19 March 2016
Josephites around Australia have joined in questioning the proposal to import high-level nuclear waste into Australia. This is a move that challenges all of us who are committed to an increasingly fragile planet to look closely at the whole question of radioactive waste.
As Josephites celebrate 150 years since their foundation in Australia, they have reiterated Pope Francis’ call to "care for our common home and for those who are made poor at this time."
"We are deeply concerned that economic considerations are increasingly the motivation for our most significant decisions," said Sister Monica Cavanagh, Congregational leader of the Sisters of St Joseph. "Surely care of earth and reverence for our land should be our underlying principles. As Pope Francis and Paris COP21 have argued, the abuse of natural resources and the priority given to economic advantage are resulting in devastating results for earth and for present and future generations."
Josephites fear that the proposed sites for the storage of this high-level waste are likely to be on Aboriginal lands. These are some of the most vulnerable and sacred lands in Australia, and the proposal is clearly in direct conflict with the interests of many Indigenous communities. South Australians have strong memories of the Maralinga lands of the Pitjatjantjara, Yankunyjatjara peoples being used for the British nuclear tests of the 1950s and 1960s. Even after four ‘cleanups’, we know that dangerous materials, including plutonium, lie in shallow burial pits.
The announcement by the South Australian Royal Commission that Australia should welcome high-level radioactive waste from other countries is profoundly troubling. Not one country in the world - not even the USA - has been able to successfully contain its own high level radioactive waste.
"The Commission discusses the alleged benefits of this scheme, while failing to acknowledge the economic risks of Australia managing high-level wastes for hundreds of thousands of years by means of unproven technologies and social institutions," said Prof. Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffith University, and a member of the Royal Commission's Expert Advisory Committee.
Such comments are reiterated by other scientists, environmentalists and community members. As they point out:
high-level waste remains toxic and has to be isolated for hundreds of thousands of years
other countries do not want the responsibility for their own storage of dangerous materials.
the science is questionable
the long-term effects of the Chernobyl and Fukushima experiences remind us of the grave risks to land, water supplies and people
the unknown dangers of groundwater contamination have not been examined
transport accidents are a real possibility.
We remind the Government of its own support for COP21 and urge our political leaders to rethink this proposal.
"We cannot make a commitment to support COP21 without deliberate and positive action to safeguard Australian lands and our people,’ concluded Sr Monica. ‘We believe that the present proposal is in direct opposition to this."
Contact: Jan Barnett 0403 634 534
The Josephite Justice Office (JJO) is a ministry of the Congregations of the Sisters of St Joseph. We educate, advocate and work for justice, for earth and people, especially for those pushed to the edges.