ABORIGINES in South Australia are fighting a plan to ship nuclear waste from Scotland amid fears it will be dumped on land regarded as culturally and spiritually sacred.
Wallerberdina, around 280 miles north of Adelaide, has been earmarked as a possible location for Australia’s first nuclear waste dump despite claims that it is a priceless heritage site rich in archaeological treasures including burial mounds, fossilised bones and stone tools.
Some have claimed the impact would be similar to “building a waste dump at the heart of the Vatican”.
Now campaigners have appealed to the Scottish Government to halt controversial plans to ship nuclear waste processed at Dounreay in Caithness to Australia, amid concerns that it will eventually end up on the culturally sensitive land.
The waste transfer is part of a deal with saw spent fuel from nuclear reactors in Australia, Belgium, Germany and Italy processed at Dounreay – the nuclear facility in Caithness currently being decommissioned – to enable it to be safely stored after being returned to its country of origin.
The UK government has previously confirmed that “a very small quantity of Australian-owned radioactive waste” is currently stored in the country.
Scottish Government policy allows for the substitution of nuclear waste with a “radiologically equivalent” amount of materials from Sellafield in Cumbria.
The Herald understands that a shipment of such material is due to take place by 2020.
While the waste will be initially stored at a facility near Sydney, concern is growing that it could end up at Wallerberdina, one of two areas under consideration as a nuclear waste dump site.
As well as sparking anger over the site’s cultural and sacred connections, the proposed location has angered local people who still recall British atomic bomb tests in the area in the 1950s without permission from the affected Aboriginal groups.
Thousands were adversely affected with many Aboriginal people left suffering from radiological poisoning
Gary Cushway, a dual Australian/British citizen living in Glasgow, has now written to the First Minister asking that the Scottish Government review the agreement to transfer the material “until a satisfactory final destination for the waste is finalised by the Australian Government.”
He argues that doing so would allow the government to “take the lead in mitigating mistakes of the past that the UK government has made in regards to indigenous Australians.”
The proposed dump site is next to an Indigenous Protected Area where Aborigines are still allowed to hunt, and is part of the traditional home of the Adnyamathanha people, one of several hundred indigenous groups in Australia.
It is currently a cattle ranch and is part-owned by the director of the country’s Liberal Party. The Australian government’s move to shortlist it as a potential nuclear waste dump site last year led to condemnation from the Aboriginal Congress of South Australia and the local indigenous community who described the decision as “cultural genocide”.
Regina McKenzie, an indigenous woman from the Adnyamathanah community who lives on land adjacent to Wallerberdina, told The Herald: “We here the Adnyamathanah people say no to any waste on our traditional land. No consent was sought by the federal government here in Australia. Our rights as first nation people have been ignored.
“I hope Scotland, who knows quite well what colonisation does to traditional peoples’ rights, would see the struggle of my people who are trying to hold onto our cultural beliefs.”
She has previously suggested the waste dump was “like me and my sisters going to the Vatican and saying we want to put a waste dump right under the pillar where they say St Peter is buried.”
Friends of the Earth Australia say they share concerns that the material due to be transferred could end up being stored in a facility at Wallerberdina against the wishes of local indigenous people. They encouraged those involved “to acknowledge that it is highly problematic that there is a real likelihood of the waste being foisted on an Aboriginal community that wants nothing to do with it.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We recognise that the management of nuclear waste must take full account of human rights and equality obligations. That includes the importance of ensuring that security and waste management arrangements protect public safety and avoid harmful environmental impacts.
“Any concerns expressed by indigenous peoples must be addressed in full and action taken, to ensure that vulnerable communities do not suffer future adverse impacts.”