chain Reaction #126, April 2016, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia

Five years have passed since the meltdowns, fires and explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. Cleaning up the Fukushima plant – and in particular the stricken reactors – will take several decades, at least. “If I may put this in terms of mountain climbing, we’ve just passed the first station on a mountain of 10 stations,” said TEPCO’s Akira Ono in February.1

TEPCO hopes to begin removal of reactor fuel, and melted fuel fused to other materials, in five years or so. But little is known about the state of the fuel – one of many problems is that camera’s fail due to the intense radiation.2

TEPCO has little idea how it might remove the nuclear fuel and associated debris. To put the situation in a positive light, the problem will drive innovation in robotics since current technology is not up to the task. Akira Ono says the aim of decommissioning the plant in 40 years may be impossible without a giant technological leap: “There are so many uncertainties involved. We need to develop many, many technologies.”3

TEPCO has no idea what it might do with the nuclear fuel and debris if and when it is removed from the reactor buildings. There is no repository for high level nuclear waste. The Japanese government is considering building a repository under the seabed, about 13 km off the Fukushima coast. The repository would be connected to the land by a tunnel so it arguably would not contravene international regulations on disposing of nuclear waste into the sea. There is staunch opposition from the fishing industry and many others to the idea of burying nuclear waste at sea in a seismically active area.4

Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) Commissioner Toyoshi Fuketa recently questioned whether the plan to remove all fuel and debris will be possible and whether it is the best course of action. “I wonder if the situation would be desired that work is still underway to extract fuel debris 70 or 80 years after,” he said, adding that it may be preferable to remove as much fuel and debris as possible and solidify the rest.5

Off-site clean-up

As of the end of September 2015, a total of about nine million cubic meters of contaminated solid and other waste were being stored in about 115,000 locations around Fukushima. Government officials estimate that a total of 22 million cubic meters of contaminated soil will eventually be collected.6

The off-site contamination work has been punctuated with revelations of sloppy work. The latest was the revelation in early February that 310 cubic meters of contaminated wood waste was illegally dumped in a riverbed in the Shiga Prefecture city of Takashima.7

Last September, as many as 439 bags containing contaminated soil, grass and tree branches were swept away when torrential rains hit Iitate Village, Fukushima Prefecture.8 Environment Ministry officials said that nearly 400 bags were recovered but many were empty.9

The government hopes to secure about 16 sq km to build interim storage facilities for the contaminated soil in the Fukushima towns of Okuma and Futaba. But less than 1% of the land needed for the facilities has been acquired. The plan is to leave contaminated soil at the interim facilities for a maximum of 30 years before processing it somewhere outside of Fukushima Prefecture.6

Another plan being considered is to recycle the material. The government believes that as radioactive decay reduces the hazard posed by contaminated soil, it will eventually be possible to recycle it as construction material for public works projects. In the coming months the Environment Ministry will begin development of the technology and model projects for recycling contaminated soil.10

Contaminated soil exceeding 8,000 Bq/kg is called ‘designated waste’ under the Law on Special Measures Concerning Contamination by Radioactive Materials. For this waste, the original plan was to build one disposal site in each of five prefectures – Tochigi, Miyagi, Ibaraki, Gunma, and Chiba. But the plans have met opposition and are a long way from being realised.8,11

In Kami, Miyagi Prefecture, residents forcibly blocked Environment Ministry officials from entering a potential storage site. “What is causing our anxiety is that it remains unclear who will take ultimate responsibility in solving this problem and how,” said one local resident.12


About 100,000 people are still living as evacuees as a consequence of the Fukushima disaster, comprising about 82,000 who previously lived in designated evacuation zones, and about 18,000 evacuees who acted on their own initiative and fled from the 23 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture that are outside government-designated evacuation zones.13

According to Japan Times, of the 100,000 evacuees (down from 122,000 in January 2015), 56% moved elsewhere in Fukushima Prefecture and the rest moved beyond the Prefecture. The 100,000 evacuees include those staying in temporary housing facilities or taking shelter at relatives’ houses and other places; the figure does not include those who have bought houses and settled elsewhere or who have settled in public housing for disaster victims.14

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported in January on the payment of compensation to victims of the disaster:13

“Compensation payments to victims of the nuclear disaster, such as evacuees and affected businesses, come out of a 9 trillion yen [US80 billion; €73 billion] treasure chest provided by the government to TEPCO.

