Despite the distances, locals say Kimba always had a strong sense of community, at least until the nuclear site was proposed. Some said the allure of millions of dollars’ worth of grants and subsidies that the government was offering the host community had blinded people to the risks.
“If it wasn’t for the money that the government’s offering, we wouldn’t be where we are,” Austin Eatts, 89, said on the large wheat farm just out of town where he has lived all his life.
Mr. Eatts, from one of the town’s original families, is a neighboring landowner to Michelle and Brett Rayner, who have nominated their farm as a potential site for the nuclear dump.
“I share a pipeline with them; I don’t want to share a nuclear waste dump with them,” Mr. Eatts said. Looking at a pile of documents about the proposed facility he had collected over the past year or so, he said he worried about the effect of the radioactive waste on the town’s future generations.
The public battle over where to store Australia’s growing pile of medical nuclear waste — including low- and intermediate-level waste like contaminated plastic containers and protective clothing from nuclear research — stretches back years, and several aborted sites. But as the federal government narrows in on this tiny community as one of two potential host communities, fear and outrage about the potential effect of it on Kimba’s farming land has grown.
Now the subject of national news coverage, Kimba is so polarized about the debate that families who have been friends for generations now stare at the ground as they walk past each other on the street. Businesses have been boycotted, locals say. Some people have even left the town because of it.
Despite the fractures, residents have one thing in common: They want the best for their town. They just can’t agree on what that might be.
Ms. Clements, citing the decreasing number of school children and the fact that Kimba will soon lose its only doctor, said she worried that the town is shrinking along with the vigor of the farming economy.
“Businesses are struggling,” she said, noting the dozens of empty houses that line the streets here.
The farms being considered for the proposed site are 10 to 15 miles outside town. Each year, the amount of low-level waste generated in Australia is smaller than one shipping container, according to government figures, along with intermediate-level radioactive waste the size of a Dumpster. The country has no nuclear power plants.
The site is expected to bring more than a dozen jobs, leading supporters to call it a much needed alternative to agriculture for the local economy.
Those against the facility, like Peter Woolford, a third-generation Kimba farmer, and part of the No Radioactive Waste on Agricultural Land in Kimba or South Australia group, say it will hurt the prices of crops and farmland. They also worry that Kimba will forever be known as the nuclear dump town.
The state of South Australia, where Kimba is located, is no stranger to radiation and radioactive waste. Most of Australia’s uranium mines are here, as is the remote area known as Maralinga where the British tested nuclear weapons in the 1950s.
With the site selection process in its final stages, the government has opened an office in the center of Kimba to improve communications with the community. Federal government workers roam the town’s main streets and are often seen mingling with locals — answering questions and trying to assuage fears.
Some say their presence has cast a shadow over the town; others say the influx of government officials and the news media has already benefited it.
To persuade residents to accept the site, the government has also flown some on all-expenses paid trips to Sydney to view a nearby nuclear laboratory.
The federal government has said that it will not choose any site without broad community support. In early 2016, a vote showed that Kimba was almost split down the middle. Later that year, the number in favor had increased slightly.
To end the sometimes bitter rift in the community, some politicians are urging the government to find another site.
“This has been a needless point of division in the community for more than 18 months now,” Nick Xenophon, a former senator who used to represent the state of South Australia, said in a statement. “It’s time for that to stop.”
The Rayners, who offered land on their farm for the waste repository, said that they were convinced of its safety and that they had made the decision to give Kimba a boost.
“It’s mainly about the benefits for the town and becoming a federal government town,” Ms. Rayner said. She said she hoped an influx of government workers would bring improved hospital facilities, a higher-quality internet connection and even better television and radio service.
“We’re right on the corner of remote,” said her husband, who has been farming the property since 2000.
The couple said that while they had no regrets about their decision, what has happened in the community has bothered them.
“I think that word nuclear has scared a lot of people,” Ms. Rayner said. “A lot of people don’t know why they don’t want it, they just don’t want it.”