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Nuclear energy would harm Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health, wellbeing and connection to Country

Introduction by Croakey: Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen announced this week the Federal Government will incorporate community benefit and First Nations benefit as key principles of the Future Made in Australia Act.

Bowen made the announcement at the launch of the First Nations Clean Energy Network’s Powering First Nations Jobs in Clean Energy report at Parliament House on Ngunnawal Country on Tuesday.

Below, Seed Mob – a grassroots organisation dedicated to empowering Indigenous youth to take action on climate change – highlights the potentially devastating impacts nuclear energy would have on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and Country.

“The health of communities, Country, water, our sacred sites should not be a trade-off,” they write in a Q and A with Croakey.


Seed Mob write:

Question: What are Seed Mob’s views on the Federal Opposition’s nuclear energy plans?

Answer: Seed Mob promotes self-determination and free, prior and informed consent, through which we advocate the empowerment of communities to actively participate in the planning and decision-making processes that determines the infrastructure or development on their land.

The consultation processes that have been used to engage with First Peoples have consistently resulted in prioritising profits over people, focusing on strategic objectives rather than comprehensive engagement and joint efforts towards an outcome.

Communities’ genuine and founded concerns have been disingenuously incorporated and considered, where any recourse has proved difficult or has been hard won due to regulatory approval processes that do not adequately consider or understand Indigenous perspectives.

Local communities must be consulted in a way where their input is genuinely incorporated and reflect the consensus reached by the community, and is held to a higher standard of consideration when compared against corporate interests. Which, ultimately, are not as immediate and intergenerational as the considerations that Community would hold.

The timelines associated with dismantling fossil fuel powered stations and replacing them with nuclear means that the current estimated time to build a nuclear plant, currently sitting at least ten years, could be blown out significantly.

In addition to that, fossil fuel powered stations require a water source, and use significant amounts of water, to cool reactors and heat water to create energy. This water is then contaminated with radionuclides, it is supposedly cleaned and then released in to the lakes, rivers, or coastlines these power stations are built on. The danger of contamination is inherent in this process.

If there are any significant weather events or disasters such as earthquakes, it poses immediate and serious risk to communities, water, and Country. We only have to look at Fukushima or Chernobyl to understand what is at stake here. Nuclear-powered stations need to be built next to water bodies of water, putting Country and community at risk.

Ultimately, this is a deferral tactic by the Opposition to continue the extraction of fossil fuels, and glaringly points to their lack of genuine climate policy or plan for a just transition to renewables.

Delaying tactic

Question: Concerns have been raised that investing in nuclear energy will delay decarbonisation, and critical action on climate change. What are the organisation’s views on this?

Answer: Nuclear generated power is the world’s most expensive energy generation technology and is prone to delays and cost blowouts. It also takes approximately ten years before power generation has even started, we don’t have that long to wait in a climate crisis.

What this proposal tells us is the Opposition doesn’t have a plan to uplift renewables, it is a delay tactic for the continued roll-out of fossil fuels.

While we understand that nuclear power would significantly reduce emissions, it does not come without its own risks and impacts on the environment. There are other energy sources like solar and wind power that can come online much faster to meet our emission reduction targets. This provides for longevity in renewable energy production to supplement to the current power grid as we continue to transition.

More reliable sources of electricity generation such as thermal, tidal or wave power could also be added to this matrix. These enhancements in a considered and comprehensive strategy can be combined with additional battery storage to support the grid.

These technologies are advancing at a rapid rate, and are ultimately safer for communities and Country in the long term.

Essentially, nuclear power is an expensive and toxic way to convert thermal energy into mechanical energy: another way of saying this, is that it is using nuclear energy to heat water which in turn produces power. There are other far less risky and more environmentally friendly ways to do this.

Permanent and enduring risk

Question: What impact will nuclear energy have on the environment and Country?

Answer: Much of Australia’s vast uranium deposits, the world’s largest, are located on the traditional lands of Indigenous Australian communities. First Nations communities must be able to provide free, prior, and informed consent before any decisions are made that impact their communities.

We support their right to make choices that are best for their People and Country.

Communities need to understand what the risks are of allowing uranium or thorium extraction and associated infrastructure might mean for their lands, water, and their health. In saying that, it is well documented that the risks and environmental impacts of extractive industries have often come at a cost to community and Country.

The ongoing displacement and intergenerational health issues faced by the Anangu people after Maralinga, as well as the situation in Fukushima involving over 150,000 displaced individuals and billions in cleanup costs, underscore the critical need to thoroughly evaluate whether the associated risks are worth it.

While nuclear emits the least amount of emissions, it’s the dangers inherent in the extraction, transportation, waste, and the need for permanent storage. The potential for leaks and spills in each of these stages puts the health of Country and communities at risk.