“With its management priority placed on its own early recovery from the consequences of the accident, however, the electric utility has been trying to terminate the payments as soon as possible and keep the amounts within the framework set by the guidelines. The company’s compensation policy has been criticized for failing to make the benefit of residents a primary consideration.

“About 10,000 evacuees are involved as plaintiffs in damages suits filed with 21 district courts and branches around the country. This points to the high level of discontent with the compensation payments that have been paid out.”

The government’s evacuation order is still in place for nine Fukushima municipalities, and the government is expected to lift evacuation orders for three of those municipalities in the first half of 2016.15 The government hopes to lift other evacuation orders by March 2017 provided that the annual air dose rate is no greater than 20 mSv/yr11, but concedes that “difficult-to-return zones” will still be subject to evacuation orders beyond then.16

Associated with the lifting of evacuation orders comes the reduction and cessation of housing subsidies. Evacuees have to decide whether to return to their former towns or to rebuild their lives elsewhere; some will have little choice but to return because of their financial situation. Voluntary evacuees will be the first to face the cessation of housing subsidies.17

The Fukushima-related suicide toll continues to rise, with 19 such suicides in Fukushima Prefecture from Jan–Nov 2015. Police determine if a suicide was related to the Fukushima disaster and subsequent evacuation after talking to bereaved family members. As of February 2016, a total of 154 suicides have been linked to the disaster in the three prefectures most heavily hit by the nuclear disaster – Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate.18


1. Yoko Wakatsuki and Elaine Yu, 11 Feb 2016, ‘Japan: Fukushima clean-up may take up to 40 years, plant’s operator says’,

2. Kiyoshi Ando, 19 Feb 2016, ‘Long road ahead for Fukushima cleanup’,

3. 27 March 2015, ‘Japan faces 200-year wait for Fukushima clean-up’,

4. Anna Fifield, 10 Feb 2016, ‘How is Fukushima’s cleanup going five years after its meltdown? Not so well’,

5. Kyodo, 20 Feb 2016, ‘NRA commissioner suggests plan to remove all fuel debris at Fukushima plant may not be best option’,

6. Yu Kotsubo and Yoshitaka Ito, 14 Feb 2016, ‘Little progress made in securing land for interim storage facilities for radioactive soil’,

7. 8 Feb 2016, ‘5,300 tons of radioactive wood waste taken into 5 prefectures besides Shiga’,

8. Kazuhide Sueda, 30 Nov 2015, ‘Selection of disposal sites for radioactive materials from the Fukushima nuclear plant and designation of some areas as candidate sites should be retracted’, Nuke Info Tokyo No. 169,

9. 25 Sept 2015, ‘Radioactive soil bags to be moved to high ground’,

10. 22 Dec 2015, ‘Government estimate: Almost 100 percent of contaminated soil can be recycled’,

11. Yukio Yamaguchi, 2 Feb 2016, ‘Fukushima Daiichi NPS today- 5 years since the disaster began’, Nuke Info Tokyo No. 170,

12. Yusuke Fukudone, 24 Nov 2015, ‘Radioactive waste mounts up as residents resist post-Fukushima disposal plans’,

13. 20 Feb 2016, ‘Editorial: Extent of suffering key to compensating Fukushima evacuees’,

14. 9 Jan 2016, ‘Fukushima nuclear evacuees fall below 100,000’,

15. 2 Jan 2016, ‘100,000 still displaced 5 yrs after nuclear crisis’,

16. 18 Feb 2016, ‘Speakers raise issues haunting Fukushima in finance panel public hearing’,

17. Jun Sato, 8 Feb 2016, ‘‘Voluntary’ Fukushima evacuees denounce end of free housing, new assistance plan’,

18. Mana Nagano, 28 Dec 2015, ‘Suicides rise among Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuees’,

COP that: nuclear lobbyists on the offensive

Jim Green

From Chain Reaction #126, April 2016, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia

The nuclear industry and its supporters were busily promoting nuclear power − and attacking environmentalists − before and during the COP21 UN climate conference in Paris in December. All the usual suspects were promoting nuclear power as a climate-friendly energy source: the World Nuclear Association, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Energy Agency, the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, the U.S. Nuclear Energy Institute, and so on.1

