Australian news, and some related international items

Strict new security rules for Adelaide nuclear submarine-building facility in bid to protect military secrets

Operators of Osborne naval shipyard ordered to guard against ‘deliberate or accidental manipulation’ of critical components.

Daniel Hurst, Guardian, 23 Feb 23,

The Australian government has imposed strict new security rules at the Adelaide site where nuclear-powered submarines will be built, moving to reassure allies that sensitive military secrets will be protected.

The new rules require four operators at the Osborne naval shipyard, including those building the Hunter-class frigates and offshore patrol vessels, to guard against espionage and foreign interference.

These operators have been ordered to prepare for risks such as “deliberate or accidental manipulation” of critical components and the transfer of “sensitive operational information outside Australia”.

According to the new rules, information that must be protected includes layout diagrams, schematics, geospatial information and operational constraints.

The operators must carry out background and suitability checks before people are allowed unescorted access to the shipyard. They must record the date, time and duration of access by every person, whether escorted or unescorted.

The home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, quietly rolled out the measures last week under the country’s critical infrastructure laws and confirmed the moves when approached by Guardian Australia.

“Our critical infrastructure assets are targets for foreign interference, cybercriminals and other malicious actors who wish to do Australia harm,” O’Neil said in a written response to questions.

“By declaring the Osborne naval shipyard a critical infrastructure asset we can implement security measures and build resilience in the facility and its workforce against these threats.”

The government has said nuclear-powered submarines will be built at Osborne – the first project under the Aukus partnership with the US and the UK – but it remains unclear how soon domestic construction can begin.

The US has previously only shared its naval nuclear propulsion secrets with the UK – in the late 1950s – and US officials are determined to ensure Australia can protect those secrets against foreign spies.

With just weeks to go until the three countries announce the Aukus plans in more detail, the new rules designate the naval shipbuilding and sustainment assets at Osborne as critical infrastructure assets.

The instrument covers areas overseen by four operators – including the government-owned Australian Naval Infrastructure and ASC.

It also applies to the entity trading as BAE Systems Maritime Australia, which will build the Hunter-class frigates, and Luerssen Australia, which has a contract for offshore patrol vessels…………………………….

O’Neil said the country faced “evolving threats” and the Australian government would “continue to use our national security laws to protect the critical infrastructure assets that all Australians should be able to rely on every day”.

In a human rights assessment attached to the new rules, O’Neil acknowledged collecting personal information about employees and contractors had an impact on their right to privacy……………..

The head of Asio, Mike Burgess, warned this week that the online targeting of Australian defence industry insiders had increased since the Aukus announcement a year and a half ago.

Declaring that his agency was taking a “more aggressive counterespionage posture”, Burgess conceded that Australia’s allies and partners were looking for assurances that their military secrets would be protected.

Burgess said one of the reasons he was disclosing the successful operation to expel a “hive of spies” from Australia was because “as we progress Aukus, it’s critical that our allies know we can keep our secrets and keep their secrets”.

He did not disclose the country responsible for the “hive” but said the spies were working undercover – some for years – with sophisticated tradecraft and wanted to steal sensitive information.

February 23, 2023 Posted by | safety, South Australia | Leave a comment

Firefighters called to Newcastle golf club after stolen car set alight

Firefighters were called to a popular golf course after a stolen car was set on fire, sparking concern over a potential radiation leak.

Aisling Brennan 8 Feb 23,

Firefighters have successfully prevented a radiation leak coming from a stolen car set on fire in the middle of a Newcastle golf course.

Specialist hazardous materials firefighters from Fire and Rescue NSW were called to Merewether Golf Club in Adamstown, following reports of a possible radiation leak about 9.45am on Wednesday.

The car, which was allegedly stolen, had been driven onto the green in the early hours of the morning, where the driver reportedly did several burnouts on the golf club greens.

The car was then set on fire and abandoned about 2am.

Crews were called when the owner of the stolen vehicle notified authorities there was a moisture gauge on board which has a radiation source attached and could be damaged because of the blaze.

“Firefighters, wearing protective clothing and carrying radiation detectors, then entered the scene and conducted an initial assessment,” FRNSW said in a statement.

“The equipment was located and was emitting low levels of radiation.

