Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

AUSTRALIA’S RADIOACTIVE WASTE: WHAT TO DO WITH IT? WHERE TO PUT IT? WHERE DOES IT COME FROM? WHY KEEP PRODUCING IT?

 by ENuFF(Everyone for a Nuclear Free Future SA) enuff.sa@gmail.com November 2017.In 2015 the SA Weatherill government established the SA NUCLEAR FUEL CYCLE ROYAL COMMISSION (RC). The following year, the government adopted 9 out of 12 of the RC’s recommendations including to expand uranium mining and to collaborate with the federal government on nuclear power developments. A proposal to remove the state’s Nuclear Waste Storage Prohibition Act and, thereby, allow the state to pursue an international highlevel radioactive waste (HLW) dump was not adopted.

Less publicised, the RC’s Report also recommended that the government pursue the disposal of Australia’s own radioactive waste in SA; hardly a novel idea! (Previous attempts have been made, and failed.) And, this recommendation was adopted.

Running in parallel with the RC; confusing many people, the federal government was, again, doing just that: seeking a ‘suitable site’ for shallow burial of decades of Australia’s accumulated low-level waste(LLW) and indefinite storage (co-location) of long-lived and highly hazardous intermediate-level waste (ILW).

A short list of three sites was selected; all in SA: one at Barndioota in the Flinders Ranges – traditional land of the Adnyamathanha people – and two sites at Kimba.

A decision about a final site in SA for the nation’s waste is imminent. State politicians are surprisingly mute about such an important decision. Clearly they do not want this issue raised in the forthcoming (March 2018) state election.

So where has Australia’s radioactive waste come from? Australia has been accumulating nuclear waste since the Cold War era of the late 1940’s. Initially, it is mostly this legacy waste that would be destined for a national waste dump.

During the post-World War 11 and Cold War decades,  Australia mined and milled uranium for US and UK bomb projects; provided sites at Monte Bello, Emu Fields and Maralinga for British atomic bomb tests; established a research reactor at Lucas Heights and developed the Woomera Rocket Range. The forerunner to the CSIRO and a number of nuclear physics research laboratories at universities, especially at the ANU, were also conducting nuclear-related research. The facilities mentioned above were developed in close collaboration with the UK’s quest to develop and test atomic weapons, and the means to deploy them. They all produced and/or stored radioactive waste. There was no thought about what to do with the waste.

 Following the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many in military and government circles considered that the next war would be fought with nuclear weapons.

Some influential Australian politicians and scientists considered that Australia, too, should eventually produce its own bombs and nuclear power reactors. For example secret work on centrifuge uranium enrichment technology, ostensibly, to reduce the ‘lead-time’ required to develop weapons, was being conducted by the Australian Atomic Energy Commission (AAEC) in the 1960s. However, until now, apart from research reactors, such nuclear dreams have not yet come to fruition.

Since the 1970s after much controversy, a new era of uranium mining creating millions of tonnes of radioactive tailings has commenced; the oldest reactor at Lucas Heights(HIFAR) has been de-commissioned, the Moata reactor is due for decommissioning and a third reactor – the OPAL – has been built; all with no long-term plans for the waste.

A group of nuclear enthusiasts, undeterred by the intractable nature of nuclear waste and catastrophic nuclear accidents, is determined to take Australia further down the nuclear road. They wish for Australia to build nuclear power stations and nuclear submarines.

According to ANSTO (formerly AAEC), the organisation responsible for operating the Lucas Height’s OPAL research reactor, the nuclear isotopes currently being produced are for nuclear medicine; engineering; making our food more nutritious and undefined research. No reference is made about defence-related research, from either the past or present (ENuFF considers that at least 50% of Australia’s radioactive waste could have been created by defence activities. However, it is difficult to verify this.)

In spite of a backlog of decades of waste, no federal government has succeeded in persuading any community to willingly host either the LLW or the much more hazardous and long-lived ILW. Yet ANSTO is in the process of significantly expanding OPAL’s production of medical isotopes for export, thereby, increasing future highly hazardous spent fuel and reprocessed spent fuel waste.

Where is Australia’s waste currently located? It is estimated that there are around 100 sites; many of them in hospitals, universities and engineering businesses, generally holding very small amounts. Such wastes are the responsibility of the state in which they were used. But, the majority of the waste, both in terms of its quantity and level of radioactivity, is held at a number of federally controlled sites including Lucas Heights, Woomera, Radium Hill, Maralinga, St Mary’s in suburban Sydney and Amberley Air Force Base. Waste from these sites is a federal responsibility.

Like a dirty old can being kicked down the road, Australia’s radioactive waste has been moved from one temporary site to the next: for example, waste stored at Derrimut near Melbourne was shifted to St Mary’s in suburban Sydney. From St Mary’s it was moved to Woomera. CSIRO waste from Fisherman’s Bend was moved to Lucas Heights and, after three years, moved again to Woomera, where it has been ‘temporarily’ stored for the past 23 years.

And how is the waste being managed? Records for some of it are lost. Aircraft washings, following the atomic bomb tests, ended up in the Pacific Ocean. Waste from the first decade of Lucas Height’s operation was buried on site. Radioactive valves were buried in old paint tins at Derrimut. At Hunters Hill it was simply forgotten, until rediscovered when building work on a new development commenced there. The Fisherman’s Bend waste is currently stored in 10.000 corroding metal drums housed in a tin shed at Woomera, where the Defence Department doesn’t want it, and where it is leaking Radium-226. Uranium tailings exist in massive and growing quantities; they are stored in ‘dams’ which leak into surrounding soils and ground water when wet, or are blown away when dry and powdery. Uranium tailings, like higher levels of waste, remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.

Meanwhile, the English routinely release waste into the Irish Sea and wanted to wash their hands of the Maralinga site. The Americans have polluted many sites: the Colorado River, Hanford, swathes of Nevada and the Marshall Islands to name just a few. The Russians, too, have a long history of radioactive pollution, most infamously the poisoning of Belarus and Ukraine from the Chernobyl disaster, and the Mayak region from their bomb programme. The Japanese do not know what to do with waste from their nuclear reactors, let alone from the Fukushima multiple melt-downs, that is, apart from releasing it into the Pacific Ocean.

Would a permanent dump for Australia’s LLW waste at Barndioota or Kimba be any better managed? Who Knows? But the highly hazardous waste, including reprocessed spent fuel classified by ANSTO as ILW but by France as HLW, would be kicked further down the road and stored ‘temporarily’ at the proposed national dump. There it would remain, until a permanent repository for hundreds of thousands of years is planned and built hundreds of metres below the ground.

The federal government insists that many other countries have successfully resolved their radioactive waste issues. But, they have not. Why else is there ongoing interest in the establishment of an international waste dump in Australia as recommended by the RC? A national radioactive dump could well become an opportunity to leapfrog into just such an international waste project, as proposed by state Liberal Party adviser Richard Yeeles.

STOP PRODUCING THE WASTE, ONLY THEN WILL WE TALK ABOUT WHAT TO DO WITH IT

 

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December 12, 2017 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Federal nuclear waste dump, reference

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