The Breakthrough Institute has been promoting its pro-nuclear “paradigm-shifting advocacy for an ecomodernist future” and arguing against the “reactionary apocalyptic pastoralism” of anyone who disagrees with them.2 In reality the Breakthrough Institute is anything but ‘paradigm shifting’. A glowing endorsement in the right-wing National Review states: “Ecomodernists are pro-fracking. They advocate genetically engineered crops (GMOs) … Most distinctively, the ecomodernists are pro-growth and pro-free markets. “The Kardashians are not the reason Africans are starving,” chides Alex Trembath, a senior researcher at the Breakthrough Institute …”3

Bill Gates was in Paris to announce the formation of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition. Gates was promoting ‘clean energy’ but it seems likely the capital the Coalition attracts will be directed disproportionately to nuclear R&D.4

Robert Stone, director of the Pandora’s Promise pro-nuclear propaganda film5, launched a ‘resource hub’ called Energy For Humanity, promoting “more advanced, mass-producible, passively safe, reactor designs”.6

Rauli Partanen and Janne Korhonen, members of the Finnish Ecomodernist Society, were attacking environmentalists for opposing nuclear power. Rebutting7 a rebuttal8 by Michael Mariotte from Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Partanen and Korhonen offer this gem: “even the much-maligned Olkiluoto 3 nuclear project [in Finland] turns out to be very fast way of adding low-carbon energy production when compared to any real-world combination of alternatives.” A single reactor that will take well over a decade to build (and is three times over budget) is a “very fast way” of adding low-carbon energy? Huh?

Partanen and Korhanan authored a booklet called Climate Gamble: Is Anti-Nuclear Activism Endangering Our Future?, and crowdfunded the printing of 5,000 copies which were distributed for free at the COP21 conference.9

James Hansen and three other climate scientists were in Paris to promote nuclear power. Hansen attacks the “intransigent network of anti-nukes” that has “grown to include ‘Big Green,’ huge groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund and World Wide Fund for Nature. They have trained lawyers, scientists, and media staff ready to denounce any positive news about nuclear power.”10

By way of sharp contrast to ‘Big Green’, the impoverished U.S. nuclear industry could only rustle up US$60 million to lobby Congress and federal agencies in 2013−14.11

So is there an undercurrent of grassroots pro-nuclear environmentalism waiting to burst forth if only their voice could cut through Big Green hegemony? Perhaps Nuclear for Climate12, promoted as a “grassroots organization”1, is the environmental network to take on Big Green? Well, no. Nuclear for Climate isn’t a network of grassroots environmentalists, it’s a network of more than 140 nuclear societies. It isn’t grassroots environmentalism, it’s corporate astroturf. And the list of 140 ‘societies’ includes 36 chapters of the ‘Women in Nuclear’ organisation and 43 chapters of the ‘Young Generation Network’.13 One wonders whether these organisations have any meaningful existence. Does Tanzania, for example, really have a pro-nuclear Young Generation Network?

Nuclear for Climate has a website, a hashtag, a twitter handle and all the modern social media sine qua non. But it has some work to do with its messaging. One of its COP21 memes was: ‘The radioactive waste are not good for the climate? Wrong!’ So radioactive waste is good for the climate?!

Has the nuclear lobby achieved anything?

The nuclear industry’s hopes for the COP21 conference were dashed. Michael Mariotte from the Nuclear Information & Resource Service wrote:14

“The international Don’t Nuke the Climate campaign had two major goals for COP 21: 1) to ensure that any agreement reached would not encourage use of nuclear power and, preferably, to keep any pro-nuclear statement out of the text entirely; and 2) along with the rest of the environmental community, to achieve the strongest possible agreement generally.

“The first goal was certainly met. The word “nuclear” does not appear in the text and there are no incentives whatsoever for use of nuclear power. That was a clear victory. But that is due not only to a global lack of consensus on nuclear power, but to the fact that the document does not specifically endorse or reject any technology (although it does implicitly reject continued sustained use of fossil fuels). Rather, each nation brought its own greenhouse gas reduction plan to the conference. “Details,” for example whether there should be incentives for any particular technology, will be addressed at follow-up meetings over the next few years. So it is imperative that the Don’t Nuke the Climate campaign continue, and grow, and be directly involved at every step of the way − both inside and outside the meetings.

