Civil Society faces imposition of an AUKUS military High Level nuclear waste dump

by David Noonan, Independent Environment Campaigner

The Federal ALP belatedly disclosed a secret pre-condition in AUKUS plans to buy existing US nuclear submarines: for Australia to keep the US subs military High Level nuclear waste forever.

In a breach of trust the ALP is seeking to ‘normalise’ High Level nuclear waste in Australia. Claims of ‘nuclear stewardship’ in taking on US nuclear subs and in retaining the US sub wastes are a farce. Disposal of High Level nuclear waste is globally unprecedented, with our AUKUS ‘partners’ the US and UK having proven unable to do so in over 60 years since first putting nuclear submarines to sea.

New military Agencies are being set up with an ‘Australian Submarine Agency’ (ASA) set up to: “enable the necessary policy, legal, non-proliferation, workforce, security and safety arrangements”.

A new military nuclear regulator, the statutory ‘Australian Nuclear-Powered Submarine Safety Regulator’ is to be established. Both Agencies will report directly to the Minister for Defence.

An array of federal legislation is required to manage nuclear submarines, supporting infrastructure and facilities, from acquisition through to disposal. The Reforming Defence Legislation Review proposes to take on Defence Act powers to override State and Territory legislation to ‘provide certainty’ to Defence roles, operations and facilities.

Minister for Defence Richard Marles MP has stated there will be ‘an announcement’ by early 2024 on a process to manage High Level nuclear waste and to site a waste disposal facility, saying “obviously that facility will be remote from populations” (ABC News, 15 March 2023).

Defence is already working to identify potential nuclear waste disposal sites. Political leaders in WA, Queensland and Victoria have rejected a High Level nuclear waste disposal site. The SA Labor Premier has so far only said it should go to a safe ‘remote’ location in the national interest.

AUKUS compromises public confidence in government and sets up a serious clash with civil society.

Defence needs to be transparent and accountable about the AUKUS policy, rights issues, and the proposed nuclear waste dump process. They must respect the rights of Indigenous peoples to give their consent before storing hazardous materials on their lands.

We need to know if the SA Nuclear Waste Storage (Prohibition) Act will be overridden to impose a dump on unwilling communities. The public should have the right to refuse nuclear waste. The ALP opposes importing and storing overseas waste. The Bargarla People won a court case against the bias decision on the Kimba dump.

The Woomera rocket range is reported as the favored location for the submarine waste. ANSTO nuclear fuel waste can be stored securely at Lucas Heights for years. Traditional owners should have the right to refuse nuclear waste. The UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples’ rights should be respected.

The Woomera Protected Area has been discussed as a site for a nuclear waste facility. Storing nuclear waste threatens the safety and well-being of the people of South Australia, which is why it is prohibited under the SA Nuclear Waste Storage (Prohibition) Act 2000. The act aims to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the people and the environment.

  • Defence are already ignoring Aboriginal Heritage law and contravening protections in SA, see “Defence bombing Indigenous site in Woomera” (May 2023). Defence is now further ‘angling for exemption from State laws it admits serve important public purposes’.
  • The SA Premier is yet to say if he will support an Indigenous right to Say No to an AUKUS dump in SA. South Australians have a democratic right to decide their own future and to reject an AUKUS dump.
  • Full article (pdf)