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Australia: Nuclear dump move's Sydney fallout

Abandoning plans for a national radioactive waste dump could prevent a new nuclear reactor from being built at Lucas Heights in Sydney, federal Labor said today.

The federal government has dropped plans to store radioactive waste in the South Australian desert and will require state governments to look after their own radioactive waste.

Finance Minister Nick Minchin said the commonwealth would store its own radioactive waste in purpose built facilities on commonwealth-owned land.

But Senator Kim Carr, Labor's science spokesman, said the lack of a national repository could lead to nuclear regulators refusing to issue a licence for a replacement reactor at the Lucas Heights facility.

"What's being said by the regulator is that without a national strategy for dealing with radioactive waste there won't be a new licence issued," he told ABC Radio.

"Not only has the government's incompetence put a position where 12 years of work now has to be put aside, but the reactor, the new reactor at Lucas Heights is also at risk."

Senator Carr said Australia still needed a national radioactive storage facility but it should only be built with the consent of local communities.

"We're saying there has to be a process of genuine consultation, we work with local governments, we provide infrastructure and jobs and we believe that there are opportunities there that some local government areas are actually interested in taking up," he said.

Senator Carr said it was farcical for the government to suggest eight waste facilities be built instead of one.

"There's waste that's being stored around the country in filing cabinets, in hospital basements and a whole lot of other places that needs to be dealt with," he said.

"It has to go somewhere, 90 per cent of that waste is commonwealth waste.

"It is a complete farce for this government now to say instead of one waste dump, we need have eight."

Editorial Notes: The waste dump was being proposed for an 'out-of-sight-out-of-mind' location in the South Australian desert. However, the region was not out of sight to some of the indigenous survivors of 1950s British nuclear testing. The Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, Senior Aboriginal Women from Coober Pedy, many of whom remembered the black cloud of the Totem 1 nuclear bomb which poisoned them and contaminated alarming large areas of the Australian outback back in 1954, rigorously opposed the dump and the whole nuclear industry, overcoming their age and health problems and a disconnection from mainstream avenues of discourse, they maintained a powerful presence in the debate though their campaign "Irati Wanti: The Poison, Leave It." Their proposal to the federal government was "put it in Canberra with you. You look after it." The dump was seen by many as the thin end of the wedge for future proposals to except high level nuclear waste from around the world, as earlier politicians had outlined. Note that the Lucas Heights reactor is for 'research' and 'medicinal' purposes rather than power generation.

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