“As for the strongest possible agreement, well, it may have been the “strongest possible” that could be agreed to by 195 nations in 2015. By at least recognizing that the real goal should be limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Centigrade rather than the 2 degrees previously considered by most nations to be the top limit, the final document was stronger than many believed possible going into the negotiations. That said, the environmental community agrees that the agreement doesn’t go far enough and, importantly, that the commitments made to date do not meet even this document’s aspirations.”

There is a strong push from the nuclear lobby for nuclear power to be included in the UN’s Green Climate Fund. This would enable subsidies for nuclear power − subsidies that would come at the expense of renewables and other climate change mitigation programs.

So the nuclear industry didn’t make any gains at COP21, but is it making any progress in its broader efforts to attract public support? It’s hard to say, but there’s no evidence of a shift in public opinion. A 2005 IAEA-commissioned survey of 18 countries found that there was majority opposition to new reactors in all but one of the 18 countries.15 A 2011 IPSOS survey of nearly 19,000 people in 24 countries found 69% opposition to new reactors, and majority opposition to new reactors in all but one of the 24 countries.16

Is the nuclear industry having any success winning over environmentalists? Around the margins, perhaps, but the ranks of ‘pro-nuclear environmentalists’ are very thin. As James Hansen complained in the lead-up to COP21, the Climate Action Network, representing all the major environmental groups, opposes nuclear power. ‘Big Green’ opposes nuclear power, and so does small green. Efforts by nuclear lobbyists to split the environment movement have failed.

And the nuclear lobby certainly isn’t winning where it matters. One of the recurring claims in the pro-nuclear propaganda surrounding COP21 is the claim that renewables can’t be deployed quickly enough whereas nuclear can. But nuclear power has been stagnant for the past 20 years and costs are rising, whereas the growth of renewables has been spectacular ‒ 783 gigawatts of new renewable power capacity were installed in the decade from 2005−201417 and costs are falling.

The nuclear lobby didn’t even win the battle of the celebrities at COP21. James Hansen, Bill Gates and other pro-nuclear celebrities put up a good fight against pro-renewable celebrities such as conservationist David Attenborough. But the pro-renewable celebrities raising their voice during COP21 included Pope Francis … and he’s infallible.


1. Nuclear Energy Institute, 3 Dec 2015, ‘Pro-Nuclear Voices Raised at Paris Climate Talks’,

2. Will Boisvert 18 Sept 2014, ‘The Left vs. the Climate’,

3. Julie Kelly, 2 Dec 2015, ‘A New Breed of American Environmentalists Challenges the Stale Dogma of the Left’,

4. Tina Casey, 3 Dec 2015, ‘COP21 Gets a Spark of Nuclear Energy from Breakthrough Energy Coalition’,

5. ‘Pandora’s Propaganda’, Nuclear Monitor #773, 21 Nov 2013,

‘Pandora’s Promise’ Propaganda, Nuclear Monitor #764, 28 June 2013,


7. Rauli Partanen and Janne M. Korhonen, 2 Dec 2015, ‘Don’t Nuke the Climate: A Response’,

8. Michael Mariotte, 30 Nov 2015, ‘When a campaign strikes a nerve’,


10. Jarret Adams, 26 Nov 2015, ‘No Climate Solution Without Nuclear, Experts Say’,

11. Daniel Stevens, 17 Feb 2015, ‘Platts’ Nuclear Conference Attended by Companies Spending Millions on Lobbying’,



14. Michael Mariotte, 12 Dec 2015, “The Paris Agreement on climate — a good start, but …”,

15. Globescan, 2005, ‘Global Public Opinion on Nuclear Issues and the IAEA: Final report from 18 countries’, prepared for the IAEA,

16. IPSOS, June 2011, ‘Global Citizen Reaction to the Fukushima Nuclear Plant Disaster’,

17. Greenpeace International, September 2015, ‘Energy [R]evolution: A sustainable world energy outlook 2015’,

Nuclear waste nightmares: USA, Germany, France

From Chain Reaction #126, April 2016, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia

On Valentine’s Day 2014, a drum of packaged waste from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) ruptured 2,150 feet (655 metres) underground in New Mexico’s nuclear waste repository known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) which is carved from ancient salt beds. The incident was described as a heat-generating chemical reaction – the US Department of Energy (DOE) called it a deflagration rather than an explosion.

