Leigh Creek's potential saviour

THE Civil Contractors Federation has posited a low to intermediate level nuclear waste facility as a potential saviour for the South Australian town of Leigh Creek, which was shown the writing on the wall last week when Alinta Energy closed its historic open-cut coal mine after more than 50 years of steady work.

Andrew Snelling

The closure put about 250 people out of a job, roughly half the town’s population, according to the 2011 Census.

The CCF has called for immediate government action on the issue, even though it would pre-empt the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission established by the state government in March.

“If Leigh Creek is to continue to survive – like it has done for the past 80 years – decisions need to be made, and made fast,” CCF CEO SA branch Phil Sutherland said.

“From our perspective, it’s a no brainer – the town is relatively close to all three SA sites identified by the Federal Government as potential sites for a low to intermediate level nuclear waste facility, the closest being Barndioota, along the Leigh Creek railway to Port Augusta.

“All the SA government needs to do is simply show some mettle and bite the bullet to give Leigh Creek a purpose before the township transitions into a ghost town.

“Such a decision may pre-empt the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, but the plight of this iconic outback SA town and region calls for immediate government intervention.”

According to Sutherland, the Leigh Creek coal fields meet the geological, technical, economic, social and environmental benchmarks required for such a facility.

The surrounding rail and road infrastructure is also seen as a plus, and could help support an additional waste to energy conversion industry, he said.

Sutherland believes commercial and industrial waste could be sent up to the region’s coalfields via the rail corridor from Adelaide.

“Rather than burying all the waste like they do at the moment just outside of Adelaide, you could ship it all up to the former Leigh Creek coal fields and you could process it there,” he said.

South Australian Sustainability, Environment and Conservation Minister Ian Hunter released the state’s latest waste strategy earlier this month, setting large waste reduction targets for the next five years.

The targets included an 80% reduction in metropolitan commercial and industrial waste.

Sutherland said the existence of either industry, or both, could replace the jobs lost through the closure of the coal mine.

“South Australia already has the unenviable reputation of having the worst unemployment in the country – we can’t let it get any worse,” he said.

“We today call on the State Government to look very carefully at this proposal, and take action before we start to see tumble weeds blowing through this proud town.

“It would also create hundreds of new jobs – to replace the hundreds of jobs lost as a direct result of the closure of the coal mine, and the other significant allied jobs losses that will occur in the town as families pack their bags and leave the area in droves in search of other work.

“That said, we understand community concern and uncertainty about such facilities, but such waste facilities have been operating safely for many years in other parts of the world.

“Any nuclear waste facility and/or an industrial and domestic waste conversion facility established near Leigh Creek would be required to meet world’s best standard, rigorous safety and environmental standards.

“It is time for intelligent, informative debate on the topic to ensure Leigh Creek’s survival.”

Sutherland told ICN sister publication Australia’s Mining Monthly that he foresaw significant job creation opportunities in both the construction and operation phases of the proposed industries.

“If you get a major low to medium level nuclear facility storage facility going, and we’re attracting waste, not only from Australia but potentially from overseas, this could be something of scale which would require 200 or 300 people to operate it,” he said.

“If you include the other waste to energy element as well, then of course you’d be looking at more people yet again.”

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said earlier this month he would not consider agreeing to housing a radioactive waste dump in the state until the final findings from the royal commission are handed down in the first half of next year.

The government has, however, committed $7 million in economic assistance to the Upper Spencer Gulf and Outback region to meet the challenged posed by the mine closure, as well as the impending closure of power stations at Port Augusta next year.

The state has also made a commitment to continue delivering important services in Leigh Creek – such as police, the hospital, and the school – until at least June 2018.

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