Published by ABC news
By Sara Tomevska  – 14 OCT 2022

Government says nuclear waste cannot continue to build up and it will work with traditional custodians of proposed Kimba site.

Australia is accumulating more intermediate-level nuclear waste than previously thought, a new inventory has found, as the battle over a nuclear waste dump heats up.

After 40 years of different governments talking about a national nuclear waste facility, the Morrison government chose a site near the town of Kimba in South Australia. But the local Barngarla people are united against the plan, and have vowed to keep fighting to stop it happening.

The federal resources minister, Madeleine King, said the waste “cannot continue to build up” and she would continue to work with the Barngarla people to protect the cultural heritage of the site and deliver economic benefit to the traditional custodians.

Opponents of the site hope the new Labor government will be more likely to abandon the plan, but King said the government was committed to “progressing the facility”.

Most of Australia’s nuclear waste is low-level waste (LLW), which tends to be items such as paper and gloves from laboratories that emit small amounts of radioactivity. The rest, intermediate-level waste (ILW), comes from the production of nuclear medicine – which is used, for example, in imaging, scanning and radiotherapy. It emits more radiation, breaks down more slowly and needs stricter shielding measures.

The Australian Radioactive Waste Agency (Arwa) recently updated its inventory of waste, to inform the development of the Kimba facility. It found there was 2,061 cubic metres of intermediate-level waste in 2021, compared to 1,771 cubic metres in 2018. And it projects 4,377 cubic metres in the next 50 years, compared to 3,734 cubic metres projected in 2018.

Arwa notes that more waste categories and holders were included in 2021, increasing the current levels of waste, and that estimates for future years were revised.

Currently waste is stored in more than 100 places around the nation, but most of it is held at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (Ansto) facilities in Lucas Heights, Sydney.