In the run up to the NT election on Saturday, Darwin residents are getting lots of attention, especially those in the northern suburbs, where NT elections are won and lost.

There are promises of more police in Casuarina Shopping Centre, funding for sporting facilities, much spruiking of the new Convention Centre (otherwise known as “Clare’s Folly”), and emphatic statements about the strength of the local economy, and the government’s fine record on environmental protection.

Outside of Darwin, the electorate are, as is usual in Territory politics, being treated as irrelevant.

Let’s just have a quick look at environmental protection. The Territory Labor government has stopped logging in the Daly region. That’s nice. But the government is suspiciously silent about a proposed uranium mine in Central Australia, situated only 25 kms south of Alice Springs (the NT’s second biggest town in the deep and mostly forgotten south).

The proposed mine could pose a threat to the water supply for Alice Springs, plus the added risks from windborne radioactive contaminants. The southerly winds are ferocious this time of year. No risk to the northern suburbs of Darwin though, so that’s OK.

There is also little being said about the radioactive waste dump that Australia has to have. This looks likely to be situated close to Tennant Creek, the fourth largest town in the Northern Territory. Most Australian radioactive waste (all low level we are assured, and perfectly safe) is generated in the coastal cities. If it’s so safe, why not store it where it is generated? This would greatly reduce the risks and expense of transport across vast distances to a storage facility in the NT.

Because the NT is a territory rather than a state, it is unable to tell the Federal Government to eff off with their waste dump, like South Australia did. This is despite SA having an already existing radioactive area around Maralinga, well away from any major roads or settlements, geologically stable, and nowhere near anyone’s water supply or agricultural businesses. But this is politics we’re talking about, not science.

The thing that is really scary about the “low level” radioactive waste dump is that the ante can be upped so easily. The Australian federal government is a signatory to an international agreement that Australia will have to accept waste such as spent fuel rods from the uranium we have sold to other countries. France for example has lots of waste from their nuclear power stations – much of which will be coming home to roost in Australia, from whence the uranium was purchased. Gee, I wonder where the Federal government is going to put that??

The most direct route for transport of high level nuclear waste from overseas to a storage facility near Tennant Creek would be through the Port of Darwin, and from there by road or rail to the storage facility.

The most direct route for transport of nuclear waste from Lucas Heights and the coastal capitals would also be by road and/or rail. There aren’t many major roads in the NT, and the ones that are there are already used by remote community residents, business and food suppliers, travelers and tourists.

In the past two years there have been two derailment incidents on the Darwin-Adelaide line. There have also been a number of alarming spills from truck rollovers and accidents in the past five years, some of which have resulted in road closures so the toxic spills can be cleared up. I can see the signs on the Stuart Highway now. “Detour – please travel via Queensland or Western Australia for the next 50,000 years”.

Jenny Walker has worked with remote Aboriginal communities and families for the past twenty years. An anthropologist by training, she has spent the last decade working as an advocate for and coordinator of remote area Night and Community Patrols in the Central Australian region.

Peter Fray

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