Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Peter Remta comments on the answers given to the Senate Committee Inquiry into the Nuclear Waste Bill

 

Is there a solution?
Yes
1 Simply ignore the dubious results of the ballot last year and hold a fresh ballot with a wider voting base and full explanations of both sides of the issue to be voted on so that it becomes a much stronger and properly informed decision
by the voting community……

3.. The immediate withdrawal or suspension of the parliamentary consideration of the proposed legislation the subject of the committee’s inquiry.

*****************************************************************

These are draconian legislative changes intended to reduce the risks of hindering or stopping the facility’s establishment by the government which should probably be achieved by those changes but this is not the way that
Australia’s democratic and judicial process should be used.

What is being proposed by the bill is really little different to the autocratic and severely harsh prescriptions of notorious dictators which effectively removed he rule of law as we understand that concept. 

To make the situation even more ludicrous is that it is being left to a small community with a dubiously interpreted voting majority and insufficient knowledge and advice to effectively determine one of the most important issues to confront this country.

The department now claims that 39 of the 45 positions will be at Kimba who will all apparently be permanent residents as there will not be any fly-in/fly-out positions

It is quite meaningless for the department to conclude that the proposed facility to centralise and modernise radioactive waste management in Australia according to international best practice as already at this stage there is a failure to comply with the international prescriptions for that purpose which may no doubt jeopardise the licensing of the facility.

resolution was put by councillor G J Baldock whose family are the owners of Napandee which is one of the two sites at Kimba accepted for nomination and this must surely be a serious breach of conflict and pecuniary interest by him which would have completely excluded him from any involvement in the relevant discussions and voting on the motion.

Peter Remta, 21 Aug 20, SENATE COMMITTEE INQUIRY – NATIONAL RADIOACTIVE WASTE MANAGEMENT AMENDMENT (SITE SPECIFICATION, COMMUNITY FUND AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2020
My comments primarily relate to the written answers by the Department of Industry Science Energy and Resources to the questions put on notice at the Senate committee hearing on 30 June 2020

7. Answer to Question by Senator Hanson-Young:
Question:
What does ANSTO understand is the proportion of your waste that would make up what is stored at the Kimba site?
Answer:
As per the Australian Radioactive Waste Management Framework dated April 2018, it is anticipated that the wastes resulting from ANSTO’s operations and nuclear medicine production will account for approximately 78 per
cent* of all wastes that would be managed at the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF).

*This figure is subject to revision as more information becomes available..
If the question only relates to intermediate level waste held by ANSTO then the
answer may be relatively correct since ANSTO is by far the largest and main
generator of that class of waste
However if it were to include low level waste then the figure would be
dramatically different as there are many producers of that class of waste who
are not under the control of the federal government nor is their waste
Perhaps the best information to rely on is that given by ARPANSA in its
submission to the committee
16.

16. Answers to Questions 4, 5 and 6 by Senators McAllister and Patrick:
From the rather vague and incomplete answers both at the hearing and to the
specific questions posed by Senator McAllister it appears that the bill for
amending the present legislation was hastily put together with little time for
proper planning and this was most recently followed by the inexplicably
speedy proposal to set up a nuclear waste agency
It is easier to fully quote the parts of the department’s written answer:
Over the life of the program the department has briefed respective
Ministers on risks to the National Radioactive Waste Management
Facility development associated with judicial review.

On 31 July 2019, the department provided a brief to the former Minister
for Resources and Northern Australia, the Hon Matthew Canavan,
which also noted the potential to specify a site in the National
Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012 (the Act).
On 20 August 2019 the Minister wrote to the Prime Minister seeking
amendments to the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012
(the Act).
On 21 and 22 August 2019, at community forums in Kimba and
Hawker, Minister Canavan indicated that Parliament would have a role
in the site selection decision making process.

On 30 September 2019, the Prime Minister responded to the Minister’s
letter of 20 August 2019. On 17 October 2019 and on 4 November
2019, the department provided further briefs to the Minister on potential
amendments to the Act.

On 8 November 2019, the Minister wrote to the Prime Minister seeking
policy authority to develop legislative amendments.

The answer then went on to say that it was the practice not to disclose
information about the business of the cabinet and that certain sensitive
information contained in some documents to be given to the committee on a
confidential basis which would not be in the public interest to reveal had
therefore been redacted.

In that regard it is difficult to understand why this important legislation now
before Parliament should include or involve information that cannot be publiclydisclosed as this is completely contrary to the open and uninhibited nature of parliamentary business and the inquiry committee should at the very least be given a summary of the suppressed information which could then be dealt with more fully by the privileges committee and published for general information.

