ANSTO nuclear waste to compromise safety and security in SA

David Noonan

The federal government intends shipments of irradiated nuclear fuel waste to be imposed through Whyalla or Port Pirie to go onto indefinite above-ground storage at a nuclear dump site at either Kimba or Hawker ‒ all of which is illegal under state law in South Australia.

Two shipments of reprocessed nuclear waste ‒ arising from the reprocessing of fuel irradiated in research reactors operated by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) ‒ are intended in the first two years of nuclear store operations in SA. A shipment is due from Sellafield in UK in the early 2020s, and ANSTO plans a shipment of nuclear waste that was reprocessed in France then shipped to ANSTO's Lucas Heights site (south of Sydney) in 2015.

Some 100 B-Double truckloads of federal government Intermediate Level Wastes (ILW) ‒ predominantly ANSTO waste from Lucas Heights ‒ are also to be trucked into SA in the first four years of nuclear store operations in SA.

SA communities face decades of potential accident and terrorist risks and impacts from ongoing ANSTO nuclear waste transports, with all of the next 40 years of ANSTO reactor waste also to be shipped and trucked to SA for indefinite above-ground storage.

The federal nuclear regulator, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), states that nuclear fuel wastes and other ILW require radiation shielding and require isolation from the environment for over 10,000 years. Yet the current plan is to store this waste in SA in a fancy shed for indefinite storage described as "interim" and as "long term above-ground storage (approximately 100 years)".

After 60 years, ANSTO still has no nuclear waste disposal capacity, while ANSTO's nuclear waste production is set to increase to more than double waste stockpiles over the next 40 years.

Multiple shipments of reprocessed nuclear waste are planned to be shipped from France through either Whyalla or Port Pirie over the coming decades, this waste resulting from ANSTO's ongoing reactor operations.

The government's April 2018 'Australian Radioactive Waste Management Framework'1 reports total ILW at 1,770 cubic metres (m3), with 95% by volume arising as federal government wastes.

The federal government plans to produce a further 1,960 m3 of ILW over next 40 years, with 95% (1,850 m3) arising from ANSTO's reactor operations – all to be trucked into SA for indefinite above-ground storage at either Kimba or Hawker.

All of these federal government nuclear waste plans face serious obstacles and community opposition. They are illegal under state law in SA; are in breach of formal advice of the Nuclear Safety Committee to the federal regulator ARPANSA2; and do not represent International Best Practice.

The import, transport, storage and disposal of ANSTO nuclear fuel wastes were prohibited by the SA Liberal government in 2000; then in 2002‒03 the incoming SA Labor government extended the legislation to cover other radioactive wastes. Yet the federal Coalition government intends to override state law to impose nuclear wastes onto SA.

Advice provided to the CEO of ARPANSA by ARPANSA's 'Nuclear Safety Committee' in Nov. 2013 states that:

"International best practice points to the need to have in place a policy and infrastructure for final management and ultimate disposal of waste before activities generating waste commence."

"[T]he dual handling and transport process associated with interim storage does not represent international best practice"

"Dual handling also has implications for security."

More recently, in Nov. 2016, the Nuclear Safety Committee advised the CEO of ARPANSA on the "ongoing requirement to clearly and effectively engage all stakeholders, including those along transport routes" and the Committee said that such engagement is "essential".3

However, in an arrogant, flawed process, the federal government named port cities in SA as required ports to take shipments of nuclear waste in a report4 posted on the internet but failed to even inform the targeted communities and their local councils.

The story broke on Southern Cross TV on Aug. 6. The next day the ABC quoted Port Pirie's Mayor saying Council was "blind-sided" by the federal government position to potentially require Port Pirie as a nuclear waste port. On Aug. 9 the story ran on p.1 of the Whyalla News, with the Whyalla Mayor saying Council won't accept this.

Communities in Whyalla or Port Pirie ‒ and in Port Augusta which was named on a number of potential required nuclear waste transport routes ‒ face "complete shutdown" in transport of nuclear wastes through their cities but have been excluded from having a say by this federal government.

The federal Coalition government must stop this untenable nuclear waste threat to compromise safety and security in SA and accept extended storage of ANSTO nuclear fuel waste and ILW at Lucas Heights.

As the alternate federal government, the ALP is yet to say what they may do if elected in 2019.

More information: www.nuclear.foe.org.au/noonan

References:

  1. www.radioactivewaste.gov.au/sites/prod.radioactivewaste/files/files/Australian%20Radioactive%20Waste%20Management%20Framework.pdf
  2. www.arpansa.gov.au/sites/default/files/legacy/pubs/nsc/nsc_iwsadvice.pdf
  3. www.arpansa.gov.au/sites/default/files/legacy/pubs/nsc/nrwmf-stakeholder-engagement.rtf
  4. https://prod-radioactivewaste.industry.slicedtech.com.au/sites/prod.radioactivewaste/files/60565376_NRWMF%20Site%20Characterisation%20Technical%20Report_Wallerberdina_20.07.2018_FINAL_Optimized.pdf

Published in Chain Reaction #134, December 2018. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia. www.foe.org.au/chain_reaction


Whilst you are here, please make a tax deductible donation. Friends of the Earth relies on donations from people like you to keep running campaigns for social and environmental justice.