Aborigines volunteer land for nuclear waste

The latest twist in the saga of what Australia's federal government might do with its nuclear waste sees aboriginal people offering a piece of land in the Northern Territories for the job.

Although blessed with uranium deposits which fuel reactors the world over, Australia is not itself a major nuclear player, having a handful of small reactors for research purposes but no large power stations.

Nevertheless, the question of how to dispose of the waste from these research facilities along with that from industrial and medical sources has been a major headache for central government, as authorities in states deemed to have a suitable geology have balked at the idea of becoming a nuclear depository for the entire country, rejecting arguments that is it for the greater good.

But now the aboriginal Ngapa clan has proposed a 1.5 sq km site, part of its 200sq km holding near Muckaty Station, roughly half way between Alice Springs and Darwin in the Northern Territories.

If given the go ahead, the site could be used to store both low-level nuclear waste such as contaminated soil and lab equipment and intermediate level waste including that from hospital radiotherapy departments and Australia’s reactors.

The plan is likely to be opposed by state government, but the site’s unusual legal status as a clan holding might muddy the waters and raise politically unwelcome questions about native Australians’ rights to determine how their land is used.

The Ngapa clan numbers about 60 people and if the proposals are pushed through, it will lease the land to the Australian government for 200 years.

In return the clan would receive A$1m (£416,000) to invest in improving education and training opportunities and a further A$11m (£4.58m) to establish a charitable trust for its benefit.

Sam Bond

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