Australian news, and some related international items

Australia urgently needs and independent assessment of options regarding its nuclear waste management

Matt Canavan’s ‘urgent’ new nuclear waste dump: The devil is in the detail,11675 

Rather than a hasty new nuclear waste dump, what is urgently needed is an independent and open assessment of the full range of options for managing Australia’s radioactive waste, writes Dave Sweeney.

IT IS A NATIONAL PROBLEM that has taken 60 years to make and will last 10,000 years, but according to Canberra, it will be sorted by Christmas.

Radioactive waste management has been a challenge for successive Federal governments, with communities across South Australia and the Northern Territory consistently rejecting plans for the dumping and storage of wastes in their region. Now the pressure is right back on regional South Australia, with a concerted Federal push to locate a site either near Kimba on the Eyre Peninsula, or Hawker in the iconic Flinders Ranges.

The plan sounds straightforward: take radioactive waste from around Australia to a central site, where low-level material would be disposed of and higher-level wastes stored, pending a final management decision.

But, as ever, the devil is in the detail. Or in this case, in the profound lack of detail.

Despite two years of promotional newsletters, shopfronts and drop-in centres, and publicly funded visits from pro-nuclear advocates, there remains a disturbing lack of clarity and deep concerns over the Turnbull Government’s plan and process.

Radioactive waste is a complex policy area. The stuff lasts a long time, poses a real management challenge and, understandably, raises community concerns. Responsible decisions are best based on the “T” factor: talk, time, testing and trust. Sadly, the current Federal push has failed to learn from this history and is replicating a failed formula.

Despite plenty of talk about the benefits of the plan, the Turnbull Government has actively and consistently refused to debate critics in an open forum, key project assumptions have never been independently verified or tested, and many community members, Aboriginal landowners and wider stakeholders do not trust the process. Further, time is running out with Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan recently announcing a siting decision will be made this year.

Soon, registered voters in the Flinders Ranges and Kimba District Council districts will receive a ballot in the mail asking if they support a national radioactive waste facility in their region. The Turnbull Government has been spending big and promising large, with job and community benefit estimates and assurances soaring since the ballot was announced.

The Government is working to localise this issue and present it as an economic opportunity for a small region, but this plan is a national issue with profound and lasting implications.

Around 95 per cent of the material planned to be moved to any new facility is currently managed at two secured Federal sites. Low-level waste that needs to be isolated for 300 years is currently at the Woomera defence lands in South Australia’s north. The more problematic intermediate level waste, that needs isolation for 10,000 years, is stored where it was made at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s (ANSTO) Lucas Heights facility in southern Sydney

Both sites have the physical, technical and regulatory capacity to continue to store these wastes for many years, and the current sense of Federal urgency and pressure is being driven by politics and ANSTO’s corporate preferences, rather than by evidence or need.

In any discussion around radioactive waste management, a lot of airspace is devoted to the question of nuclear medicine. No one disputes either the importance or the need for secure access to nuclear medicine. The planned national radioactive waste facility is not expected to receive nuclear medicine waste from any hospital or medical clinic in Australia.

These wastes would continue to be managed at these multiple sites on the current “store and decay” basis. A national radioactive waste facility would take nuclear reactor waste from the process that generated the nuclear medicine, but not nuclear medical waste. Importantly, this means that a national waste facility is not required to ensure access to nuclear medicine.

Currently, Australia’s most serious radioactive waste is stored above ground at ANSTO. This makes sense, as the waste is already on site and Lucas Heights also has clear tenure, high levels of security and policing, the most advanced radioactive monitoring and emergency response capacity in the country, and it is the workplace of around 1,200 people.

The Federal Government plan is to move this material from this facility to one in regional South Australia with far less capacity and institutional assets.

There is no radiological protection rationale to move this material from extended above ground storage in Sydney to extended above ground storage with far fewer checks and balances in regional Sout Australia. The current Federal approach to the intermediate level waste is not consistent with international best practice and is merely kicking the can further down a less travelled road.

A Senate Inquiry is currently taking place into siting issues. This important and welcome initiative is no substitute for what is urgently needed — an independent and open assessment of the full range of options for managing Australia’s radioactive waste.

The current Federal plan is a retreat from responsibility, which is playing short-term politics with a long-term hazard. It is extraordinary that, after over six decades of making waste and two decades of sustained and successful community resistance to Federal siting plans, Australia has never had an objective review of management practises and options. We need this now.

Dave Sweeney works on nuclear issues with the Australian Conservation Foundation and was a member of the Federal advisory panel on radioactive waste. You can follow him on Twitter @nukedavesweeney.