We do not currently have the infrastructure in place to support the rollout of nuclear energy in Australia. It is not just a case of building nuclear power plants, there are other significant infrastructure developments that would need to built to support these toxic and harmful technologies at all stages of use, including extraction, transportation, storage, waste.

It is easy to identify significant cost blowouts, and the taxpayer would foot the bill. Nuclear power leaves a permanent and enduring risk to environmental harm for thousands of generations to come.

Lack of justice

Question: What impact will nuclear energy have on the health, wellbeing and human rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly for younger people?

Answer: At all stages of development, nuclear energy poses a risk to health, wellbeing and human rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Uranium mines are earmarked for construction and extraction on the traditional lands of Indigenous people, and with that incurs inherent risks for communities and Country.

Wind can pick up radioactive dust, and when it settles it contaminates groundwater and Country, and in turn people too. Proposed sites for disposal are again on land inhabited by First Nations communities. The radioactive nature of these compounds will persist over generations, and we currently lack the technology to adequately safeguard surrounding communities.

Nuclear reactors produce highly radioactive waste, including plutonium and uranium, which remains dangerously toxic for tens of thousands of years. This waste requires meticulous, permanent disposal, yet no government has demonstrated a safe, long-term storage solution.

In fact, the only reliable way to prevent the buildup of this deadly waste is to stop producing it through nuclear power.

The spent fuel rods from nuclear plants are themselves radioactive waste, stored on-site or transported to concrete pits and sealed. Understandably, communities typically don’t want these storage facilities earmarked for their region. This has created hundreds of radioactive waste sites worldwide that must be maintained for at least 200,000 years: far beyond the lifespan of any nuclear facility. As the volume of nuclear waste grows, so does the risk of radioactive leaks that can contaminate the environment and harm human health.

Overall, the key issues are the extreme longevity and toxicity of nuclear waste, the lack of viable long-term storage, and the ongoing risks posed by the growing stockpiles at nuclear sites globally. Addressing these challenges is critical, given the severe and long-lasting consequences of radioactive contamination.

We only have to look at the shared stories of Anangu people to understand the effects nuclear fallout can have on communities to understand the risks. This has been well documented and there has been an ongoing lack of care, responsibility, and justice for those effected by the Maralinga tests.

They face various intergenerational illnesses, including cancer, skin conditions, burns, autoimmune disorders, reproductive and birth abnormalities, and other health issues in their families.

They have also expressed their ongoing concerns about the impact of contamination on plants, animals, bush tucker, and the health of Anangu and all people across Australia. When other, more cost-effective solutions exist that do not have the same impacts on communities and country.

Given the catastrophic long-term risks involved, we must carefully consider how our decisions today will impact future generations before moving forward with this technology.

Support First Nations climate leadership

Question: What are Seed Mob’s calls to action for Croakey readers, who include health professionals, and policy and decision-makers?

Answer: Consultation requires time and due process, a full and comprehensive understanding of the processes and impacts of extraction of volatile and radioactive materials needs to be explicitly clear and agreed to.

Consultation doesn’t equal consent, and it is important to look at the history of extractive industries on Country, the processes that corporations and successive governments have employed, including omitting essential information, to ensure the results are in their favour.

The relentless push and coercion that has been used by governments across the country to mine Country, comes at a cost. The people who bear the lion’s share of this burden are First Nations People. We cannot continue to put profit before people, the health of communities and Country most at risk at all stages of the nuclear cycle. It is documented that significant cancers increase within residents in proximity to both uranium mines and nuclear power plants.

To create climate just and sustainable solutions to the climate crisis, we must listen and learn to the communities who have the most to lose.

The health of communities, Country, water, our sacred sites should not be a trade-off.

With your help, we can support communities across the country, amplify their voices, and work together for a just climate future, for all. Join us and support First Nations Climate Leadership here.

About Seed Mob

Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network is a grassroots organisation dedicated to empowering Indigenous youth to take action on climate change. Through advocacy, education, and community engagement, Seed works to amplify Indigenous voices in the global climate movement and promote sustainable solutions rooted in Indigenous knowledge and values.

• Note from Croakey: This article was edited on 29 June at the authors’ request to amend this paragraph from “The spent fuel rods from nuclear plants are themselves radioactive waste, typically stored on-site.” to:

“The spent fuel rods from nuclear plants are themselves radioactive waste, stored on-site or transported to concrete pits and sealed. Understandably, communities typically don’t want these storage facilities earmarked for their region.”

and to add in the following statements: “The people who bear the lion’s share of this burden are First Nations People. We cannot continue to put profit before people, the health of communities and Country most at risk at all stages of the nuclear cycle”.

To create climate just and sustainable solutions to the climate crisis, we must listen and learn to the communities who have the most to lose”.


See Croakey’s archive of articles on cultural safety

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