“Additional specialist radiation detection equipment and radiation experts responded to conduct a comprehensive assessment.”……………………………………………..

February 11, 2023 Posted by | - incidents, New South Wales | Leave a comment

Newcastle radiation risk: Police call in EPA to help remove radioactive device from burnt out vehicle at Merewether

By Madeline Link, February 8 2023, POLICE have called in the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to help remove a radioactive device from a burnt out vehicle found at Merewether Golf Course…………… (Subscribers only)

February 9, 2023 Posted by | New South Wales, safety | Leave a comment

Australia radioactive capsule: Missing material more common than you think

By Antoinette Radford, BBC News, 5 Feb 23

The world watched as Australia scrambled to find a radioactive capsule in late January.

Many asked how it could have been lost – but radioactive material goes missing more often than you might think.

In 2021, one “orphan source” – self-contained radioactive material – went missing every three days, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The not-for-profit Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) lists lost and found nuclear and radiological material, and its records include a person in Idaho who stumbled across a radioactive gauge lying in the middle of a road.

The organisation also listed a package containing radioactive material falling off the back of a truck onto a nearby lawn in an undisclosed location – the resident who found it then delivered it to its intended recipient later that day.

And, in 2019, a tourist was detected in St Petersburg airport wearing a radioactive watch, according to the list.

Of the nearly 4,000 radioactive sources that have gone missing since the International Atomic Energy Agency started tracking them in 1993, 8% are believed to have been taken for malicious reasons, and 65% were lost accidentally. It is unclear what happened to the rest.

When properly maintained and handled, radioactive material does not pose a significant threat to humans.

But if a person is directly exposed to the radiation without protection, they can fall severely ill – or even die.

For example, four people died after a canister containing radioactive material was stolen from an abandoned hospital in the Brazilian city of Goiânia in 1987.

A group of men took the canister that contained Caesium-137 (Cs-137) – a radioactive material commonly used in medical settings – thinking it may have some value as scrap metal. As they took it apart, they ruptured the Cs-137 capsule, spilling its radioactive contents onto the rest of the metal.

A junkyard owner who bought the contaminated metal then exposed dozens of friends and family to the radiation after he brought them to see it glow blue in the dark. This included a six-year-old who ate the radioactive powder.

Dozens required urgent medical attention and two nearby towns were evacuated once doctors established their sudden illness was caused by radiation exposure.

The incident was described by the IAEA as among “the most serious radiological accidents to have occurred”.

In 2020, radioactive waste was also found at the home of a former nuclear energy agency employee in Indonesia.

And in 2013, six men were arrested – apparently unharmed – in Mexico for stealing radioactive material from a cancer treatment machine………………………………

February 6, 2023 Posted by | - incidents, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL | Leave a comment

Should never have been lost’: Big questions after miracle radioactive find

The New Daily 2 Feb 23,

Relieved Western Australian authorities are fending off more questions, after the success of their “needle-in-a-haystack” search for a tiny radioactive capsule.

Search crews defied the odds to find a tiny “Tic-Tac-sized” capsule after it – quite literally – fell off a truck in remote Western Australia.

Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said the discovery was extraordinary considering the scope of the search area.

“Locating this object was a monumental challenge,” he said.

“The search groups have quite literally found the needle in the haystack.”

But questions remain about how the tiny but dangerous object went missing in the first place.

The 8-millimetre by 6-millimetre item fell out of a density gauge while being trucked 1400 kilometres from a Rio Tinto mine in the Pilbara to Perth just over a fortnight ago.

Authorities sprang into action, mobilising specialist crews to look for the tiny capsule. Firefighters were diverted from their usual activities and on Tuesday the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency said it had sent a team with specialised car-mounted and portable detection equipment to join the search.

On Wednesday, WA government officials said the dangerous capsule had been found just south of Newman – about 200 kilometres from the mine site – on the Great Northern Highway………………………………………….

A government investigation has been launched into the incident and a report will be provided to WA Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson.

Rio Tinto has previously apologised and ordered its own review into what went wrong during the haul, which was carried out by a contractor.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

The truck arrived in the Perth suburb of Malaga on January 16. But it wasn’t until nine days later that a technician realised the capsule was missing.

Under WA laws, the maximum fine for failing to safely store or transport radioactive material is just $1000 – a penalty described by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese as “ridiculously low”……………. more

February 4, 2023 Posted by | - incidents, Western Australia | Leave a comment

Missing radioactive capsule found

Authorities in Australia say they have found a tiny radioactive capsule
which went missing last week. Emergency services had “literally found the
needle in the haystack”, authorities in Western Australia said. A huge
search was triggered when the object was lost while being transported along
a 1,400km (870-mile) route across the state.

Mining giant Rio Tinto
apologised for losing the device, which could have posed a serious danger
if handled. The capsule – which is 6mm (0.24 inches) in diameter and 8mm
long – contains a small quantity of Caesium-137, which could cause skin
damage, burns or radiation sickness.

Emergency services used specialised
equipment including radiation detectors during their hunt. Announcing their
find on Wednesday, the state emergency services paid tribute to
“inter-agency teamwork in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds”. The
capsule was found when a vehicle equipped with specialist equipment, which
was travelling at 70 km/h, detected radiation, officials said. Portable
detection equipment was then used to locate the capsule, which was found
about 2 metres from the side of the road, they added.

BBC 1st Feb 2023

Times 1st Feb 2023

February 2, 2023 Posted by | safety, Western Australia | Leave a comment

Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) sends specialist team to Western Australia in search for missing radioactive capsule

Nuclear safety agency joins radioactive capsule hunt

By Michael Ramsey, January 31 2023

Federal authorities are set to join the massive search for a dangerous radioactive capsule missing in Western Australia.

The 8mm by 6mm item fell out of a density gauge while being trucked from a Rio Tinto mine in the Pilbara to Perth.

Emergency services are searching a 1400km route amid warnings the Caesium-137 in the capsule could cause radiation burns or sickness if handled and potentially dangerous levels of radiation with prolonged exposure.

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) on Tuesday said it had sent a deployment team with specialised car-mounted and portable detection equipment to join the search.

Led by WA’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services, the hunt is expected to take five days with vehicles travelling at 50km/h.

Radiation services specialists and detection and imaging equipment are also being sent to WA by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.

Rio Tinto has apologised and ordered an investigation into what went wrong during the haul, which was carried out by a contractor.

Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson flagged the WA government was likely to also probe the incident.

“How these are transported does need to be looked at,” he told ABC radio.

“It does puzzle me how such a thing can fall off the back of a truck.”

Rio said a bolt that secured the capsule within the gauge appeared to have sheared off, creating a hole just big enough for the item to escape.

The truck arrived in the Perth suburb of Malaga on January 16 but it wasn’t until nine days later that a technician realised the capsule was missing.

The capsule is smaller than a 10 cent coin but the amount of radiation it emits is equivalent to receiving 10 X-rays in an hour.

Drivers have been warned it could have become lodged in their car’s tyres.

January 31, 2023 Posted by | - incidents, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL | Leave a comment

Missing radioactive capsule: WA officials admit it was weeks before anyone realised it was lost

Fire and Emergency Services official says capsule left Rio Tinto mine site on 10 January but was not found missing for 15 days

Guardian, Mostafa Rachwani, 28 Jan 23

Western Australian authorities are scrambling to find a missing radioactive capsule that is a fraction of the size of a 10c coin, conceding it was not found missing until more than two weeks after it left a Rio Tinto mine site.

The 8mm by 6mm capsule is a 19-gigabecquerel caesium 137 ceramic source, commonly used in radiation gauges, and was supposed to be contained in a secure device which had been “damaged” on a truck which travelled from the mine site north of Newman in the Pilbara to a depot in Perth.

Authorities are now searching along the 1,400km stretch of the Great Northern Highway for the capsule, which they warn can cause skin burns, radiation sickness and cancer.

At a news conference on Saturday, Darryl Ray, the acting superintendent for Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services, said authorities were largely searching for the capsule at “strategic sites”.

He said an incident management team including the Department of Health and police had been formed.

“We have continued the search on strategic sites along the route that the vehicle had taken, concentrating on sites close to high-population areas within the metropolitan suburbs,” he said. “The search involves the use of radiation survey meters to detect the radiation levels which will help us locate the small device.

“What we are not doing is trying to find a tiny little device by eyesight. We are using the radiation detectors to locate the gamma rays, using the meters, that will help us then locate the small device.