Explosion or not, the chemical reaction compromised the integrity of a barrel and spread contaminants through more than 3,000 feet of tunnels, up the exhaust shaft, into the environment, and to air monitoring equipment approximately 3,000 feet north-west of the exhaust shaft. The accident resulted in 21 workers receiving low-level internal radiation exposure.

It later transpired that LANL had improperly packaged hundreds of waste drums with a combustible mix of nitrate salts – a byproduct of nuclear weapons production – and organic cat litter, causing a hot reaction in one drum that cracked the lid. The rupture released americium and plutonium into the deep salt mine and, in small amounts, into the environment.1 The repository is still closed two years later, and a March 2016 date for re-opening has been pushed back to later this year.

“These accidents during the first 15 years of operation really illustrate the challenge of predicting the behavior of the repository over 10,000 years,” said Rod Ewing, the Frank Stanton Professor in Nuclear Security at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation.

The Stanford experts also suggest more attention should be paid to how the buried materials may interact with each other, particularly with salty brine, over centuries. A single storage drum may contain a variety of materials, such as lab coats, gloves and laboratory instruments; thus, the chemistry is complex. Ewing said that the complacency that led to the accidents at WIPP can also occur in the safety analysis. Therefore, he advises, it is important to carefully review the safety analysis as new proposals for more plutonium disposal are considered.2

Asse, Germany

Now, 500 metres beneath the forests of northern Germany, in an old salt mine, another nightmare is playing out, according to Fred Pearce in the New Scientist. Enough plutonium bearing radioactive waste is stored here to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools. When engineers backfilled the chambers containing 126,000 drums in the 1970s, they thought they had put it out of harm’s way forever.

But now, the walls of the Asse mine are collapsing and cracks forming, thanks to pressure from surrounding rocks. So the race is on to dig it all up before radioactive residues are flushed to the surface. It could take decades to resolve. In the meantime, excavations needed to extract the drums could cause new collapses and make the problem worse.3

Some 300,000 cubic metres of low and intermediate-level waste, including the waste dug from the Asse mine, is earmarked for final burial at the Konrad iron mine in Lower Saxony. But Germany still has no plan for dealing with high-level waste and spent fuel. Later this year, a Final Storage Commission of politicians and scientists will advise on criteria for choosing a site where deep burial or long-term storage should be under way by 2050.

But its own chairman, veteran parliamentarian Michael Muller, says that timetable is unlikely to be met. “We all believe deep geology is the best option, but I’m not sure if there is enough [public] trust to get the job done,” he says. Many anti-nuclear groups are boycotting the Commission. The problems at the Asse salt mine have led to further distrust of engineers and their solutions.

The problems at Asse became public knowledge in 2008. Despite hurried backfilling of much of the mine, the degradation continues. Brine seeps in at a rate of around 12,000 litres a day, threatening to flush radioactive material to the surface. In 2011, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) ruled that the waste had to be removed. But this is likely to take decades.

Just checking the state of the 13 chambers holding the waste drums is painfully slow. Engineers drilling to reach them through 20 metres of rock don’t know whether the drums have leaked, and of course they cannot risk a release of radioactivity. And unless care is taken to keep clear of the geological barrier, the excavations risk allowing more water in, and flooding of the mine can’t be ruled out.

Nothing will be moved until at least 2033. Meanwhile the bill keeps rising. It costs €140 million a year just to keep the mine safe for work to continue. The final bill will run into many billions. Is it worth it? Many experts fear that digging up the drums, with consequent risks of radioactive leaks, could create a much greater hazard than leaving them where they are.

Tunnel collapse and fatality at French repository site

Meanwhile one worker has been killed and another injured in a tunnel collapse at France’s planned nuclear waste repository at Bure, in north-eastern France. According to French waste management agency Andra, geophysical surveys were being carried out at the time of the collapse and the rockfall is believed to have happened as drilling was taking place. Scheduled for an authorization decree in 2018 and industrial commissioning in 2025, the facility – if approved – is expected to bury France’s highly-radioactive nuclear waste.4

Reprinted from nuClear news with minor editing. nuClear news, No.82, February 2016,

1. Albuquerque Journal, 19 October 2015,
2. Stanford News, 15 Jan 2016,
011516.html and Nature 13 Jan 2016,
3. New Scientist, 29 Jan 2016,
4. Cumbria Trust, 27 Jan 2016,
WNN, 26 Jan 2016, ‘Fatal rockfall at planned French repository site’,