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Lidia Thorpe warns new laws will turn Australia into "the world's nuclear waste dump"

Giovanni Torre -

Senator Lidia Thorpe has warned new legislation to regulate nuclear safety of activities relating to AUKUS submarines has left Australia open to becoming "the world's nuclear waste dump".

Under the AUKUS deal, the federal government agreed to manage nuclear waste from Australian submarines, but under legislation to be introduced in June, Australia could be set to take nuclear waste from UK and US submarines also, Senator Thorpe warned.

The Gunnai, Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung independent senator for Victoria called on the government to urgently amend the bill to prohibit high-level nuclear waste from being stored in Australia, a call she said is backed by experts in the field and addresses one of the major concerns raised during the inquiry into the bill.

"This legislation should be setting off alarm bells, it could mean that Australia becomes the world's nuclear waste dump," Senator Thorpe said on Monday.

"The government claims it has no intention to take AUKUS nuclear waste beyond that of Australian submarines, so they should have no reason not to close this loophole.

"Unless they amend this bill, how can we know they're being honest? They also need to stop future governments from deciding otherwise. We can't risk our future generations with this."

In March, Senator Thorpe questioned Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong about the long-term cost from storage of nuclear waste, and whether Australia would take on foreign nuclear waste under the AUKUS deal. The minister responded that this cost is not included in the current $368 billion estimated for AUKUS, and she could not confirm that foreign waste would not be stored in Australia.

Senator Thorpe noted that the US Environmental Protection Agency warns high-level nuclear waste remains dangerous for at least 10,000 years; managing the risk posed by the decommissioned fuel rods from the AUKUS submarines would require storage and management that is future-proof, something that has proven challenging even in countries with advanced nuclear industries.

She also pointed out on Monday that the bill has also been criticised for lack of transparency and accountability; and allows the Minister of Defense to bypass public consultation and override federal and state laws to determine sites for the construction and operation of nuclear submarines, and the disposal of submarine nuclear waste.

Senator Thorpe said there are serious concerns about a lack of community consultation and the risk of violating First Peoples right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

Historically, governments have tried to push the storage of radioactive waste on remote First Nations communities, with successful campaigns in Coober Pedy, Woomera, Muckaty, Yappala in the Flinders Ranges and Kimba fighting off these attempts.

"We've seen how far the major parties will go to ingratiate themselves with the US. Labor must amend this bill to prove they're putting the interests of our country first," Senator Thorpe said.

"And they need to change the powers that allow the Minister and the Department to choose any place they like for nuclear waste facilities with no oversight or community consultation.

"That's complete overreach and will undermine First Peoples rights for Free, Prior and Informed Consent under the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."

The senator said "time and again" governments have attempted to turn remote communities into nuclear waste dumps, with the risks from nuclear waste always being put on First Peoples.

"I'm concerned that this time it will be no different," she said.

"The Bill allows the government to contract out liability for nuclear safety compliance, includes no emergency preparedness or response mechanisms, no consideration of nuclear safety guidelines from the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency and leaves many other questions on nuclear safety unanswered."

"This Bill fails to set out a nuclear safety framework for the AUKUS submarines and instead focuses on defence objectives, while sidestepping safety, transparency and accountability. It's a negligent and reckless bill that should not pass the Senate."


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