Australia

Decision looms for SA town of Kimba divided over nuclear waste

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The town of Kimba is struggling for economic growth. Some see nuclear waste as the industry that could help it prosper.

The small community of Kimba sits roughly halfway across the national highway stretching between South Australia's east and west coasts.

Wheat is the main crop grown here, but mayor Dean Johnson says it’s marginal farming land.

“We’re very reliant on rainfall in our area,” he tells SBS News.

Kimba Mayor, Dean Johnson.
Kimba Mayor, Dean Johnson.
SBS News

The town’s uncertain future is the reason some residents have thrown their support behind a plan to store the nation’s nuclear waste.

Local small business owner and farmer Michelle Raynr and her husband have offered to sell a small parcel of their land to the government for a future radioactive waste facility.

“You kind of just dread to think what the town will be like in another five, ten years if it doesn’t happen,” she says.

Map of South Australia
SBS News

It would be a permanent facility for Australia’s low-level nuclear waste, and a temporary site for intermediate level disposal.

Ms Raynr says not everyone has been supportive of her decision. 

“It’s been a little bit disappointing, people’s reactions,” she says.

“But the majority, we’re just so excited about the possibilities.”

Residents Michelle Raynr and Andrew Baldock are supportive of the decision to house the facility.
Residents Michelle Raynr and Andrew Baldock are supportive of the decision to house the facility.
SBS News

Andrew Baldock is one who agrees. His parents have also offered to sell a piece of their land. He says it’s a way of ensuring a future for his young children.

“I’d really like to see something like this to help underpin the community, and perhaps, put us ahead of the other struggling towns in the region,” Mr Baldcock says.

“To me, it’s a lot less scary than the chemicals and the petrol, diesel and everything else that comes through our road here. I think it’s far safer than my own farming industry, to be honest.”

Peter Woolford is Chairman of an anti-radioactive waste group in Kimba.
Peter Woolford is Chairman of an anti-radioactive waste group in Kimba.
SBS News

Radioactive waste is currently held across 100 different facilities. The federal government says it wants a central facility, housed in a community willing to support it.

Peter Woolford, Chairman of an anti-radioactive waste group in Kimba, wants the concerns of those who don't support the project, to be heard.

“They’ve continually said they’re not going to impose it on a community, that it has to have broad community support, but I don’t think they have that in Kimba at all.” 

Wheat is the main crop grown in Kimba.
Wheat is the main crop grown in Kimba.
SBS News

The location for a national facility has been narrowed down to three sites, all in South Australia.

Two are in Kimba, and the other is near Hawker, in the Flinders Ranges.

The federal government says any facility would be constructed and managed under a strict regulatory framework.

Kimba local Graham Tiller believes any radioactive waste should be stored on existing government land.

“There’s just no guarantees that land values won’t depreciate, or that grain won’t be devalued,” he says.

Graham Tiller and wife, Janet Tiller.
Graham Tiller and wife, Janet Tiller.
SBS News

Tina Wakelin, another resident, says she agrees the site must go somewhere, but questions why it has to be in Kimba.

“We must not be depicted as trying to stop nuclear medicine, that’s not the aim at all,” she says.

“But a little town like ours should not feel responsible for all of Australia.”

Last month, the Resources Minister announced $4 million dollars in community funding grants for both Hawker and Kimba.

Kimba
SBS News

Mayor Dean Johnson says dozens of groups benefited from the cash injection.

“There’s the pony club... tennis courts, playgrounds, all sorts of things.”

Graham Tiller's wife, Janet Tiller, says the money is not worth the impact of such a project.  

“No amount of money’s worth the health and livelihoods and friendships that have been lost in the town,” she says.

Residents gather to discuss the issue.
Residents gather to discuss the issue.
SBS News

A postal ballot will be held on August 20 to measure community support.

The final decision as to where the waste site will go rests with the Resources Minister, who is expected to make his choice by the end of the year.

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