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South Australia: court moves against Federal plans for a nuclear waste dump at Woomera.

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Thursday 24 June 2004

South Australia: court moves against Federal plans for a nuclear waste dump at Woomera


MARK COLVIN: Despite a big legal setback, the Federal Governme nt is not giving up its fight with South Australia to dump low-level nuclear waste in the state's north. 


And it's looking increasingly likely the case will go on appeal to the High Court. 


In a unanimous decision, the full bench of the Federal Court in South Australia this morning found against the Federal Government's compulsory purchase of the land at Woomera. 


The Court said it was in breach of Commonwealth law, and that it had denied the State Government procedural fairness. 


Tanya Nolan reports 



TANYA NOLAN: Federal Science Minister Peter McGauran has described the attempts by the South Australian Government to stop the national low-level nuclear waste dump from going ahead as ideologically insane and a waste of taxpayers' money. 


But this is Premier Mike Rann's favourite  


MIKE RANN: He also called me Daffy Duck. Well I guess Daffy Duck has won. 


TANYA NOLAN: What he's won is the right to retain land at Woomera in the state' s far north, which the Federal Government had acquired under the Lands Act. 


The Commonwealth decided to override Section 42 of that act to take ownership of the land when the South Australian Government tried to thwart the dump and propose legislation, declaring it a public park. 


But in their unanimous ruling this morning, the full bench of the Federal Court found that the Commonwealth had acted unlawfully. 


And that decision has only sought to refine Peter McGauran's animosity towards Premier Mike Rann. 


PETER MCGAURAN: At one stage he was running around, preening himself, drawing himself up to his full height and declaring with a concocted morality that he had the, the upper hand. 


So quite frankly I do see with his frenetic activity similarities to that cartoon character.  


TANYA NOLAN: It's taken more than a decade to locate a suitable site for the nuclear dump, and the Federal Government is not about to give it up. 


PETER MCGAURAN: After 11 years and millions and millions of dollars spent in selecting the very best sight, the safest, the most secure, then it is a nonsense to pretend there is any other site that's better.  


TANYA NOLAN: It's highly likely the Federal Government will go to the High Court to appeal against the Federal Court's ruling but it says it will also consider repealing section 42 of the Lands Act. Mr McGauran says there are other options, but he's not about to give his state opponents, any clues. 


Whatever action the Federal Government takes, it still faces the umpire's decision on whether the dump can even go ahead. 


And the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency or ARPANSA, which is responsible for issuing operating licences, is yet to be convinced of the site's safety and integrity.  


Earlier this year, a report by an international panel of scientific experts found weaknesses in the government's application for the dumpsite, and said more work needed to be done to assess faults and fractures in the earth, and to determine the risks of ground water being contaminated. 


And ARPANSA's CEO, John Loy, says clearer evidence needs to be provided. 


But the impasse also raises questions about the future of the replacement reactor currently being built at Lucas Heights in Sydney, as Shadow Minister for Science Kim Carr points out 


KIM CARR: It brings up very serious issues about the future of Lucas Heights facility because the regulator, the independent regulator has said that they will not be issuing out a license until there is a clear and viable strategy for the disposal of nuclear waste.  


We don’t have that in this country at the moment. The Government's approach has been found to be completely flawed. What is needed now is a proper process to actually engage people to ensure that there is opportunity for genuine community consultation.  


TANYA NOLAN: When and if the issue of the low-level waste dump is resolved, there is still another nuclear headache looming. 


Medium level waste from Lucas Heights, which is being sent to France for reprocessing, is due to be returned to Australia for storage within the next decade and so far, the Federal Government has given away no clues about where it may be dumped. 


But there is one place Science Minister Peter McGauran was quick to rule out. 


PETER MCGAURAN: We've ruled out South Australia but every other state and territory is possibly under consideration.  


TANYA NOLAN: Do you think you will go about the consultation process a little more diplomatically in hindsight? 


PETER MCGAURAN: Oh, we've been very diplomatic but in the face of a deliberate and concerted political campaign then the issues get muddied.  


MARK COLVIN: The Federal Science Minister, Peter McGauran, talking to Tanya Nolan.