“We have secured the GPS data from the trucking company to determine the exact route and stops that the vehicle has taken on its journey.

“We will continue to use specialist equipment to help us search the remaining known locations … in particular, the Great Northern Highway between Perth and Newman.”

The WA chief health officer, Andrew Robertson, said there were screws missing from the protective gauge holding the capsule when it was discovered missing.

“These gauges are designed to be robust and to be used in industrial settings where they may be exposed to weather and vibration, so it is unusual for a gauge to come apart like this one has,” Robertson said.

“We are conducting an investigation on all of the circumstances from when it was originally transported from the mine site, the whole of the transport route, and then its handling on arrival in Perth.”

Robertson urged anyone who found the capsule not to handle it.

“People could end up developing redness of the skin and eventually burns of the skin from the beta radiation,” he said. “If it were kept long enough and they were exposed long enough, they could also have some acute effects, including impacts on their immune system and the gastrointestinal system.”

Robertson said the capsule was “most dangerous if it is handled or if it is close to the body”.

“If you are further than five metres away from the source, certainly if you are more than 20 metres away from the source, it will pose no danger to you,” he said. “If it is closer than that, and we strongly discourage people from picking it up, certainly don’t put it in your pocket or put it in your car, don’t put it on your sideboard, it will continue to radiate.

“While you may not have immediate health effects, they can occur relatively rapidly over a short period of time if it is close to the body………………

Robertson said officials did not know the date the capsule fell off the truck.

Ray said the capsule was placed on to the pallet on 10 January at the mine site, transited and arrived at the radiation service company in Malaga on 16 January.

“It was not until the 25th, late morning, when they opened it up to reveal that the device had fallen apart, was damaged in transit, and that the actual capsule was discovered missing, which is when authorities were first notified.” ………… more

January 30, 2023 Posted by | - incidents, Western Australia | Leave a comment

Urgent public health warning issued over lost radioactive capsule in Western Australia

“It emits both beta rays and gamma rays so if you have it close to you, you could either end up with skin damage including skin burns,” .

“And if you have it long enough near you, it could cause acute radiation sickness.

DFES have issued a warning for people to stay at least five metres away from it if they see something that resembles the capsule. By Cason Ho 28 Jan 23

A missing radioactive capsule lost somewhere between Perth and a Pilbara mine site over an area of 1,400 kilometres has sparked an urgent health warning.

Key points:

  • A capsule containing a radioactive substance has been lost
  • The capsule is 6mm in diameter and 8mm wide
  • People are being urged not to get close to the capsule

In an emergency press conference on Friday afternoon, WA’s chief health officer urged people to stay away from the capsule if they see it because of its radioactive properties.

The capsule is tiny – 6mm diameter by 8mm high.

The radioactive gauges are commonly used in mining. It went missing from a truck sometime after January 10.

WA radioactive substance risk alert

The radioactive capsule could be anywhere along the more than 1,400 km journey between Malaga, in Perth and Newman in WA’s remote north

Any motorists who have travelled along the Great Northern Highway between Newman and Perth since January 10 should check their tyres, in case the capsule has become lodged in them.

Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson said the capsule was lost while it was being transported, somewhere between a mine site north of Newman and Malaga, north east of Perth. 

It is believed the capsule fell through the gap left by a bolt hole, after the bolt was dislodged when a container collapsed as a result of vibrations during the trip.

Authorities are searching Great Northern Highway in a desperate effort to find the capsule, which is smaller than a 10-cent piece.

DFES said the capsule “cannot be weaponised” but are still urging caution due to potentially serious health consequences.

Radiation equivalent to 10 X-rays an hour

Mr Robertson said it does emit a “reasonable” amount of radiation.

He says the radiation emitted is equivalent to receiving 10 X-rays in one hour, if you were within one metre of it, or the amount of natural radiation a body is exposed to over a year.

The half-life of the substance is 30 years. 

“It emits both beta rays and gamma rays so if you have it close to you, you could either end up with skin damage including skin burns,” he said.

“And if you have it long enough near you, it could cause acute radiation sickness.

“Now that will take a period of time but obviously we are recommending people not be close to it or hang on to it.”

Mr Robertson advised anyone who finds the capsule not to go near it, and to rather call DFES on 133 337.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services is leading search efforts, coordinating a team involving the Department of Health, WA Police, and other subject matter experts.

