Aboriginal people and the botched cleanup of Maralinga nuclear bomb tests site

Radioactive waste and the nuclear war on Australia’s Aboriginal people, Ecologist Jim Green 1st July 2016  “……..The 1998-2004 debate over nuclear waste dumping in South Australia overlapped with a controversy over a botched clean-up of the Maralinga nuclear weapons test site in the same state.

The British government conducted 12 nuclear bomb tests in Australia in the 1950s, most of them at Maralinga. The 1985 Royal Commission found that regard for Aboriginal safety during the weapons tests was characterised by “ignorance, incompetence and cynicism”.

The Australian government’s clean-up of Maralinga in the late 1990s was just as bad. It was done on the cheap and many tonnes of plutonium-contaminated waste remain buried in shallow, unlined pits in totally unsuitable geology.

Nuclear engineer and whistleblower Alan Parkinson said of the clean-up: “What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land.”

Dr Geoff Williams, an officer with the Commonwealth nuclear regulator, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, said in a leaked email that the clean-up was beset by a “host of indiscretions, short-cuts and cover-ups”.

Nuclear physicist Prof. Peter Johnston noted that there were “very large expenditures and significant hazards resulting from the deficient management of the project”.

Prof. Johnston (and others) noted in a conference paper that Traditional Owners were excluded from any meaningful input into decision-making concerning the clean-up. Traditional Owners were represented on a consultative committee but key decisions – such as abandoning vitrification of plutonium-contaminated waste in favour of shallow burial in unlined trenches – were taken without consultation with the consultative committee or any separate discussions with Traditional Owners.

Federal government minister Senator Nick Minchin said in a May 2000 media release that the Maralinga Tjarutja Traditional Owners “have agreed that deep burial of plutonium is a safe way of handling this waste.” But the burial of plutonium-contaminated waste was not deep and the Maralinga Tjarutja Traditional Owners did not agree to waste burial in unlined trenches – in fact they wrote to the Minister explicitly dissociating themselves from the decision.

Barely a decade after the Maralinga clean-up, a survey revealed that 19 of the 85 contaminated waste pits have been subject to erosion or subsidence.

Despite the residual radioactive contamination, the Australian government off-loaded responsibility for the contaminated land onto the Maralinga Tjarutja Traditional Owners. The government portrayed this land transfer as an act of reconciliation. But it wasn’t an act of reconciliation – it was deeply cynical. The real agenda was spelt out in a 1996 government document which said that the clean-up was “aimed at reducing Commonwealth liability arising from residual contamination.”……http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2987853/radioactive_waste_and_the_nuclear_war_on_australias_aboriginal_people.html

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