Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Dr Margaret Beavis on why nuclear waste is best kept at Lucas Heights, and on the advantages of cyclotrons.

concerningly, in terms of nuclear medicine, ANSTO has proved an unreliable supplier with multiple outages and supply shortages in the last few years. You will find references to that in our submission. When you’re sourcing from a single nuclear reactor, one break in the chain shuts down the whole process. If technetium were instead sourced from multiple cyclotrons, which could be based in hospitals around Australia at not a huge cost—certainly much less than a nuclear reactor—if one of these cyclotrons broke down, there would be multiple other cyclotrons to supply technetium. 

Dr Carl-Magnus Larsson, head of ARPANSA, – the ‘waste could be safely stored at Lucas Heights for decades to come’. He said that there was no urgent need for relocation of this waste and that ARPANSA has not raised any safety concerns regarding storage of waste at the interim waste facility [at Lucas Heights]

PARLIAMENTARY STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS Intermediate level solid waste storage facility, Lucas Heights, New South Wales (Public) MONDAY, 13 SEPTEMBER 2021  BEAVIS, Dr Margaret, Vice President, Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia) [by audio link] RUFF, Dr Tilman, AO, Member, Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia) [by audio link]  

Dr Beavis, Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. MAPW supports the construction of a new facility at Lucas Heights. As noted in ANSTO’s submission, there will be minimal expected impact on the community, and ANSTO has an excellent record of managing this waste on site. This contrasts with the massive distress and community division a succession of nuclear waste storage proposals have caused in regional and remote Australia.


 I’ll now address the sort of individual criteria of the committee. The stated purpose and suitability: the facility is needed and the proposal is suitable. You’ve already heard Dr Carl-Magnus Larsson, head of ARPANSA, say that the ‘waste could be safely stored at Lucas Heights for decades to come’. He said that there was no urgent need for relocation of this waste and that ARPANSA has not raised any safety concerns regarding storage of waste at the interim waste facility [inaudible] ANSTO. Addressing the need for the work: clearly intermediate level waste has to be stored safely and securely. It’s radioactive for over 10,000 years. Putting that in perspective, the Egyptian pharaohs were about 5,000 years ago, so it needs to be kept safe for a very long time. 


Addressing cost effectiveness: this plan may prove to be very cost effective if, as a result of the extra capacity, there is time for an open and independent inquiry looking at world’s best practice management of nuclear waste. Given current world’s best practice standards, it’s very likely that the plan to move the waste will not proceed. 

At some point ANSTO does indeed need to address the proper disposal or long-term management of intermediate waste. Countries, such as Finland, have spent decades researching how best to do this, and Australia could learn a lot from their research and expertise. In terms of the current and prospective value of the work, as noted, this work may provide breathing space enabling the open—and I stress—independent review of the claimed need for a temporary storage facility in South Australia.


 The work would have even greater value if waste production was also reviewed and curtailed. If this were done, the proposed new site at Lucas Heights would take much longer to fill and be available for a much greater time frame. 


It’s worth remembering that the first principle of managing toxic waste is to reduce production. Currently ANSTO is rapidly expanding production of the nuclear medicine isotope called technetium-99 precursors, which is the most commonly used isotope. This export business continues because it is very heavily subsidised. There’s no cost-benefit analysis and no attempt at full cost recovery. Historically Australian supply has been one per cent of the world supply and, as a doctor, I support nuclear medicine. One per cent of the world’s supply has been what Australia has needed. 

ANSTO is in the process of increasing from that one per cent for the last few years and aims to produce 25 to 30 per cent of global supply, with very little acknowledgement of the massively increased quantity of intermediate waste that this will generate. 


On top of that, concerningly, in terms of nuclear medicine, ANSTO has proved an unreliable supplier with multiple outages and supply shortages in the last few years. You will find references to that in our submission. When you’re sourcing from a single nuclear reactor, one break in the chain shuts down the whole process. If technetium were instead sourced from multiple cyclotrons, which could be based in hospitals around Australia at not a huge cost—certainly much less than a nuclear reactor—if one of these cyclotrons broke down, there would be multiple other cyclotrons to supply technetium. 


Additionally, clean cyclotron production of technetium has recently been approved through all the health hurdles in Canada. It’s being implemented now there. This should rapidly become the future of isotope production. It avoids the high cost and the serious accident and terrorist risk inherent in nuclear reactors. It has no weapons proliferation potential, and it creates very little nuclear waste. You can use pre-existing cyclotrons. There are already cyclotrons in hospitals making other isotopes. Japan, the US, the UK and several European  countries are all looking into implementing more reliable, safer, cheaper and much cleaner cyclotron production of technetium-99  https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/committees/commjnt/cfc4f9dc-b73c-4166-b484-eeaddcab5bc0/toc_pdf/Parliamentary%20Standing%20Committee%20on%20Public%20Works_2021_09_13_9111.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf?fbclid=IwAR0ZzP4j5ukpfZOgyipP2ak92avAEz19B2wqC_Zz4bcbCDXGB9cRcT2siFo#search=%22Australian%20Nuclear%20Scie

October 7, 2021 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Federal nuclear waste dump, health

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