South Australia, a rustbelt state that’s 60 percent desert, is staring into the abyss.

It is grappling with the highest unemployment in the country and a steady outflow of people to other states. And in 2017, General Motors Co. will close its Holden factory, ending more than 50 years of automaking in the Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth, where one in three are already without work.

Options for State Premier Jay Weatherill to stem the decline are dwindling and he’s looking at all of them, even the possibility of using the state as a dump for the world’s nuclear waste. Perhaps more than anywhere else in the country, this state in the heart of the continent epitomizes the hard choices Australia faces in the aftermath of its 10-year mining bonanza.

“They know there’s a crisis and they even know the date on which it’s going to arrive,” said Craig Emerson, a former trade minister who convened a National Reform Summit last month to try to spur lawmakers into action on the national economy. “It’s like a laboratory, what’s going on over there.”

South Australia gained little benefit from the mining boom that enriched the mineral-rich states around it. Instead it suffered from the side effects of a soaring currency and rising wages. Weatherill estimates 13,000 jobs are at stake in the automotive industry.

Royal Commission

Weatherill announced in February a royal commission to look at the role the state should play in the nuclear industry — from mining to enrichment to energy generation and waste storage. The commission will make its recommendations by May 2016. The International Energy Agency has estimated nuclear generation capacity could rise 60 percent by 2040, and the cumulative amount of spent nuclear fuel generated, including high-level radioactive waste, could more than double over the period to 705,000 metric tons.

Michael Heath, Bloomberg Business

September 6, 2015 — 10:01 AM EDT Updated on September 7, 2015 — 1:18 AM EDT

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