DFES Country North chief superintendent David Gill said there would be “challenges” in locating such a small object.

“The start and finish of the transportation from the mine site north of Newman, and the transport depot in Perth, are among some of the locations that are searched, and being searched yesterday, but the capsule remains unfound,” he said.

“There are challenges here. It is 1,400 kilometres between the mine site … to the north of Newman, and Perth.”

DFES have issued a warning for people to stay at least five metres away from it if they see something that resembles the capsule.

People are urged to avoid coming into contact with it, and immediately contact DFES.

January 28, 2023 Posted by | - incidents, Western Australia | Leave a comment

Dangerous radiation mishaps surge across NSW hospitals and medical centres

SMH Carrie Fellner, December 12, 2022 ,

Radiation accidents have surged across NSW hospitals and medical diagnostic imaging centres as the state records a dangerous upswing in rates of equipment malfunctions and human errors.

In one incident, which has been referred to the healthcare watchdog, a cancer patient’s radiation treatment was bungled, resulting in their healthy tissue being dosed with radiation four times instead of their tumour.

In the past financial year, there were 263 accidents across the state, or an average of five a week, according to the annual report of the NSW EPA’s Radiation Advisory Council.

“This total represents a 26 per cent increase on the total accidents reported in the previous year (209) and reaffirms the strong year-on-year upward trend in reporting,” said the report, published without fanfare last week.

“Human error is the primary cause of reported accidents, with the majority due to failure to follow procedures and protocols or incorrect interpretation of patient information,” it said.

Equipment failures had also “increased substantially” on previous years, the report noted.

The council requested “a further breakdown of equipment failures to establish if the same brand of equipment has the same errors across different sites”.

The council also recommended the EPA raise the increase in preventable accidents with health authorities in NSW and emphasise the appropriate ordering of medical imaging procedures.

In response to questions on Sunday, an EPA spokeswoman attributed the rise in accidents to increased reporting……………………..

“The EPA is investigating reports of equipment and software malfunctions, and is contacting manufacturers.”

Of the total number of incidents, 172 involved exposure to more than one millisievert of radiation.

The average person in Australia is exposed to about 1.7 millisieverts of radiation a year from natural sources, according to the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency……….

The accidents fell into three categories: medical imaging procedures such as X-rays and CT scans, radiation treatments in hospital oncology wards and nuclear medicine procedures such as PET scans.

There was a steep rise in the number of accidents reported involving radiation oncology, which jumped from three in 2017-18 to 57 logged last financial year.

Equipment failures accounted for 30 per cent of all accidents last financial year, up from 20 per cent in the previous financial year.

The second most common cause was a patient’s paperwork not being interpreted or read correctly by staff, with 49 people affected.

……………. “These incidents are rare in the context of the number of procedures performed in public and private facilities, but it is important that any incident is reviewed through appropriate channels, including the Radiation Advisory Council,” the spokesperson said.

A spokeswoman for Environment Minister James Griffin said he was pleased to see increased reports to the regulator by radiation oncology workers…..

December 12, 2022 Posted by | New South Wales, safety | Leave a comment

Ranger Mine uranium-contaminated waste trucked to Darwin suburb.

finding 50 kg of uranium tailings waste off-site is not a “small scale” event as claimed by ERA, and near three months for this radioactive event to make the media…

Potentially ‘deadly’ toxic waste accidentally trucked into Darwin

Energy Resources Australia is investigating how Ranger Mine toxic waste came to be transported through the Kakadu National Park and left on a truck in a Darwin suburb.

RADIOACTIVE waste has been transported through Kakadu National Park and left on a truck in Winnellie.

In June an excavator at Ranger Mine used to dig uranium tailings, was removed from the site with 50kg of mixed material still inside the vehicle.

The removal of any toxic waste is a major breach of Energy Resources Australia’s Ranger Mine rehabilitation plan as it poses a deadly contamination risk to people and the environment.

According to Energy Resources Australia the compacted waste was in a steel encased void of an excavator and not detected by radiation screening before leaving the site………………………

Supervising Scientist Keith Taylor said the breach was “regrettable” but he was confident there was no risk posed to people or the environment.

“There have been other incidents of this nature, most notably the 2004 prosecution which is of public record,” he said.

