South Australia has long played an important role in the global nuclear industry. Its deserts were made a testing ground for atomic weaponry in the 1950s and 1960s, condemning countless Aboriginal lives to the rolling black mist.
The state is also home to nearly a quarter of the world’s uranium reserves, providing the raw material for overseas reactors and contributing to disasters such as Fukushima. But for as long as South Australia has played this role, people have resisted.
This resistance continued on Saturday, 3 November, with hundreds of angry protesters taking to the streets of Adelaide to fight the federal government’s plans for a nuclear waste dump. The Liberals are already on the back foot, with their dodgy community ballot process being delayed by court challenges. The anti-nuclear campaign is now increasing the pressure, mobilising people against the environmentally destructive project and racist disregard for Aboriginal people.
Speakers at the rally emphasised that a nuclear waste dump in the Flinders Ranges or the Eyre Peninsula will endanger humans and the environment for centuries.
“Leave the poison alone”, demanded Vivianne McKenzie, an Adnyamathanha woman, from the steps of Parliament House. She reminded the crowd that “they used uranium from Mount Painter on Hiroshima in World War II”, a salient point in an era of mounting tensions between the world’s biggest military powers. The continuing use of uranium contributes, in turn, to ever increasing amounts of highly toxic waste, which the government and nuclear industry hope to dump in South Australia.
One of the biggest cheers went up for Jamie Newlyn of the construction and maritime union, the CFMMEU, when he threatened that unionised workers at Whyalla, Port Lincoln and Port Pirie would refuse to ship and unload hazardous radioactive material.
Newlyn invoked waterside workers’ history of standing against South African apartheid, opposing the Vietnam War and refusing to load pig iron to Japan in the lead-up to World War II. “We are confident that our decisions will again be on the right side of history”, he said.
The campaign will continue to fight the dump, and any other attempts to further establish and normalise the nuclear industry in South Australia. Such projects are dangerous developments not only for locals’ health and the immediate environment, but have implications for the entire world.