Australian news, and some related international items

Australia needs independent Inquiry on nuclear production and wastes. Kimba nuclear dump plan is not supported by facts.

Nuclear waste and nuclear medicine in Australia

Jim Green, Online Opinion, 16 Nov 2021,

Claims that the Australian government’s proposed national nuclear waste storage and disposal ‘facility‘ near Kimba in South Australia is required to support nuclear medicine are not supported by the facts.

Australia’s radioactive waste arises from the production and use of radioactive materials in scientific research and industrial, agricultural and medical applications. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), operator of the research reactor at Lucas Heights, south of Sydney, is the main source of waste destined for a national nuclear waste facility. (Other waste streams ‒ such as those generated at uranium mines, and wastes from nuclear weapons testing ‒ would not be disposed of at the national facility.)………….


Regardless of the outcome of the current push for a national waste facility ‒ and bearing in mind that all previous plans have been abandoned ‒ there will be an ongoing need for hospitals to store clinical waste. After nuclear medicine is used in a patient, the vast majority is stored on site while it decays. Within a few days, it has lost so much radioactivity that it can go to a normal rubbish tip. There will always be multiple waste storage locations even if a national facility is established.

The government’s claim that a national waste facility is urgently required lest nuclear medicine be affected amounts to scare-mongering………….

health professionals noted in a joint statement in 2011: “The production of radioactive isotopes for nuclear medicine comprises a small percentage of the output of research reactors. The majority of the waste that is produced in these facilities occurs regardless of the nuclear medicine isotope production. Linking the need for a centralised radioactive waste storage facility with the production of isotopes for nuclear medicine is misleading.”………..

ANSTO’s Lucas Heights site

ANSTO’s Lucas Heights site cannot be used for disposal of nuclear waste. It is unlikely that the site would meet relevant criteria, and in any case federal legislation prohibits waste disposal there.

But nuclear waste can be (and is) stored at Lucas Heights; indeed much of the waste destined for a national facility is currently stored there.

Claims that storage capacity at Lucas Heights is nearing capacity and that a national waste facility site is urgently needed have been flatly rejected by Dr Carl-Magnus Larsson, CEO of the federal nuclear regulator, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA). Dr Larsson stated in parliamentary testimony in 2020: “Waste can be safely stored at Lucas Heights for decades to come”.

Similar comments have been made by ANSTO officers, by the federal government department responsible for radioactive waste management, and by the Australian Nuclear Association. ANSTO officers have noted that “ANSTO is capable of handling and storing wastes for long periods of time” and that waste is stored there “safely and securely”.

Long-lived intermediate-level waste

Of particular concern is long-lived intermediate-level waste (ILW) including waste arising from the reprocessing of irradiated nuclear fuel from the OPAL research reactor at Lucas Heights as well as earlier research reactors. The government plans to move this ILW to the Kimba site for above-ground storage while a deep underground disposal site is found. (Lower-level wastes will be permanently disposed of at Kimba if the project proceeds.)

But the process of finding an ILW disposal site has barely begun and will take decades; indeed ARPANSA has flagged a timeline of 100 years or more.

The vast majority of ILW is currently stored at Lucas Heights. Why not leave it at Lucas Heights ‒ described by an ANSTO officer as “the most secure facility we have got in Australia” ‒ until a disposal site is found? The government doesn’t have a good answer to that question ‒ indeed it has no answer at all beyond false claims about storage capacity limitations and scare-mongering about nuclear medicine supply.

Until such time as a disposal site is available, ILW should be stored at Lucas Heights for the following reasons:

* Australia’s nuclear expertise is heavily concentrated at Lucas Heights;

* Storage at Lucas Heights would negate risks associated with transportation over thousands of kilometres;

* Security at Lucas Heights is far more rigorous than is proposed for Kimba (a couple of security guards); and

* Ongoing storage at Lucas Heights avoids unnecessary costs and risks associated with double-handling, i.e. ILW being moved to Kimba only to be moved again to a disposal site.

Conversely, above-ground storage of ILW in regional South Australia increases risk, complexity and cost ‒ for no good reason.

Need for an independent inquiry

The current plan for a waste facility at Kimba should be scrapped. It is unacceptable to be disposing of nuclear waste against the unanimous wishes of Barngarla Traditional Owners, and ILW storage at Kimba makes no sense for the reasons discussed above.

Australia needs a thorough independent inquiry of both nuclear waste disposal and production. We need a long-term disposal plan that avoids double-handling and unnecessary movement of radioactive materials and meets world’s best practice standards.

An inquiry should include an audit of existing waste stockpiles and storage. This could be led by the federal nuclear regulator ARPANSA in consultation with relevant state agencies. This audit would include developing a prioritised program to improve continuing waste storage and handling facilities, and identifying non-recurrent or legacy waste sites and exploring options to retire and decommission these.

An inquiry would also identify and evaluate the full suite of radioactive waste management options. That would include the option of maintaining existing arrangements until suitable disposal options exist for both ILW and lower-level wastes.

Radioisotope production options

We also need to thoroughly investigate medical radioisotope production options with the aim of shifting from heavy reliance on reactor production in favour of cyclotrons (a type of particle accelerator). Among other advantages, cyclotrons produce far less radioactive waste than research reactors………….

November 16, 2021 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Federal nuclear waste dump

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