“There have been others as well but that is the most notable.”

Mr Taylor said scientists and ERA were working together to review the ‘clearance processes,’ which includes a radiation screening.

Mirarr Traditional Owners and the NLC were made aware of the incident on June 3.

In February, ERA announced the rehabilitation plan for Ranger Mine had blown out to an estimated $1.2bn.

It left the company scrambling for cash and relying heavily on its major shareholder Rio Tinto.

August 27, 2022 Posted by | - incidents, Northern Territory, uranium, wastes | Leave a comment

Regional security threat haunts nuclear power debate

we cannot ignore when weighing up these arguments that recent events at Zaporizhzhia help bolster the case against nuclear power. We would not want any future nuclear facilities to become hostage to the vagaries of war. Editorial, August 8, 2022, The alarm sounded by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, that fighting between Russian invaders and Ukrainian forces near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant carried “the very real risk of a nuclear disaster” is one with relevance far beyond the war raging within Ukraine’s borders.

The conflict has already served as a grim warning for powers such as Germany and the United States of the costs of relying on fossil fuel-producing nations with despotic leaders for energy supply. But Russia’s seizures of Zaporizhzhia and the defunct power plant at Chernobyl in the early days of the war – though Chernobyl later returned to Ukrainian control – have highlighted that a decision to increase reliance on nuclear power would carry risks even beyond the familiar ones.

As Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic pointed out during Grossi’s recent visit to this country, Australia has an exemplary record on nuclear safety. But one of the most important reasons for this is that we have a ban on using nuclear fission for power generation and have committed not to develop a nuclear arsenal under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

In recent times both these bans have returned to the spotlight, as the Coalition in opposition has raised the possibility of domestic nuclear power plants to address our energy needs. This followed the Morrison government’s signing of the AUKUS deal with London and Washington last year. The deal envisions Royal Australian Navy submarines being fuelled with weapons-grade uranium.

Peter Hartcher reported for The Agethat the first question US President Joe Biden raised when the AUKUS proposal was put to him was whether it breached non-proliferation commitments. The key to addressing this question has been paragraph 14 of the IAEA’s safeguards agreement with Australia, which creates a loophole allowing weapons-grade material to be used without the usual safeguards in “non-proscribed military activity”. Concerns were raised earlier this month, at the latest meeting to review the treaty, that regardless of Australia’s good intentions, this would set a precedent for further transfers of highly enriched nuclear material to other nations.

Grossi has pointed out that Iran, which first informed the IAEA of its interest in naval nuclear propulsion in 2018, cited the AUKUS deal to argue for its own plans at meetings in 2021.

Some argue that this is a form of proliferation, and even our allies and neighbours, from New Zealand to Indonesia, have expressed strong reservations about the AUKUS arrangement. Australia has said that the nuclear material in its submarines will be handled only by existing nuclear states. Nevertheless, the deal could lead to a perception that nuclear “haves” will simply ignore “have-nots”.

The case for nuclear power more broadly – replacing coal and gas with another non-renewable resource in uranium – faces its own hurdles, from the cost, to the emissions involved in mining and waste management to the question of where highly radioactive waste might be stored.

As The Age has pointed out, nuclear power generation globally is declining. One major reason is the expense. A recent CSIRO report underlines that renewables are far cheaper, even after transmission and storage are taken into account.

All sides of politics agree that Australia faces an increasingly complex and challenging security environment, from talk of Chinese bases in Cambodia and Solomon Islands to cyberattacks by rogue international actors targeting key infrastructure, while general-turned-Coalition senator Jim Molan has outlined an even more apocalyptic scenario, a “second Pearl Harbour” aimed at establishing Chinese supremacy in the western Pacific.

The Age has agreed in the past that Australia should be prepared to have another look at the arguments for nuclear power. That remains our position. But we cannot ignore when weighing up these arguments that recent events at Zaporizhzhia help bolster the case against it. We would not want any future nuclear facilities to become hostage to the vagaries of war.

August 9, 2022 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, safety | Leave a comment

Australia’s nuclear submarines and nuclear proliferation obligations – how many angels can dance on a periscope?

Ensuring the right safeguards are in place for Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines The Strategist, 30 May 2022, Anastasia Kapetas ”……………………………….. can the submarines be safeguarded? And do they actually need to be under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)?

