The Australian government is proceeding with the development of a controversial radioactive waste facility in South Australia, handing out several contracts despite an ongoing legal challenge from Traditional Owners set to begin next month.
In November last year, the previous Coalition government selected land at Napandee near the town of Kimba on the state’s Eyre Peninsula as the site for the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility.
The facility is planned to dispose and store radioactive waste from materials used in applications like nuclear medicine and scientific research. This radioactive waste is currently stored in more than 100 locations around the country.
The government claimed it had community support and has offered a $31 million community development package as compensation. But Traditional Owners say they were not properly consulted and have challenged the site selection in Federal Court.
This case, against the resources minister and brought by the Barngarla people last December, remains open in the Federal Court with a hearing set for June.
Barngarla people hold Native Title rights over the site and say they were excluded from a community vote run by the Australian Electoral Commission in 2019 to approve the development. The Traditional Owners held a separate ballot, in which they unanimously rejected the proposal, and say combining the votes would put support under 50 per cent.
The government is continuing to push ahead with the facility by outsourcing parts of the design and planning.
Tender details published this month confirm several contracts were awarded in April and May by the Industry department for work on the facility’s design and waste transportation, including advice from the French government.
France’s radioactive waste management organisation won a $330,000 contract to review facility design, while UK consultancy Frazer Nash will be paid slightly less to investigate packaging the waste that will be transported to it.
The Industry department declined to provide a full list of contracts it has awarded for work on the facility since the Napandee site was selected late last year. Minimal reporting requirements mean there may be several more contracts. For example, the Frazer Nash contract is listed publicly only as being for ‘professional advice’ with nothing to suggest it is related to the controversial facility.
The Industry department’s legal costs to defend the claim against the site selection decision in Federal Court fall under a wider legal services contract the department holds with King & Wood Mallesons, currently valued at $4.5 million over three years.
Labor supported legislation amendments to establish the facility in June last year.
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