Australian news, and some related international items

Out of site out of mind – Australian govt has NO PLAN for nuclear waste disposal.


Divisive campaign on South Australian facility highlights urgent need for long term nuclear waste management plan, Croakey, 6 Nov 20, Tillman Ruff

“……..No long term management plan for nuclear waste

Australia needs to develop a plan for long-term management and disposal of long-lived intermediate level nuclear waste, which must be kept strictly isolated from people and the environment for 10,000 years.

More than 90 percent of Australia’s radioactive waste comes from nuclear reactors managed by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) at Lucas Heights in southern Sydney. This waste is stored there in a dedicated Interim Waste Store facility at Australia’s principal nuclear facility, with the best expertise and capacity in the country to manage this safely, monitored 24/7 by the Australia Federal Police.

A serious, open, transparent, evidence-based process is required to carefully consider the options, and develop the most responsible plan for ongoing long-term management and disposal of this waste.

nstead, successive governments — both Coalition and Labor — have sought to impose a succession of ill-considered waste dump plans on SA and NT remote communities. All have previously failed because of deeply flawed processes and strong community opposition.

Transport, taxpayer burdens absent health need

The risks of accident or theft are greatest during transport of nuclear materials. Kimba is 1,700 km from Lucas Heights. Road or sea transport of radioactive waste would involve lengthy routes potentially traversing many communities in multiple states.

The nuclear regulator, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has recently confirmed to a Senate inquiry that Lucas Heights has the capacity to safely store Australia’s radioactive waste for several decades, and that there is no urgent need to relocate it.

The Senate Inquiry last month recommended the South Australian plan go ahead, but there was a split among the committee membership, with Senators Jenny McAllister (Labor), Sarah Hanson-Young (Greens) and Rex Patrick (Independent) dissenting.

The government’s repeated claim that an immediate interim radioactive waste dump is needed to ensure the continuation of nuclear medicine in Australia is false.

Every sizeable hospital currently manages their radioactive waste on a ‘delay and decay’ basis on site; the residual waste rapidly loses its radioactivity and is stored on-site until it has decayed and can be discarded with normal waste. This doesn’t need to and won’t change.

The emotive but fallacious claim that provision of nuclear medicine services needed for diagnosis and treatment of cancer will be jeopardised if a new nuclear waste dump is not urgently progressed is being dishonestly but persistently promoted.

To support passage of the government’s amendments, Federal Resources, Water and Northern Australia Minister Keith Pitt  is believed to be planning a “nuclear medicine roundtable” at Parliament House on Monday 9 November.

The true driver of increasing need for waste management is ANSTO’s institutional nuclear ambitions, reflected in its current massive ramp-up of production of medical isotopes for export — from around one percent to a target of 25-30 percent of global supply over the next several years.

Not only are we left with the waste legacy of this expanding isotope export business, Australian taxpayers also pick up the bill, paying $400 million for the Lucas Heights OPAL reactor, and subsidising ANSTO on an annual basis for its nuclear operations.

ANSTO received $313.8 million in 2019-20, and was given an additional $238.1 million over 4 years in last month’s Budget.

Cost analyses in several other countries have found that medical isotope sales usually only recover 10-15 percent of the true cost of production once waste, decommissioning, insurance and other costs are factored in.

ANSTO’s export expansion push is increasing domestic nuclear waste pressures, and this is happening without proper public and parliamentary accountability and scrutiny………..

Out of sight, out of mind

The government’s approach, codified in the proposed amendments, would see long-lived radioactive intermediate level nuclear waste transported long distances from the best and most secure site to manage radioactive waste in Australia, to a distant site in South Australian farming country with no current expertise, facilities or experience in securely managing long-lived hazardous radioactive waste.

Effectively, this “temporary” storage facility for waste that must be kept safe from the environment for over 10,000 years will be a large shed.

There is currently no plan and no process to develop a plan for the long-term management and eventual disposal of this waste. Therefore the intermediate level waste will likely languish indefinitely above ground in a facility inadequate for safe long-term storage or disposal, but out of sight and out of mind from Canberra or Sydney.

Australia needs an open, transparent, evidence-based and independent review of Australia’s current and projected radioactive waste production. This review should examine and make recommendations on the best practice long-term management of Australia’s radioactive waste production and disposal.

It should be conducted independently of ANSTO, given their role as proponent of the current proposal and plans to significantly increase nuclear waste production over the next decade for reasons which are not based on the health or other needs of Australians.

It should be open to input from Indigenous organisations, civil society organisations, experts and the public, and be undertaken before any soil is turned for a dump in Kimba and before any waste is moved from Lucas Heights. We have ample time to do this properly.

Tilman Ruff AO is Associate Professor at the Nossal Institute for Global Health, University of Melbourne. He is Co-President of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and co-founder and founding chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, both Nobel Peace Prize laureate organisations.

November 7, 2020 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Federal nuclear waste dump, politics

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