As AUKUS was being negotiated, the Biden administration reportedly had serious concerns about the non-proliferation impacts of the deal, given that this would be the first time that a nuclear-weapon state has undertaken to transfer highly enriched uranium (HEU) to a non-nuclear-weapon state.

But experts on the NPT assured the US administration that everyone would meet their obligations under the treaty if Australia were barred from accessing the reactors inside its submarines.

So, the naval reactors would have to be sealed by the US or UK inside the submarine hulls before they came to Australia, remain sealed throughout the 30-year life of the submarine and be removed by the US or UK at the end of that life. That means if the submarines are to be built here, a section of the hull and reactor would need to be built in the US or UK and then moved to Australia. Or, if that is not feasible, then a reactor could possibly be imported into Australia, but with no Australian personnel having access to it at any time, something which would presumably need to be verified by the IAEA in some way that would also not give inspectors access to the reactor.

This means that, in theory, Australia’s naval reactors would not have to be safeguarded because the HEU contained in them would never be accessed by any country that is not a nuclear-weapon state.

Under the NPT, the five accredited nuclear-weapon states, China, Russia, the US, the UK and France, do not have to put their nuclear-weapons-related material under IAEA safeguards, although they all have voluntary safeguards agreements with the IAEA covering their civil nuclear programs.

The NPT doesn’t cover naval reactors. But because the deal involves the transfer of HEU to a non-nuclear-weapon state, Australia is not off the safeguards hook. Not safeguarding this would create a precedent for HEU transfer through naval reactors. So Australia needs not an exemption, as has sometimes been reported, but a new type of safeguard.

John Carlson, former director general of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO), who currently advises non-proliferation bodies internationally, and has written extensively on the issue, says standard safeguards can’t apply here.

He gives two reasons. The first is that nuclear-weapon states like the US and UK don’t want to reveal secret information on fuel and rector design to IAEA inspectors.

The other issue is that under a standard IAEA safeguard, inspections must take place regularly. For the irradiated HEU in Australia’s submarines, that would require inspections every three months. But given the nature of submarine deployments, Australia wouldn’t be able to ensure that they would be in port to be inspected at the proper time.

But, says Carlson, ‘Australia has an obligation to demonstrate to the international community that we haven’t simply diverted the fuel, and used it to produce nuclear weapons. This is why we need to develop a verification arrangement with the supplier and the IAEA.’

While it wouldn’t be a standard safeguard, it must be ‘sufficient to demonstrate to the international community, in a credible way, that the fuel is still in the submarines at any point in time’.

But what might some kind of alternative verification mechanism look like?

Given that the naval rectors will be built into the hulls of Australia’s submarines, they could not be  accessed without cutting into the hull…………….

there’s one other scenario that an Australia-specific safeguard would have to cover. And that is in the event of an accident where Australia would need to gain access to the reactor.‘We could claim that that the reactor needed urgent attention, and this would actually be a way to get our hands on the fuel.’This would be a major undertaking. It would require Australia to be equipped with all the equipment necessary to handle the fuel safely, as well as help from the US or UK………………….

The final piece of the safeguard puzzle is the politics. The member states of the IAEA would need to be comfortable with creating a special safeguard for Australia……………..  Carlson thinks IAEA approval is likely, but it will need careful, steady diplomacy.

May 31, 2022 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics international, safety, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Huge cask of nuclear waste to be quietly transported to Sydney

Nuclear waste shipment bound for Sydney, Tracey Ferrier March 11, 2022,

Police are preparing to escort a monolithic steel cask of nuclear waste to Sydney this weekend, reigniting debate about Australia’s plans for the toxic material.

The hulking capsule resembling something from NASA’s space program contains two tonnes of intermediate-level radioactive waste that will need to be isolated from the environment for thousands of years.

But for the time being it will be stored at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor compound in southern Sydney.

The waste is being returned under the international principle that countries must take back their nuclear leftovers after reprocessing. In Australia’s case that’s been done offshore.

Kimba will be a near-surface facility and a permanent solution for low-level waste only. The intermediate material will once more be in storage.

The federal government has committed to developing a separate end solution for the more toxic stuff. It will involve deep burial but so far there’s no firm plan, and no site has been identified to take it.

Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner Dave Sweeney says the nation’s most potent nuclear waste should not be moved to Kimba.

He says the problem is being kicked down the road, for some future government to sort out.

We believe there’s a very real risk that this material gets stranded in sub-optimal conditions at Kimba. Move it once, move it well, and move it permanently,” he says.

“Our position is that the Lucas Heights facility is the best place for Australia’s most serious waste. It has the highest security, the highest emergency monitoring and response capacity. It is staffed 24/7, and 95 per cent of the stuff is already there.”

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation operates the Lucas Heights reactor, which supports nuclear medicine and science.

Resources and Water Minister Keith Pitt said it was international best practice to consolidate radioactive waste at a single, safe, purpose-built facility.

“That is what the government is delivering,” he said, while noting it would take several decades to find an end solution for intermediate waste.

He said ANSTO had warned it would need to build three additional waste storage buildings at Lucas Heights if the national facility wasn’t built.

For security reasons, ANSTO won’t confirm when the cask will be moved from Port Kembla to Lucas Heights.

It said the cask is so well shielded that someone could stand next to it for 25 hours and get the same radiation dose as a nine-hour flight to Singapore.

Police have told AAP an operation is planned for Saturday to aid the transportation of cargo to ANSTO’s Lucas Heights campus. It said no further details would be provided.

March 12, 2022 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, safety, secrets and lies, wastes | Leave a comment

Jellyfish would inevitably force nuclear submarines into shutdown, if fleet based in Brisbane

Jellyfish would ‘inevitably’ force nuclear submarines into shutdown if fleet based in Brisbane, expert says  

Leading marine scientist says Moreton Bay, one of three sites shortlisted, is bad choice due to risk to reactors if jellyfish sucked in. Guardian,  Ben Smee in Brisbane, @BenSmee, Fri 11 Mar 2022 .

Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines would “inevitably” be forced into an emergency reactor shutdown by swarms of jellyfish if the fleet was based in Brisbane, a leading marine scientist says.

The Australian government this week released a shortlist of three sites – Brisbane, Newcastle and Wollongong – as a potential east-coast home port for the nuclear submarine fleet, which will arrive in about 2036 under the Aukus partnership with the US and the UK.

The Queensland government has been cagey when asked whether it supports a base in Brisbane, a position described as “very strange” by the federal defence minister, Peter Dutton, whose electorate is in Brisbane…………

Jellyfish expert Lisa-ann Gershwin, a leading marine biologist, says Brisbane is “close to the absolute worst place” for a nuclear submarine base, due to the conditions in Moreton Bay and the frequent jellyfish blooms.

In 2006, the US nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan was forced into an emergency reactor shutdown in Brisbane after it sucked more than 800kg of jellyfish into its condensers, hindering coolant from reaching the main reactors.

Picture if you will America’s biggest, most expensive, most fearsome, awesome supercarrier is on its maiden voyage,” Gershwin said.

“It comes into the port of Brisbane and it sucks in thousands of jellyfish. It was a very embarrassing situation for the American navy. Luckily there was no major accident, nothing happened, nothing exploded.

“But when you’re dealing with nuclear anything, you’ve got to be [more cautious].”

The phenomenon of jellyfish shutdowns is surprisingly common in any power plant that sucks in water as a coolant

Gershwin says any base for a submarine with an in-built nuclear reactor could not be enclosed like Moreton Bay, which is sheltered by Moreton Island and North Stradbroke Island.

“Jellyfish act like plastic,” Gershwin said.

“If you’ve ever seen a pool filter that’s got a plastic wrapper caught, it clogs up … and floods all over the place because it’s not going through the filter. The water gets stopped by this ‘plastic’ and then the water can’t pass by that. Emergency shutdowns of power plants happen all the time, very frequently.”

Gershwin said that if Brisbane was used to base nuclear submarines, a jellyfish shutdown would be “inevitable”………

You’ve got to be really careful about where you put these things. Anywhere that you’ve got warm water, you’re going to have jellyfish. Moreton Bay is just sucked in with jellyfish.”

Brisbane ranked eighth of the sites considered by Defence as a potential submarine base in 2011, with Sydney listed as the best choice.………….

March 12, 2022 Posted by | Queensland, safety, weapons and war | Leave a comment