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The Australian government is no longer looking to site a national low and intermediate-level radioactive waste facility in Napandee near Kimba in South Australia. It said it will not appeal a Federal Court decision to dismiss a 2021 declaration naming Napandee the proposed site for the facility.

The Napandee nominated site (Image: Australian Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources)

Following a call for site nominations in 2015, Napandee was voluntarily nominated in 2017 by its landowner as a possible site to host the facility. In September 2020, an Australian Senate committee recommended that Parliament pass legislation that would make Napandee the preferred site for the facility.

In November 2021, following a number of years of consultation, then Minister for Resources Keith Pitt declared Napandee as the location of the facility. Under the relevant legislation, the declaration had the effect of the Commonwealth acquiring about 211 hectares of land for the purpose of hosting the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF).

However, the area's traditional landowners, the Barngarla people, argued they were not properly consulted by the former coalition government about the decision to select the site and sought judicial review of the 2021 declaration.

On 18 July, Federal Court Justice Natalie Charlesworth ruled in their favour, setting aside the declaration because the court found 'apprehended bias' present in the decision of the then minister.

Speaking in parliament, present Minister for Resources Madeleine King declared: "I do not intend to appeal the judge's finding of apprehended bias. I have reached an agreement with the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation on costs, and I hope that we will also come to an agreed approach to orders relating to the date of application of the judge's decision in coming days, for the court's consideration, in due course.

"We have said all along that a national radioactive waste facility requires broad community support," she added. "Broad community support which includes the whole community, including the traditional owners of the land. This is not the case at Kimba."

King said the government does not intend to pursue Napandee as a potential site for the facility, nor Lyndhurst and Wallerberdina which were previously shortlisted sites.

"My department has begun work on alternative proposals for the storage and disposal of the Commonwealth's civilian low-level and intermediate-level radioactive waste," she noted.

Australia does not produce nuclear energy but has a long experience of operating research reactors and producing radioisotopes for use in medicine, research and industry.

According to King, citing figures from the most recent national inventory conducted in 2021, Australia has 13,287 cubic metres of low-level radioactive waste and 4377 cubic metres of intermediate-level radioactive waste. This waste is currently stored at over a hundred sites around the country, including science facilities, hospitals and universities.

"We want to reassure the Australian community that ANSTO will take the necessary steps to ensure we have sufficient storage capacity for our radioactive waste until a purpose-built facility is established," the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation said. "This means we can and will continue to operate, including the production and supply of nuclear medicines at our Lucas Heights campus. We will maintain our support for the Australian Radioactive Waste Agency (ARWA) in its work to progress establishment of a national waste facility."

ARWA was set up in July 2020 to manage all Australia's radioactive waste and to lead the process to deliver the NRWMF. It will also lead a separate process to site a facility to permanently dispose of the country's intermediate-level waste. This will likely be a deep geological facility in a different location.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News

Date: Saturday, 12 August 2023
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