This is particularly so since the proposed legislation is removing the rights of administrative and judicial review and reducing the native title entitlements for the local Aboriginal peoples

These are draconian legislative changes intended to reduce the risks of hindering or stopping the facility’s establishment by the government which should probably be achieved by those changes but this is not the way that
Australia’s democratic and judicial process should be used.

What is being proposed by the bill is really little different to the autocratic and severely harsh prescriptions of notorious dictators which effectively removed he rule of law as we understand that concept.

To make the situation even more ludicrous is that it is being left to a small community with a dubiously interpreted voting majority and insufficient knowledge and advice to effectively determine one of the most important issues to confront this country
Yet there was no questioning of the details of the most recent ballot held last
year as a true measure of community approval since it involved a restricted
voting base with a rather different result if unanswered or informal votes were
excluded or treated as a vote against the government’s proposal for lack of
consent
Most importantly the ballot was held without proper and full information on both
sides of the argument being presented to the intending voters in order to
ensure an informed consent as to the outcome of the ballot vote
If it is being suggested that legal privilege is needed with respect to a judicial
review preventing the development of the facility then surely this must be part
of the legislative process in dealing with the bill since one of its central
objectives is eliminating any rights of judicial or administrative review
From the totality of all that has been said or done by the department and
ANSTO it is quite clear that ultimately they want to pursue their own means of
identifying an appropriate site and method for the permanent disposal of the
local intermediate level waste

There is not one mention of the Azark Project at Leonora by any of the
government’s entities despite the fact that there were some seven or more
months of intense examination and assessment by the department of the
Azark site following its nomination in late July 2017 at the strong urging by the
department
It is completely inexplicable why the federal government in its different guises
does not accept and avail itself of the Azark underground facility which would
solve in a cost effective manner all its problems with using one of the best sites
in the world for that purpose

Added to which and without wishing to be too repetitious the Azark Project has
the benefit and involvement of some of the world’s leaders in nuclear waste
research and engineering which is not emulated locally or available to the
government

The forums on 21 and 22 August last year only dealt with ensuring that the
government’s grants would be paid direct to the communities and not the state
government as this was a major concern to the members of both communities

However the written answers to the questions put on notice stated that at
those community forums in Kimba and Hawker on 21 and 22 August 2019
Minister Canavan indicated that Parliament would have a role in the site
selection decision making process.

Persons who attended both of those forums say that there was not any
indication or even suggestion by Minister Canavan that Parliament would have
a role in the site selection decision which presumably is now being used to
justify the present legislation before Parliament

Apparently the only mention of legislation at the forums related to ensuring
legislative certainty for the payment of all grants direct to the community so
that they would not be lost to the state government

While the department relies on the discussions and ministerial correspondence
mentioned in its written response for justification of the government’s actions
the difficulty is that none of this had been previously disclosed or known so
that the mention of them is quite meaningless

Moreover the written response by the department only mentions the date and
occurrence of a particular letter or discussion but does not give any indication
of their context or subject making it extremely difficult for the community at this
late stage to be able to properly consider this important issue and true
intentions of the government

Even the wording of the answers is rather convoluted as for example seeking
policy authority to develop legislative amendments.

17. Answers to Question 4 by the committee comprising 11 separate items for
response which were individually covered by the department:.

Answers 1 to 3 to question 4 only repeat previous information but do not give
any justification for the total number of persons to be employed as this has
been a somewhat variable figure over the past two years or more and also
where they would be located

The department now claims that 39 of the 45 positions will be at Kimba who will all apparently be permanent residents as there will not be any fly-in/fly-out positions
The department has relied on the Cadence Economics report to justify the
aggregate earnings of these workers on an equivalent basis and has
answered the structure and functions of the workforce as previously outlined in
a fact sheet.

However none of these claims has been tested and based on overseas
experience of larger waste management facilities a far smaller workforce than
stated by the department is used in these facilities and this has been well put
by Dr Cameron Murray in his report entitled Down in the Dumps (August 2018)
It has also been confirmed by experts in the nuclear waste engineering
industry that overseas operations larger than the Kimba proposal have only a
fraction of the number claimed by the department being as low as less than
ten in total

Answer 4 to question 4 is quite unusual in that there had been no
consideration of a substantially unmanned or partially manned facility as
external monitoring technology is used in other facilities overseas and is highly
developed in Australia within the mining industry
Again this suggests bad or lack of planning on the part of the department
It is noted that ARPANSA (Answer 2) said that there is no specific requirement
for a proponent or a licence holder to apply the measure of continuous
‘manning’ to a radioactive source or material in use and storage and of
associated activities on-site

The department’s response under 4(c) is rather misleading as the overseas
facilities used for its concept design invariably have some form electronic
monitoring which has lead to significant reductions in their staffing needs
The appropriate performance-based protective security measures for the
facility will be based on such things as described by ARPANSA in its response
which may difficult for the government to satisfy
Answers 5 to 7 are again not extremely informative since the framework was
issued in April 2018 (not July 2018 as mentioned in the answer) and while
covering in detail the necessity for proper waste management only generally
refers to an entity or organisation for that purpose

The provisions of the framework are principally devoted towards the safe and
coordinated management of nuclear waste and the establishment of the
national management facility

The framework only refers in general terms to a radioactive waste
management organisation which is not even included in the summary of its
purposes and objectives
To suggest in the answer that it was first considered in the framework is rather
meaningless and incorrect having regard to its quite limited mention of the
organisation within the framework
Again it lacks planning and implementation of the framework and other
requirements as to nuclear waste if that organisation which is now known as
Australian Radioactive Waste Agency (ARWA) was first considered by the
former responsible minister in December 2019 but with no mention of it until
the joint announcement on 21 July 2020

It is interesting that there was also no mention whatsoever of the new agency
in the nominations of land guidelines issued by the department in November
2018 nor in the explanatory memorandums for the bill to amend the existing
legislation and in all the submissions made by or on behalf of the government
to the Senate committee inquiry

Using the confidentiality of cabinet proceedings seems a lame excuse for not
providing any additional information
The remaining answers 8 to 11 again do not provide any new information but
again create the impression of hasty and uncertain planning in setting up the
new agency

The government’s budget allocations are still to be announced and the details
of the agency’s workforce is far from informative which again suggests a
hurried and rather unplanned proposal for the agency

23. Answers to questions by the committee which appear to arise from the
unequivocal responses by Mr Barry Wakelin as to whether the government
had financially supported the yes case for the community ballots at Kimba

While Mr Wakelin had no difficulty in confirming the government’s financial
support – and this seems to be quite obvious from all the facts of the situation
subsequently considered – the department gave an answer in three parts the
first of which was its denial of financial support for the yes case.

This is a rather ludicrous response since all of the work undertaken in support
of the choice and plans for the facility at Kimba was by the government and its
various agencies and also by the District Council of Kimba from government
funding

The next answer explained that the department had prepared and distributed
various information for the community and given financial support to different
government agencies and AECOM to participate in varying forms of
community engagement for providing technical information but this was all
one-sided as it wholly supported the government’s proposals without any
contrary arguments and information.

The financial assistance for presentations by the persons named in the answer
who are all against the facility proposal cannot be regarded as any proper
opposing arguments despite what the department is suggesting by its
responses
The third part of the department’s answer gives a description of the Joint
Convention and its objectives and prescriptions but lacks any credibility as it
does not explain how the government is already complying with the
Convention’s obligations

It is quite meaningless for the department to conclude that the proposed facility
to centralise and modernise radioactive waste management in Australia
according to international best practice as already at this stage there is a
failure to comply with the international prescriptions for that purpose which
may no doubt jeopardise the licensing of the facility

24. Answers to questions by the committee arising from information given to
the committee on 28 July 2020 by Mr David Sweeney on behalf of the
Australian Conservation Council
From reading the Hansard transcript and the written answers by the
department I personally found the attitude towards Mr Sweeney to be rather
disparaging and even bordering on insulting considering that his evidence to
the committee was probably the most knowledgeable and logical of all the
witnesses

As is generally well known that Mr Sweeney is a vehement opponent of all
nuclear applications – and I for one strongly reject some of his contentions – he
is well informed and truthful in his comments and should be respected for his
views which is already the case by even his opponents
It is therefore rather sad that the department’s responses seemed somewhat
disdainful of his evidence as for example there are very strong suggestions
that only a small number of the present one hundred or more holders of lower
levels of waste will use the Kimba facility and hence disprove the hope of a
national central repository
The third response by the department is probably the most mischievous since
it is well known and acknowledged that the intermediate waste going to Kimba
for storage is spent fuel after its reprocessing overseas which has been
previously commented on by Mr Sweeney

It is well known that intermediate level waste is far more dangerous than lowlevel
waste and requires greater and more stringent handling including in
transportation which will be difficult to provide for Kimba despite the overly
costly above the ground facility which may still not comply with the regulatory
requirements

20, 21 and 22 Answers by District Council of Kimba
From these answers it is relatively clear that the District Council arranged the
ballots at the request and probably with the financial assistance of the
department

Perhaps the most noteworthy are the minutes of the council’s meeting on 9
May 2018 being Answer 22 which recorded the passing of a resolution to
accede to a ministerial request to facilitate a final ballot regarding the site
selection for the national facility but with the reservation to terminate the ballot
if the minister failed to provide certain specified information to a level of detail
that would allow the community to make an informed, considered decision in
respect of the facility being constructed at the two nominated sites in Kimba

This resolution was put by councillor G J Baldock whose family are the owners of Napandee which is one of the two sites at Kimba accepted for nomination and this must surely be a serious breach of conflict and pecuniary interest by him which would have completely excluded him from any involvement in the relevant discussions and voting on the motion.

