Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Danger in transporting nuclear wastes from Lucas Heights, and ANSTO’s conflict of interest.

profoundly increased risks to the security of nuclear material that occur during transport, which are obviously minimised if they stay at Lucas Heights, and that’s one of the key reasons that we’re in favour of extended interim storage at Lucas Heights rather than anywhere else.

They [ANSTO] are a nuclear operator, so of course they’re organisationally, professionally, bureaucratically and budget-wise invested in nuclear technology.……..They have no expertise or interest, and no history, in alternative technologies. So I think, from an institutional point of view, there’s probably a pretty clear conflict of interest here.  – Tilman Ruff

 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 Ruff: Very briefly, I want to add one important element for the committee’s deliberations that would support not just the proposed facility—as the previous witness and, I think, most of the submissions that you’ll be deliberating on today have supported—but ongoing interim storage of Australia’s intermediate-level nuclear waste at Lucas Heights, and whatever facilities are planned or put in train now should be amenable to implementing that capacity. 


The particular reason I just want to draw your attention to is the profoundly increased risks to the security of nuclear material that occur during transport, which are obviously minimised if they stay at Lucas Heights, and that’s one of the key reasons that we’re in favour of extended interim storage at Lucas Heights rather than anywhere else. But it would be a major concern for reliance on a plan to shift that waste—uncertain, as highlighted—to anywhere else but particularly to somewhere as distant as South Australia with either very long road transport through multiple states or sea transport through ports.

 The two global databases on nuclear accidents and trafficking are run out of the United States. The public one and the International Atomic Energy Agency both highlight, including in their most recent reports, that around half of the total reported incidents with nuclear materials occur during transport, and they highlight this as a particular vulnerability. Lucas Heights has, to my knowledge, been the subject of six publicly known terrorist threats. A couple of them have involved identification of explosive materials on or near the site. A couple have involved prosecutions of people with clear evidence of significant stages of planning. If that’s an issue at Lucas Heights, then the vulnerability of transport is particularly highlighted. 

And it’s clear in both the reports that I mentioned that there are well-organised terrorist groups of various kinds around the world that are interested in, and have a demonstrated track record in seeking to acquire, nuclear materials suitable for, essentially, dirty radiological bombs, and intermediate-level nuclear waste would be very suitable for that purpose. So that’s one of the key factors why, from a health point of view, we’re particularly concerned that multiple handling and, particularly, long-distance transport of hazardous nuclear waste be minimised.

Dr Beavis: The recommendations of MAPW ask for an open and independent review of nuclear waste production and disposal, and also that the committee recommend inquiry and research into shifting to cyclotrons rather than reactor based production of isotopes for nuclear medicine in a phased and transition manner. We’re not talking about anything that would threaten nuclear medical supplies but, as rapidly as is feasible, to reduce the amount of waste that is produced.

Dr Beavis: It’s a very complex market. Every year, the OECD and Nuclear Energy Agency—they haven’t done it last year—put out a report on the supply of medical isotopes, and there’s been a recurring theme on the problems with full-cost recovery and the problems with supply security. I’ll just read you a bit from the 2019 report which I have in front of me which says that governments are not always aware of the extent to which molybdenum-99 production—that’s the technetium precursor—relies on subsidies. I think all of us are aware. 

The report goes on: Some governments were essentially subsidising the production of Mo-99 that was exported to other countries, thus subsidising imaging services in importing countries. And this report is very keen for full-cost recovery, or FCR so they’re trying to stop countries heavily subsidising exports because it’s making the provision of new suppliers not cost competitive. I’ll read a little further: Other countries have decided to allow older facilities that were operating below FCR— that’s full-cost recovery— to cease operations and have not subsidised extensions of their working lifetime. While this increased the risk of insufficient supply or challenged reserve capacity, decisions to end the operation of facilities … have been helpful in achieving the six NEA— the Nuclear Energy Agency—  policy principles … by removing subsidised services from the market. These actions also reduced the level of subsidised reserve capacity and reduced perceived overcapacity within the market.


