Australian news, and some related international items

In Australian Senate Inquiry uncertainty grows over whether Kimba nuclear dump site is really needed

the day saw uncertainty grow over the need for the proposed Kimba site while there was a corresponding growth in clarity that there is no urgency re this decision. The govts plan might suit ANSTO but it is not Australia’s only option – and it faces growing scrutiny.

from Jim Green, 1 July 2020 ,   Yesterday, Tuesday June 30 , the Senate Inquiry into Minister Pitt’s planned amendments to the national radioactive waste laws to cement and secure Kimba as a Facility site took evidence in Canberra.

The Committee heard from Govt agencies and contractors and key themes included both the need for the planned new laws and, importantly, for the Facility itself – esp. around the double handling of Intermediate Level Waste from ANSTO’s Lucas Heights.

ANSTO – as ever, there was too much bluff and bluster and too many Dorothy Dixers –  as invariably happens with them in Estimates – but there were some very interesting arisings:

  • Confirmed there are ‘no safety concerns’ with current waste – although ‘we cannot say that in 40 or 50 years they (ANSTO’s waste stores) will be fit for purpose’ – clear acknowledgement that they could retain waste on site and four decades is more than enough for a credible review and a more integrated approach.
  • Further, ANSTO has ‘proposals under development with government for pre-2027 construction of new storage’ for ILW waste
  • Hardly credible that they did not know the general proportions of ANSTO origin waste at the proposed Facility (around 80% of total wastes, and more importantly, 95% of ILW)
  • They see extended on-site storage as a ‘significant management challenge and significant financial cost’ and so want to both cost shift and physically waste shift. Again, this is ANSTO’s agency agenda – not a national imperative or Australia’s sole or best option.
  • Odd claim that a delay in advancing Kimba would be ‘detrimental to our sense of ourselves’ however it would not be inconsistent with any international treaty obligations. No treaty or convention obligations require Kimba to be advanced in its current form – or at all.  (also I would suggest that ignoring Traditional Owner opposition to the siting of a national radioactive waste facility poses a bigger threat to our national sense of self)
  • No credible threat to secure access to nuclear medicine supply should Kimba be delayed – although there would be ‘some scenario’s’ where supply could potentially be impacted. This is a very significant reduction in ANSTO’s threat messaging and a long way from a pressing problem. As I understand the scenario referred to is that Kimba is not advanced and ANSTO has taken no steps to develop a contingency.

In summary Kimba is not essential for nuclear medicine nor is it essential for Australia’s compliance with international frameworks. ANSTO could extend interim storage at Lucas Heights but understandably would prefer to transfer both the waste and its continuing management cost to a non ANSTO purse and place. Not a good enough rationale for a deficient national plan.


  • ANSTO waste ‘can be safely stored at Lucas Heights for decades to come’ – absolutely critical point: there is no need to rush – we have time to develop a more credible approach.
  • ‘International best practice is to store radioactive waste safely – current storage at the Lucas Heights site is fully aligned with international best practice’
  • There will be distinct licensing applications required for the two waste streams – LLW and ILW (with no certainty that they will have a shared approval outcome)

Dept of Industry:

  • Repeated reference to the ‘contentious’ nature of the siting decision
  • Extremely deficient responses re the rational and process for the change in legislative decision making from Ministerial decision to legislative instrument. Some Senators not happy at Depts inability to answer basic process questions –it is very clear the rationale is to isolate against future legal challenge.
  • Statement that decision to change the legislative basis of the siting was made sometime in 2019 – then a later statement that it was made by Minister Pitt (note: Pitt was sworn in 6/2/20)
  • The Departments Sam Chard rear guard action was to state that the intent of the change was to enable Parliament ‘to test the merits of the action’  – that is long overdue – could we please do this as it simply doesn’t stack up
  • Increasingly clear that the Dept is utterly adrift re Barngarla liaison – understandably as they simply do not want the Facility on their country – the Facility plan is heading for some pretty sharp rocks if it doesn’t change course.

Dept of Defence:

  • strongly arguing against any siting on the Woomera Prohibited Area as this could reduce its functionality. Not at all keen.
  • Hard pressed by Rex Patrick though about how credible is it to say ‘not possible’ for a 100 hectare Facility inside a site twice the size of Tasmania.


  • Predictable defence of process, their expertise and kept referring to the restricted extent of their brief as the way to avoid any tricky questions (like Barngarla liaison)
  • No tech or site reason why the Facility couldn’t be at Kimba

There were good efforts from Sarah Hanson Young, Rex Patrick and Labor’s Jenny McAllister to highlight and tease out issues.

In a nutshell I would say the day saw uncertainty grow over the need for the proposed Kimba site while there was a corresponding growth in clarity that there is no urgency re this decision. The govts plan might suit ANSTO but it is not Australia’s only option – and it faces growing scrutiny.

We now need to keep up the issue profile and the expectation on Labor and the cross-benches to oppose this legislation when it comes to the Senate and instead support a strategy that advances both human and environmental rights and responsible radioactive waste management.

July 2, 2020 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Federal nuclear waste dump, politics

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