The other interesting thing with this resolution is the right to terminate the
ballot should the minister fail to provide the information for an informed and
considered decision by the community which appears not to have been done
yet the ballot was held and relied on for providing approval for the facility

Remaining questions
Questions 5 and 6 to the department relate to rather basic assessments of 42
discrete sites owned by the Commonwealth and three sites at Woomera none
of which was suitable
Practically all of the remaining Questions on notice and their Answers by the
Department of Defence relate to the possibility and practicality of using the
Woomera land for the national facility

However I have not gone to any comment on these questions and answers
since it seems most unlikely that the Department of Defence will consider or
contemplate a nuclear waste management and disposal facility at Woomera
The only other Question 15 to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority is regarding
the expected requirements by the authority as to building developments that
may impinge on aviation operations and would again not have any great
relevance at present

Conclusions
Regrettably it appears that the written responses to questions posed on
notice have not really provided any meaningful or significant assistance for
the committee in its enquiries

The stems from the limited questioning by the committee due to both to time
availability and the breadth of the subject material and then the controlled and
not entirely forthcoming responses predominantly by the department as the
driving force behind the government‘s intentions to construct a national waste
management facility at the now selected site at Napandee near Kimba

While it cannot be expected due to limitations of time and costs that a senate
committee of inquiry such as the present one can have the legal forensic skills
and level of investigative and research capabilities of a formal commission it is
respectfully suggested that far more detail and well prepared examination of
the witnesses and of the materials and circumstances relating to the subject
matter should have been involved in the conduct of this inquiry.

This is because of both the importance and consequences of the inquiry as to
various issues including the establishment of a nuclear energy industry in this
country and

The three major factors that have remained unanswered and not even
considered would by international standards jeopardise the appropriate
licensing for the proposed facility
The first is that by the best international practice and requirements a safety
case should have been begun and developed by the government through
either department or ANSTO immediately a location was considered as
acceptable for nomination
This becomes essential as the safety case is a continuing and developing
process which should bring in community discussions at all levels to ventilate
all the arguments in favour of or against all aspects of the site and facility
proposal

This has not been done in the case of Kimba (and previously Hawker) and
none of the various activities including the characterisation of the three sites
can even be considered as some form of starting the safety case
This situation has certainly surprised overseas experts in this field who are
questioning why ARPANSA as the Australian regulator has not taken
appropriate action as its seems from its submission to be suggesting that the
safety case need only be prepared when the licensing applications are made

The second is the determination of the quantum and activity of the
radionuclides of the intermediate level waste as this must be known well
before even conceptual planning and the choosing of an appropriate site
Again this has surprised overseas experts since they cannot understand how
a facility even for temporary storage can be planned without a full and
detailed consideration of the radionuclides as in reality the facility or
repository must be custom built around the radionuclides inventories and
activity – it is really an example of putting the cart before the horse at Kimba

The third important requirement that has not been met with the Kimba
selection process is the absence of any independent assessment and scrutiny

of the government’s proposals for the community members who oppose the
facility or at least demand far more expert advice than the promotional and
rather naive and partial information disseminated by the government

It therefore becomes completely impossible to have a ballot which fails to
have a YES and NO case so that the intending voters can reach a properly
considered decision to satisfy the principle of informed consent
It is extremely disappointing that the senators comprising the committee
members were not far better instructed on these issues so as to have a much
fairer and knowledgeable inquiry into this most important national issue
If there were failings with the public hearings – and I assure you that this is
quite clearly apparent from the transcripts – then the committee were
presented with a golden opportunity to rectify those failings through the
questions on notice with a demand for a much higher standard of response

Is there a solution?
Yes
Simply ignore the dubious results of the ballot last year and hold a fresh ballot with a wider voting base and full explanations of both sides of the issue to be voted on so that it becomes a much stronger and properly informed decision
by the voting community.
This solution will have three requirements:
1. A full and proper assessment and scrutiny of all aspects of the
government’s proposals to be completely independent of the government
but funded by it in all respects

2. To ensure the independence and validity of this process it must be
undertaken solely at the behest and on instructions from the community
members who have been dissatisfied with existing process but still
ensuring that the views of those from the community who are in favour of
the facility are fully and properly considered.

3. The immediate withdrawal or suspension of the parliamentary consideration of the proposed legislation the subject of the committee’sinquiry.

 

August 29, 2020 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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