While the issue of what to do with the radioactive waste at Hunter’s Hill has resurfaced in recent months, there is a long history of decisions being made, rescinded and re-made, by both Labor and Liberal-run state governments.
In his submission to the inquiry Michael Richardson, Liberal MLC for the now defunct Castle Hill electorate, argued that “extensive testing over several decades suggest the waste…is hazardous, both chemically and radioactively.” While more conservative in their submission, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency also suggested a need for more assessment of the materials and of the protection strategies being used on-site.
Dr. Gavin Mudd (quoted at the top of this post) also makes it quite clear in his submission that he believes the site contains radioactive waste, as well as arguing that “it is completely inappropriate for radiation regulatory authorities to continually downplay radiation exposure risks when they have failed to undertake adequate studies to even characterise that risk – as appears to be the case at Hunter’s Hill.”
The result of the inquiry was a commitment to greater transparency, a more thorough assessment of the site, and to exploring the option of on-site containment if an alternative location could not be found.
In 2010, it was revealed that the Labor-run state government planned to move the waste to the SITA site near Kemps Creek. As more details came to light, local resistance to the proposal became more intense.
Tanya Davies, then a Penrith City Councillor, is reported to have argued in council that:
“the people of Western Sydney are not the dumping ground for Sydney, especially this radioactive waste. It is unsafe waste material and should not be dumped in our community.”
Tanya Davies also argued that, given the half-life of radioactive materials, reports that classified the waste at Hunter’s Hill as radioactive should not be dismissed based on the fact that they were 20 years old. Similarly, there are other comments that were made by members of the Liberal party, who were then the Opposition, against moving the waste from Hunter’s Hill to the Kemps Creek site.
The Labor-led government, headed by Kristina Keneally, ultimately backed away from its plans. However, the damage was already done and the Liberal party won in a landslide at the next state election.
Having won the 2011 state election based at least in part on strong opposition to the proposed move of waste from Hunter’s Hill to Kemps Creek, the Liberal-run state government said that the move wouldn’t happen.
They then promptly changed their minds, prompting harsh – and ongoing – criticism, both from the local community, the Greens – and the Labor party, who have been criticised for their hijacking of locals’ concerns. When questioned about the ‘backflip’ on this matter, Tanya Davies – now the member for Mulgoa – said that there was none.
While it is currently the Liberal-run state government’s stance that no waste from the Hunter’s Hill site will be transported to Kemps Creek, a cynical (or realistic?) eye to the history of this issue shows that any announcement made by either the Labor or Liberal parties should be taken with a grain of salt.
Meanwhile, the Greens – whose policies call for a nuclear-free world and a shift toward renewable energies – believe that there are many more questions that remain unanswered in this ongoing game of ‘political football’ that both Labor and the Liberals appear to be engaged in.
Where the issue currently stands:
The Western Weekender, 11th of March 2013: Dramatic night at council.