Page last updated at 15:35 GMT, Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Aborigines discuss nuclear proposal on tribal land

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Aboriginal people sit beneath a tree in Alice Springs, the Northern Territory
Aboriginal communities are deeply divided about plans for tribal lands

Aboriginal groups have held a public meeting to debate controversial plans to build Australia's first nuclear waste dump on tribal land.

The federal government has identified a remote cattle station north of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory as a likely site.

The proposal has caused deep divisions within the indigenous community.

Ministers have indicated that the nuclear dump would not be built if landowners opposed it.

In the next six years, nuclear waste that Australia sent to Europe for reprocessing will be returned.


But officials in Canberra have yet to decide where to put it.

Muckaty Station, an isolated property 120 km (75 miles) from Tennant Creek, has been chosen as a possible site.

Local Aborigines have offered to sell the land for $11m (£7.3m), a move that has infuriated other indigenous groups in the area, who worry about the health and environmental implications.

Some also object on cultural grounds that something some see as odious could be inflicted on sacred tribal country.

These conflicting views are expected to collide at a public meeting in Tennant Creek, an old gold-mining town south of Darwin.

Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam says the plan to build a radioactive waste dump in the region has become extremely divisive.

"It already risks setting families against families and the government has not bothered to try to and bring the whole community along. They have picked off a handful of people, got some signatures and now they are going to try and force it through," Mr Ludlum said.

"We have had a small 10 MW research reactor operating in Australia since the late fifties. The industry and the government never bothered to investigate waste storage scenarios.

"So, now in 2010 they are now desperately casting around for an Aboriginal community who will take that legacy waste from the last few decades," he said.

Australia's federal government said that Muckaty Station would be subject to thorough scientific and environmental assessments.

Critics believe that recent earthquakes in that part of the Northern Territory have raised questions about the safety of the site.

The Australian Greens have said that radioactive waste should be stored at the country's only nuclear facility on the outskirts of Sydney.

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