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Howard told NT won't become nuclear dump
Date: 27/09/05
By Denis Peters and Paul Osborne

Northern Territory chief minister Clare Martin has warned Prime Minister John Howard to be ready for a tough battle over a government proposal to build a nuclear waste dump in the territory.

Ms Martin's discussed the issue with Mr Howard in Canberra on Tuesday after former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke intensified an already heated debate over the issue by calling for Australia to open itself up as the world's nuclear waste dump.

The federal government announced in July that one of three Commonwealth-owned areas in the Northern Territory would be the site of the controversial radioactive dump for Australian waste.

Federal Science Minister Brendan Nelson says tenders will soon be called to choose between the three nominated ex-defence sites.

But Mr Hawke said on MOnday evening that Australia, one of the world's biggest exporters of uranium, has the most geologically stable sites in the world for the storage of nuclear waste and would revolutionise its economics by developing such a project.

Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane immediately dismissed the suggestion, saying it would be illegal under existing legislation to bring nuclear waste to Australia and there is no move to review the laws.

Ms Martin also rejected Mr Hawke's proposal and warned that the territory was prepared for a long and hard fight to block the government's plan.

"Certainly (Mr Howard) said, from a commonwealth point of view, that they've got to site a dump somewhere," she said.

"I said 'Well, not in the Territory'.

"Probably, to be honest, we've reached a stalemate about it.

"I said very clearly, 'We're going to fight this, we're going to use all the capacity we have'."

The federal government has not ruled out using its powers over the territory to push ahead with the dump.

The territory's pioneering euthanasia laws were over-ridden by the federal government in 1997 after a private members bill was passed by federal parliament.

The Northern Territory is seen by the government as its best chance of going ahead with the dump after all the states rejected the proposal.

Mr Hawke told a Sydney dinner for Oxford University graduates it would be economically responsible to open the country up to the world's nuclear waste.

"I have a view of what we should do that would revolutionise the Australian economy and would also make an enormous contribution to the world environment," Mr Hawke said.

"Australia has the geologically safest places in the world for the storage of (nuclear) waste.

"What Australia should do, in my judgment, as an act of economic responsibility, is say we will take the world's nuclear waste."

He said the income from a global repository could be used for environmental programs and "revolutionise the economics of Australia".

Mr Hawke's call was also rejected by federal deputy opposition leader Jenny Macklin who cited security and environmental reasons for opposing it.

"Consistent with the ALP's platform, federal Labor remains opposed to the importation and storage of foreign nuclear waste in Australia," she said.

"We cannot allow Australia to be the world's dumping ground for nuclear waste."

Anthony Albanese, Labor's environment spokesman, called Mr Hawke's comments a silly proposal while industry spokesman Stephen Smith said Australia should steer clear of the nuclear fuel cycle.

However, Associate Professor Bob Hunter, the national president of Scientists for Global Responsibility, said the idea of a nuclear repository in Australia was based on sound reasoning.

"In terms of Australia's future economic potential - and that's what Bob Hawke was talking about - it makes quite a bit of sense," he said.

He said that having control of the uranium mining and export process and requiring that the spent fuel be returned to Australia was "quite responsible".

Greenpeace said there was no economic case for Australia to become the world's nuclear waste dump.

Copyright 2005 AAP

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