July 14, 2018 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Federal nuclear waste dump | Leave a comment

Australian company Silex pulls out of U.S. laser uranium enrichment projects

Silex pulls out of U.S. laser enrichment projects, JUNE 13, 2018

 Silex Systems Limited, an Australian company that own the Silex laser enrichment technology, announced that it will not be participating in the restructuring of the Global Laser Enrichment (GLE), a venture that was set up by General Electric and Hitachi to use the technology to build uranium enrichment facilities in the United States. Canadian company Cameco joined the project in 2008.

In 2012 GLE obtained a license to build an enrichment facility in Wilmington, NC. That project, however, was put on hold as the demand for enrichment services dropped after Fukushima. In 2014, GLE expressed interest in building a facility in Paducah, at the site of the gaseous diffusion plant closed down in 2013. The new plant was supposed to enrich tails of the old enrichment operation to produce “natural-grade” uranium. In November 2016 GLE secured an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to acquire the tails. In April 2016, however, GE-Hitachi announced its intent to leave GLE. Silex Systems considered acquiring the GE-Hitachi stake in the company (which is 76%), but now ti decided against it.

In addition, Silex said it intends to give notice to GLE of the termination of the SILEX technology license “unless circumstances change dramatically in the short term”. This most likely means that all plans to build a Silex-based commercial uranium enrichment facility in the United States are now terminated.

July 14, 2018 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, business, technology, uranium | Leave a comment

More spent nuclear fuel rods from Lucas Heights reactor to go to France, returned later

France signs agreement with Australia on research reactor fuel reprocessing, JULY 9, 2018 Mycle Schneider

On 6 July 2018, the French Official Journal published a decree making formal a 23 November 2017 inter-governmental agreement for AREVA NC (now Orano) to reprocess at La Hague spent fuel from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) research reactor OPAL.

The reprocessing of OPAL spent fuel at the La Hague facility is foreseen to occur between January 2019 and 31 December 2034. The ownership of the extracted plutonium and uranium will be transferred to Orano. The plutonium is to be used in a civil reactor.

The reprocessing wastes are to be shipped back to Australia until 31 December 2035, unless the contract is extended for additional quantities of fuel. In that case, the very last date for waste return is 31 December 2040.

The quantity of spent fuel covered under the agreement and contract is “up to 3.6 tons.” Under a previous agreement, 0.236 tons of OPAL spent fuel have been reprocessed at La Hague by the end of 2014.

As of the end of 2017, of the 9,970 tons of spent fuel stored in the La Hague spent fuel pools, 99.6 percent was domestic power reactor fuel belonging to Électricité de France (EDF). The La Hague facilities have a licensed reprocessing capacity of 1,700 tons per year of spent fuel.

July 14, 2018 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Federal nuclear waste dump | Leave a comment

Taxpayers pay up for Kimba and Hawker residents to be “nuclear-educated” at Lucas Heights

$350k of flights to get nuclear reactions 
Taxpayers have coughed up nearly $350,000 to fly 225 Kimba and Hawker residents to Sydney to learn about nuclear waste, new figures reveal…(subscribers only)

Nuclear waste debate soars to nearly $350,000 in tax-payer funded trips   – the Australian (subscribers only)

July 14, 2018 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Federal nuclear waste dump | Leave a comment

Planned nuclear dump sites – Access denied to Barngarla Native Title Representative Body.

Everybody For A NUclear Free Future, 14 July 18, After claiming there was no aboriginal heritage issues at the proposed Kimba suppositories, DIIS denies entry to Barngarla Native Title Representative Body.

“We wrote to the department on 21 February requesting access for sites, for the purposes of that assessment being carried out, and advising that the DAC would contact the department after that assessment had been complete for the purpose of working a way forward for these consultation processes. The department advised that they couldn’t provide access to the sites. You’ve been provided a redacted version of the report. The material that was provided following our initial submissions—I think that was only provided to you in the last few days—is somewhat compromised, but it has identified that there are nine confirmed sites and nine potential sites that are affected.

As part of that assessment team, which included some of the DAC board members here. Mr Brandon McNamara, who’s a Barngarla elder, invited the department to come along to a board meeting on 3 March and that invitation was declined. There were also statements made to the assessment team that the engagement of Dr Gorring to carry out the assessment was premature, which we find quite surprising. If the department has already issued statements that there’s no heritage and not provided information about what heritage assessments of its own it has made, to then make a comment that for Barngarla to carry out its own heritage assessments was premature is a bit surprising.”;db=COMMITTEES;id=committees%2Fcommsen%2F3b50aa48-41ab-4efe-92b1-1be895dcca94%2F0003;query=Id%3A%22committees%2Fcommsen%2F3b50aa48-41ab-4efe-92b1-1be895dcca94%2F0000%22

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July 14, 2018 Posted by | aboriginal issues, Federal nuclear waste dump, politics, South Australia | Leave a comment