 I can read you more, but, basically, what they’re saying is that, because nuclear reactors are very, very expensive to set up, Australia is actually going down the path that Canada chose not to continue in the late 2000s. In 2009  and 2010, there was a massive global shortage of nuclear medicine for this technetium isotope. That was because the Canadian reactor supplied about 25 to 30 percent of the market. Canada has chosen not to replace those reactors for a number of reasons but not least because they were tired of accumulating all the nuclear waste from the export business of isotopes around the world.

In fact, the OECD and the NEA are advocating that we should not be continuing to subsidise these nuclear medicine suppliers. It also means that, if you rely on a reactor, when that reactor breaks down, your tendency to create havoc in the global markets is much greater. It would be much better if there were decentralised, much cleaner production of isotopes. 


But, because we have a reactor and because ANSTO, as a business entity, has decided that it wishes to increase its market share—which, as a business entity, it’s certainly entitled to do—it means that the Australian public is left with a great deal of waste. It’s going to double the waste inventory, as you’ve heard, without really any social licence to do so.


 Given that the OECD and the NEA are saying that we should not be continuing to subsidise this, I think what we need to do, as I said, is a phasing transition. We need a phased and coordinated reduction in Australia’s production isotopes for an export business, and, for Australian owned nuclear medicine suppliers, we actually need to decentralise. Cyclotrons are about the size of a four-wheel drive and cost in the order of—actually, I shouldn’t get into that, but it would be less than $5 million per cyclotron to have the work done and dusted. They are much cheaper to run, they don’t produce the waste, they don’t leave us with 10,000-year intermediate-level waste doubling in the next few decades. So I think it’s something Australia should be looking at. I think the huge subsidies that are going into this export business—I’ll backtrack. With new technologies and cyclotrons now being demonstrated to work in Canada, we need to have a review of how we produce our nuclear medicine so that we can have more reliable, safer and cleaner supplies.

 Mr ZAPPIA: Again, Chair, I would have had lots, but I will ask just one question based on those last few comments. Doctor, why do you believe that ANSTO is not going down the path that Canada has gone down and the path that you’re recommending—that is, to increase the production of cyclotrons as opposed to isotopes?

Dr Beavis: I would be hesitant to second-guess how ANSTO thinks. I find that a difficult question. They may wish to increase the income that comes into ANSTO as a natural entity. I think they are not factoring in the cost of the waste. They’ve said explicitly they do not want responsibility for this waste that they are generating, and I think  if you don’t have to worry about the waste, then putting subsidised material out into the global community—

Dr Ruff: If I could add to that very briefly: without wanting to speak for ANSTO, I think the institutional context is worth looking at. They are a nuclear operator, so of course they’re organisationally, professionally, bureaucratically and budget-wise invested in nuclear technology. Setting up a reactor is very expensive. The OPAL reactor cost at least $400 million, so there’s a very high upfront cost, and they, presumably, like most other reactor operators, want to operate it as long as possible. They have no expertise or interest, and no history, in alternative technologies. So I think, from an institutional point of view, there’s probably a pretty clear conflict of interest here. 


That’s why we’re deeply concerned that, in Australia, we’re being left behind with emerging technologies. Australian medicine is very well placed. Cyclotrons are already dispersed in pretty much all of the major hospitals around capital cities because they produce isotopes for PET scans and other modern nuclear medicine interventions. But that’s probably not an enterprise that ANSTO would be essentially involved in, and I suspect that’s the context in which you’re not hearing a peep from them or any active interest in progressing and advancing implementation of much safer technologies of the future. 

Mr ZAPPIA: , what is the significant objection to something that’s in the heart of Sydney, fundamentally, and that has been managed safely for a significant amount of time versus something in a far less densely populated area? What’s the basis for the objection? 


Dr Beavis: I think the expertise and security at ANSTO is far greater. I also think the risks from this waste pale into insignificance compared to the risks of the nuclear reactor. So, if you’re going to be keeping one large facility secure, you may as well keep it all there. The regulator has said quite clearly that there’s sufficient space at Lucas Heights to store this waste for decades to  come.  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, politics

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: