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About nuclear wastes: Ignorance, incompetence and hypocrisy of Dan van Holst Pellekaan, South Australian Minister for Energy and Resources

Meetings with Minister Pellekaan and the DIIS, Anti-Nuclear Coalition of South Australia, January 2019

Report back from ANC members’ meetings with SA Minister for Energy and Resources, Dan van Holst Pellekaan, on Nov. 14, and with two bureaucrats from the DIIS (Department of Industry, Innovation & Science). 

This second meeting was held in Adelaide at the Department of Industry, Innovation & Science (DIIS) offices on November 28. Ms Sam Shard the GM for the NRWMFT (National Radioactive Waste Management Taskforce) fielded all questions, and Wendy (no one heard her surname), Head of Policy, who only spoke once throughout the hour-long meeting.  Requests for meetings with federal Minister Canavan (delegated to his department’s officials) and his SA counterpart, Minister Pellekaan, were made several months ago, and both only came about as a result of persistent efforts.

In this summary, the NRWMF (National Radioactive Waste Management Facility)=the dump.

Pellekaan Meeting: In his initial response to the ANC’s request to meet – first declined – Pellekaan outlined his government’s support for a national dump, “in one central, secure location” for LLW (low level waste) the justification being that such waste resulted from “life-saving medical procedures and research”. Notably, he omitted any reference to the planned ‘temporary’ storage of ILW (intermediate level waste).

(Last year on talkback radio, then, Premier Weatherill, similarly, omitted any mention of co-location of the very long-lived ILW at a national dump.)

Pellekaan and his leader’s support for a national dump (“one dump is better than many”) are predicated entirely on there being a willing host community. He wouldn’t, “refuse a dump to a community that gave its broad support”.

During the half-hour (only) meeting the emphasis from five ANC participants was on his omission to mention the co-location of the ILW (he did say that he had talked about it on radio). Also, on the significance of a radioactive dump for all South Australians, not only the two small communities targeted for a dump. On the latter point, Pellekaan argued that, if the wider community were to prevent a willing local community from hosting a dump it would disenfranchise local people(!) It was pointed out to him that it is South Australians, in general, who are being disenfranchised by the federal government’s strategy.

Regarding the ILW, Pellekaan was not overly concerned about the temporary storage, considering it would be just as safe at a rural SA location as at Lucas Heights, saying, “It has to be stored somewhere”.

Other questions and comments were about the classification of radioactive waste; the regulator’s (ARPANSA) licensing arrangements, about which he said that he was,not across the detail”; the longevity of the ILW and the implications of the SA Nuclear Waste (Prohibition) Act.

 He downplayed any special role he might have as either the responsible SA Minister or as the Member for Sturt, the electorate in which a national dump could well be located, emphasising that it would not be his decision, but a cabinet decision.

Regarding the South Australian  legislation, he considers that at least, in part, it would have to be altered to allow the dump. This was not seen in any way as a hindrance because legislation can be enacted and repealed, if the parliament wishes.

In summary, Pellekaan follows faithfully the federal government’s arguments for the dump. His apparent lack of knowledge about High Level Waste (HLW)  and Intermediate Level Waste (ILW); the length of time the ILW could remain stored above ground at the ‘interim’ site; the lack of any permanent plans for its disposal, or facilities and technical expertise for dealing with radioactive hazards at an interim dump is deeply troubling and unacceptable.

Note: Ally apologises for inaccurately stating in the prepared questions to put to Pellekaan that the ARPANSA licencing arrangement for the temporary storage of ILW at Lucas Heights is conditional on it being transferred to a permanent site. This is not the case. However, what it does say is, “The NRWMF will cater for the long-term above ground storage (approximately 100 years) of Intermediate Level Waste including the waste processed in France and the United Kingdom.” Final_ARPANSA.pdf  

Department of Industry Innovation and Science (DIIS)  Meeting: Four people from ANC met with two departmental bureaucrats (see above) for an hour – not a minute more. Unfortunately, no full set of notes was taken. This report is based on notes taken by Mnem Giles, Colin Mitchell and Ally Fricker. Getting into the commonwealth offices in Franklin St was farcical with security having difficulty establishing who qualified as bone fide visitors, and negotiating with a boss up on the thirteenth floor to allow a fourth person to attend. Another five people remained on the street with placards and leaflets. A press release was sent out. The main entrance door was locked and only unlocked after we departed the building.

Mnem presented Sam Chard with a submission to the Senate Standing Committee from WILPF as requested by Ruth Russell. It was explained who WILPF is.

NOTE: Sam Chard’s comments are not always direct quotes. They are highlighted in red to make it clearer when it is her comments.

Sam Chard was the only person who responded to our questions. We established very quickly that we had not come to hear the government’s PR; that we were quite familiar with it. Head of Policy Wendy … commented only once saying that a permanent national dump for the intermediate waste would require two decades to plan.

The questions and comments attached were largely followed. We emphasised our request for the DIIS to hold a public meeting in Adelaide to inform politicians, media and public (who remain very confused) about the full plans for the national dump.

Response: The state is aware of the details and all the information is on-line.

