Radiation leak plan 15 years out of date

Olympic Dam mine radiation leak plan 15 years out of date

Miles Kemp, The Advertiser, 7 July 2013


THE radiation plans for Olympic Dam are more than 15 years out of date because of an administrative bungle, the Environment Protection Authority has revealed.

The plans are needed because between 2003 and 2012, BHP-Billiton reported 31 radiation leaks at its Olympic Dam mine, totalling more than 3000 cubic metres of material, or the volume of a large hot-air balloon.

Responding to a Freedom of Information application that exposed the problem, the EPA could only find plans from 1997 and 1998 and has stated: "We acknowledge that an update is overdue and action is being taken to address this situation".

Greens MLC Mark Parnell said he sought a copy of the management plan to monitor how BHP-Billiton dealt with radiation leaks to protect workers and the environment.

"Workers at Olympic Dam are at risk because the EPA and BHP-Billiton have failed to update their practices for over 15 years," he said.

"What sort of oversight is there by the EPA at Olympic Dam when the basic management plan required under the National Code is ridiculously out of date?"

The EPA searched its records for 10 months before responding that there was no up-to-date plan and it needed a new one.

"All these plans should be available in the public realm and not have to be chased using FOI application," Mr Parnell said.

He said there had been six triggers since 1998 that should have prompted an updated plan, including an expansion in the mine's capacity.

"Between 1998 and 2013, an extraordinary amount of change has occurred in the regulation of radioactive material, with increasing awareness of the risks to workers and the natural environment and advances in processing," he said.

The EPA's chief executive, Dr Campbell Gemmell, said safety had not been compromised but a new plan would be requested from BHP-Billiton.

Environment Minister Ian Hunter said he would quiz the EPA on the status of the plans.

A spokeswoman for BHP Billiton yesterday said its current radiation plan for Olympic Dam was reviewed and updated in December 2012 and has been submitted to the EPA for approval. "While we work with the EPA to resolve administrative issues surrounding the approval process, Olympic Dam continues to operate strictly to this plan, the spokeswoman said.

"There has been no risk posed to the safety of workers at Olympic Dam or anyone beyond the site due to these administrative issues."

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency requires that plans be regularly updated, to protect workers, the public and the environment.

The Advertiser revealed last month there are still 36 facilities used to store radioactive waste in SA, many in Adelaide suburbs, eight years after the State Government refused to allow a secure waste dump to be built in the Far North of the state.