Maralinga could be flagged as nuclear dump site, opponent says in wake of SA royal commission

 Nuclear weapons test at Maralinga
Nuclear weapons were tested by the British at Maralinga in the 1950s. (ABC News)

Wendy Glamocak ABC News 2 March 2015

Less than four months after land used for nuclear testing in the 1950s was officially handed back to its traditional owners in full, nuclear is back on the agenda at Maralinga in South Australia.

Most of Maralinga's 103,000 square kilometre lands were handed back to the Maralinga-Tjuarutja people in the 1980s, and in 2009, a 3,000 square kilometre site known as Section 400 that had been heavily contaminated by radiation and hazardous chemicals, was also handed back.

In November last year, the Defence Department officially gave the Maralinga-Tjarutja full control and unrestricted access to the lands.

Those connected to the land are worried that a new Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission announced recently by Premier Jay Weatherill will see the land flagged as a potential site for a nuclear waste dump.

Karina Lester is the daughter of Yammi Lester, a man who said he was blinded by atomic tests on the site half a century ago.

She said her grandmother was part of the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, a council of senior Aboriginal women from northern SA who fought against the Howard Government's plans in 1988 to build a national radioactive waste dump near Woomera.

The obvious things that the board and the broader Maralinga-Tjarutja community would need to take on board would be to look at credible and reliable scientific information around the subject.

After strong opposition from the local community, and from former SA premier Mike Rann, who won a High Court challenge against the proposal, the plan was abandoned in 2004.

Ms Lester said many custodians of the land were worried that the royal commission set up by Mr Weatherill meant they would soon have another fight on their hands.

"You know you feel gutted when they want to bring the nuke agenda back on," she said.

"The place has already been contaminated.

"Traditional owners are trying to move on from what happened back in the '50s, but to perhaps propose that it's a site for the waste, I think, is just another kick in the guts to the traditional owners up there at Maralinga-Tjaratja.

"Enough's enough."

Language difficulties could 'stand in the way'

Ms Lester said many traditional owners will want to make a submission to the royal commission but she was worried language difficulties would stand in their way.

Former nuclear testing site returned to Maralinga community
Federal MPs hand over land to Maralinga-Tjarutja chairman Keith Peters at an official ceremony last year.
(ABC News: Nicola Gage)

She wanted the SA Government to make sure that the voices of the traditional owners of Maralinga were heard.

The Premier's office did not respond to ABC questions on Ms Lester's concerns.

The administrative managers of the Maralinga lands said there was insufficient information to decide whether or not to support a nuclear waste dump in the area.

Maralinga-Tjarutja general manager Peter Clark said representatives from his organisation had met the director of the company behind one such proposal, South Australian Nuclear Energy Systems (SANES).

"Our board has informed [SANES director] Bruce Hundertmark that they'll be making no decisions moving forward until they consider a whole range of other issues," Mr Clark said.

"The obvious things that the board and the broader Maralinga-Tjarutja community would need to take on board would be to look at credible and reliable scientific information around the subject."

Mr Clark said some broad-ranging consultations with the larger community and other traditional owners and affected people would need to be held on the issue.

Labor Member for Giles Eddie Hughes said the suggestion of a dump at Maralinga as part of a nuclear power generation plan for the state was unacceptable.

The royal commission is expected to run for about one year.