‘The most divisive thing’: two small towns brace for a vote on nuclear waste via The Guardian

Calla Wahlquist

Whatever the result, the communities on South Australia’s Eyre peninsula are split over the issue – and will be for some time

After four years of speculation and three years of consultation, the small towns of Kimba and Hawker in South Australia have begun the final stage of a process that has divided neighbours and placed these otherwise forgotten communities on the national map.

On 7 November, the Kimba district council will announce the result of a month-long vote on whether its residents support the construction of a nuclear waste facility at one of two proposed sites. On 11 November a similar vote will open for the Flinders Ranges council over a third proposed site at Wallerberdina.

The search for a suitable site has taken more than 30 years. If one or both of the communities vote yes, the resources minister, senator Matt Canavan, could name the final site by the end of the year.


What is proposed?
The proposed Wallerberdina site is on rangelands (used for grazing), occupying a 100 hectare slice of the 23,580ha station owned by former Liberal senator Grant Chapman, who sat on nuclear waste committees in his 28 years in parliament.

Both of the proposed sites at Kimba are on farming country, prompting a grassroots campaign against the use of agricultural land to dump nuclear waste.


The proposed facility would provide for the disposal of low-level nuclear waste and the temporary storage — for how long it’s not clear — of intermediate-level nuclear waste.


t says there’s about 1,771 cubic metres of intermediate-level waste and 4,975 cubic metres of low-level waste at 100 sites across Australia, including the Lucas Heights reactor, and those volumes are expected to rise incrementally over time.
There are 45 jobs promised as part of the facility and the host community will also receive $31m in federal funding, including $20m for community projects and $3m designated for Indigenous groups.


Regina McKenzie, an Adnyamathanha traditional owner who lives on a station adjoining Wallerberdina, says federal contractors damaged a cultural women’s site while conducting their cultural heritage survey. Atla was working with the station owner to catalogue the archeological and intangible heritage before the site was volunteered for a nuclear facility, but say they have since been left out.

“The government has been talking at us, they have not been talking with us,” she says.

The Barngarla lost a federal court challenge arguing that all registered native title holders should be eligible to vote in the community ballot, whether they are local residents or not, and are appealing that decision to the full court. An attempted injunction to stop the community ballot going ahead until that appeal was heard was unsuccessful.
Towns divided


In Kimba, mayor Dean Johnson, who runs the local IGA, says the prospect of $20m in funding is “obviously pretty exciting.”

“The benefits that could come from this facility are for the entire community and I would like to think that 99% of our town have thought of this from a whole of community point of view,” Johnson says.


Greg Bannon, a spokesman for the Flinders Local Action Group, has been opposed to the project since Wallerberdina was named as one of six shortlisted sites in November 2015 (the site was named Barndioota at the time). He knows the area well from working as a jackeroo. It’s typically very dry but has been known to flood, and abuts the Flinders Ranges, the most seismically active area of SA.

“I thought: this cannot be the right place, it must be a mistake,” Bannon said.

The risks posed by floods, groundwater and possible seismic activity at the Wallerberdina site are disputed by the department, which says they are either negligible or manageable.

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