Interview with Emma Pedler, ABC Radio Eyre Peninsula

Emma Pedler
Declaration of site for Radioactive Waste Facility at Napandee, SA

EMMA PEDLER:    As we've heard in news today, the Federal Government has taken another step forward with its plan to build a national radioactive waste management facility. Federal Resources and Water Minister Keith Pitt today announced that the Government has a spot for the facility to be built. They've acquired more than 200 hectares of land at Napandee near Kimba on Eyre Peninsula. Mr Pitt, good morning.

KEITH PITT:    Good morning to you and good morning to your listeners.

EMMA PEDLER:    You announced the intention to establish the facility at Napandee back in August. This new formal declaration, how does that progress things?

KEITH PITT:    So, the intentions are clear, provides a 60-day period for those with rights and interests to put forward their views, and I've considered those pieces of correspondence and everything else has come in to us. And this is still the right decision at the right site. It's certainly got all of the right geological requirements. We have support from the local community or a majority support from the local community. And we should never forget that this has taken 40 years, and my understanding, some 16 ministers. But fundamentally, for the local community of Kimba, it's been over six years of consultation. They're the most informed community in the country.

EMMA PEDLER:    Some Barngala traditional owners have said they do not want the facility on this land. What consideration was given to their concerns?

KEITH PITT:    Well, I've met with Barngala people twice, and my predecessor has done a lot of work as well in terms of portfolio, and as I've said, this has taken six years. There has been opportunities to work with the department. We've had submissions put forward from BDAC, from the Barngala people as well. And of course, we consider what their issues and concerns are. The site itself doesn't have any native title. There are- there is native title in some of the surrounding areas. So of course, we'll work through the normal processes as we proceed.

EMMA PEDLER:    The Barngala - Determination Aboriginal Corporation, as you said, BDAC, they said back in August that if you declared Napandee as a site that it was going to bring a judicial review, what will that mean for your plans?

KEITH PITT:    Well, I mean, that's a matter for them. My decisions are based around the national interest, what's required for all of the Australian people. And we've had advice recently from ANSTO that every single Australian will utilise nuclear medicine in their lifetime. Now, if we are going to use this technology, it produces low level radioactive waste and we have to deal with it and store with it. This is the best option on the table. This process has been a six-year iteration and we've worked quite closely with the community and all interested stakeholders. But it's the right decision and we need to get on with it now. This is a facility that will last for more than 100 years and it's important for the country.

EMMA PEDLER:    Like you said, it's been- you know, being discussed for a very long time through a number of different ministers - ministers. How confident are you being in this position now that this decision has all been made properly?

KEITH PITT:    Well, I'll issue a statement of reasons for decision and they outlined very clearly why I've made the decision that I have. As I've said, there's been that final 60-day consultation process and you know, all Australians have the opportunity for a right for review. That's just how our processes work in terms of the Federal Parliament. But this is an important, a very important piece of infrastructure. It's in the interest of all Australians that we do get this finalised and built, and we want to utilise that very advanced technology that comes through for nuclear medicine because it saves people's lives from cancer.

EMMA PEDLER:    So, what happens now? When will designs be finalised? When will construction start?

KEITH PITT:    Well, as you can imagine, there's quite a lot of regulatory work to go through with all of the different regulators. We'll start working now with ARWA, the Australian Radioactive Waste Agency, and they'll start to gear up and tool up to look at designs, to look at all the processes and procedures that are required for regulation, further consultation and of course, the design of the facility. But this is an important step in terms of identifying and acquiring the site, and they will go through all of the normal processes that are required. And, you know, this is a unique facility. This is the first time we've looked to build one of these in the country outside of what's at Lucas Heights. So, we'll work our way through systematically and methodically and get the right outcome for the Australian people.

EMMA PEDLER:    There's 200 hectares of land that have been acquired. How big will the facility itself be?

KEITH PITT:    Well, the footprint itself is actually not that large in comparison to the size of the length. But we did want to make sure that we had sufficient land allocated that we can locate the site, firstly, to deal with any of the local issues that might occur around, you know, whether there is a fire risk and everything else. That's been included in terms of the assessment and the risk assessments that have been done as part of the process.
    And of course, so we can consult with individuals and organisations like the Barngala Group to make sure that we minimise any impact as far as we possibly can. But at the moment, it's being used to grow wheat. It's in the right location. We have significant support and majority support in the local community. And I think we just- we just have to get on with it now. It's been a long six years for the people that live in Kimba. I thank them for their patience and their forbearance. And of course, there will always be some individuals who are opposed, but we'll continue to work with them as we do with everyone else.

EMMA PEDLER:    You talked there about, you know, the danger of fires and things like that. This leads me to think that there will be quite significant land clearance around that area. Obviously, it's already being used for farming, but what way is it going to be brought in then for the mitigation of fire risk?

KEITH PITT:    We can't really clear much more than what's- the wheat paddock. There's not a lot of trees [inaudible]…

EMMA PEDLER:    [Talks over] But, you know, fire spreads quite, you know, quickly through stubble and things like that. I'm like, will that all be taken out and, you know, a big break put around?

KEITH PITT:    Oh, well, it's already a very large break now once you don't have any wheat there. But look, fundamentally, we assess all risks on the site. There's a process that's already been gone through in parts- in terms of what happens over the previous years. It includes risk assessments, it includes access roads, it includes looking at how we provide services and how we get into things that we need, how do we source electricity and water, how [indistinct] sewerage, all the normal things that you would expect in a facility of this type. So, the fundamental issue, though, will remain the design. We want to ensure that we get the design right as would be expected. And of course, we have to meet all of the regulatory requirements in Australia for a facility of this type. But I'm very pleased we've got at this point, as I've said, four decades is a very long time. We know that every Australian would utilise this facility because quite simply, they'll utilise nuclear medicine somewhere in their lifetime. That makes it an incredibly important piece of work. It's an incredibly important piece of infrastructure. I look forward to seeing it completed.

EMMA PEDLER:    What's your message to the people in the community of Kimba today?

KEITH PITT:    It's simply one that I'm very thankful for their patience. This has been a long and difficult journey. I absolutely acknowledge that, but they are well informed. They engaged, you know, directly. They certainly made sure that they were well informed. We provided every opportunity. We've got support from the local council and the majority of the community, and that's been demonstrated through a ballot.  And once again, we have to site this facility. This is something which has been through- in this iteration it's taken some six years. That's whittled down from more than 20 volunteer sites to a final decision. The process has been very, very strong. But for them, it's also an economic opportunity. There will be jobs that go on with this facility. Obviously, there'll be a very large construction process. I mean, conservative estimates in the very early stages put it at around $325 million. I expect it may well be more than that, but over a 100-year lifetime, it also provides a strong support for a region- a small regional town in terms of their economy and opportunities for their children in the future. And I think that's something they've recognised.

EMMA PEDLER:    Mr Pitt, thank you.

KEITH PITT:    It's great to be with you.

EMMA PEDLER:    Federal Resources and Water Minister, Keith Pitt.