It was also stressed that a national radioactive waste dump is an issue of national significance, not only an issue for locally targeted communities. (There is little likelihood that an Adelaide meeting would occur without follow up with a formal letter from the ANC and persistent demands to DIIS, the Minister and other relevant agencies.)

Chard agreed that a national dump was an issue of national significance because 1 in 2 people in Australia need nuclear medicine.

 Other Issues Raised: 1. The lack of transparency at the Barndioota Consultative Committee meeting held at Quorn on the previous day (Nov 27) NO observers were allowed to attend, even after several had signed the usual request to sign confidentiality statements!

Response: This is entirely at the Chairman’s discretion and to allow free and frank discussion. The reason for the cancellation of the Kimba meeting (due on Nov 28) was because of it being “harvest time”, not because of the Barngarla legal challenge, as people inside the committee meeting at Quorn were told.

  1. Disposal of DoD (Department of Defence) waste.

Response: it is not wanted at Woomera for “operational reasons”, which would be classified. Re the quantity and location of DoD waste, the document, Australian Radioactive Waste Framework April 2018, was distributed to everyone, and referred to throughout the meeting, but this document fails to give any detail about what activities created the waste in the first place. Chard took on notice further questions relating to DOD waste stored at Woomera.

  1. Illegality of a national dump in SA: Response – Once land is acquired by the commonwealth, the  federal Act (2012) would override the SA Act prohibiting a nuclear dump. Note this differs from Pellekaan’s response.
  2. Still after decades of planning, there remains no full inventory of waste intended for a national dump.

Response: A new ARPANSA document is now available which discusses the possible acceptance criteria for a national dump, but no further information, apart from the Framework document available (at the meeting). The first phase of acceptance criteria is available on the web.

  1. DIIS document titled,National Radioactive Waste Management Facility. Lucas Heights Sydney 2017 says, about long-term disposal of waste at Lucas Heights, “ . . .it’s not allowed. ANSTO’s Lucas Heights campus is only licenced . . . to store waste on a temporary basis, and on the condition that a plan is developed by the end of the decade for final disposal pathway for its waste.” (Our emphasis) It was pointed out that this was unambiguous. Response: There was no elaboration.      ARPANSA document,Information to Stakeholders (May 2017) notes that temporary storage of ILW at a national dump ‘could be in excess of 100 years.’

Response: this is not correct. We responded in which case, ARPANSA should be corrected. Response: 100 years refers to the LLW only. ILW would only remain at an interim location for a couple of decades, or up to 30 years, or up to 40 years – 40 years is, conveniently, the approximate lifetime of the TN81 steel containers in which the reprocessed spent fuel is packaged.

  1. What facilities would be available at a temporary dump for re-packaging the TN81 containers?

Response: Waste entering the dump would be checked, but there are no plans for re-packaging facilities. The waste would not be there for long enough to require themThere are also, as yet, no facilities at Woomera for re-packaging any of the CSIRO waste currently stored there that might require

  1. These would need to be established.
  1. Co-location of LLW and ILW in other countries:

Response – There are models overseas for this. Where is it occurring? Response – Would take on notice. It was pointed out that the LLW and ILW stored permanently at Aube, France was not the equivalent of the co-location planned in SA because French classification of ILW is not the same as Australia’s, and definitely does not include reprocessed spent fuel. Response – Don’t know the specifics of Frances’ arrangements.

  1. Storage of ILW at Lucas Heights: Response -It’s in a dedicated facility. It is only there on a temporary basis; it’s quite safe there. Storage at a national dump would be the same as at Lucas Heights.
  2. Difference between French and Australian classification of the returned reprocessed spent fuel:

Response – The French have now changed their reference to HLW and brought the classification into line with Australia’s requirements. France now agrees with Australian authorities.

  1. Future availability of reprocessing facilities in France and any alternative arrangements: Response – Would take on notice.
  2. Commercial in confidence re the business case for the expansion of medical radioisotope production at Lucas Heights: Response – the expansion is for the export business (therefore commercial?)
  3. Classification of spent fuel: Response –Spent fuel from a nuclear power reactor is HLW, but from a research reactor it is ILW – there is a significant difference between ILW and HLW. A request to explain the difference was taken on notice.
  4. Permanent disposal of ILW, no site, no plans and no technology on the horizon: Response: That entity not yet defined.
  5. Permanent disposal of waste, ‘too dangerous’ to leave at Lucas Heights: ALP Shadow Minister for Energy and Resources, Kim Carr, spoke to Susan Craig and said that this was the reason why waste had to be removed to another interim site. Response: DIIS could not comment on this.

Formal minutes taken by DIIS staff were requested and an undertaking to forward them to ANC was made. Mnem followed this up and was told the minutes were being ‘cleaned up’. Mnem said we would prefer them as they were recorded. As with minutes from the Minister Pellekaan meeting, we are still waiting . . .

Thanks to Mnem for persisting with the arrangements for this meeting with DIIS, and the people who waited outside, and to Kate who distributed many leaflets.

January 21, 2019 - Posted by | Federal nuclear waste dump, South Australia

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