Radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel management in Australia

Updated 29 January 2008

Ian Holland; formerly Politics and Public Administration Group
Updated by Matthew James; Science, Technology, Environment and Resources Section

 

List of acronyms

AAEC

Australian Atomic Energy Commission

ADI

Australian Defence Industries

AIRAC Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council

ANSTO

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation

ARPANSA

Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency

ARPANS Act Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998
ASNO Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office

ASSESS

A system for selecting suitable sites

ASTEC

Australian Science and Technology Council

CSIRO

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

CXRL

Commonwealth X-ray and Radium Laboratory

DPIE

Department of Primary Industries and Energy

HIFAR

High flux Australian reactor

IAEA International Atomic Energy Agency

NHMRC

National Health and Medical Research Council

NRIC

National Resource Information Centre

OPAL Open Pool Australian Light-water reactor


Introduction

Australia has had a long involvement in nuclear science and technology, despite not developing either a domestic nuclear power industry or a nuclear weapons capability. Although Australia contemplated doing both these things in the late 1960s, historically the country's main roles have been as:

  • a user of ionising radiation and nuclear technologies in applications in medicine, research and industry from the end of the 19th century to the present day
  • a long-standing player in nuclear research, hosting one of the world's first nuclear research reactors
  • a test site for British nuclear weapons tests, and
  • a supplier of uranium to the world, which continues to the present day.

Ionising radiation is in common use in society today in medical, research, industrial and domestic application. Examples include the radioisotopes that are used in nuclear medicine (diagnosis, therapy), industry (process controls, a variety of gauges, non-destructive testing), research (environmental tracers) and homes (smoke detectors). As a result of its engagement with ionising radiation, Australia has been host to a number of radioactive waste management challenges.

Australia has total holdings of around 4 300 cubic metres of radioactive waste. Australia's radioactive waste stockpile is dwarfed by that of most other developed countries. Canada, for example, has total holdings of more than 1.8 million cubic metres of low level waste alone. Details of Australia's holdings of radioactive waste and expected future production were given in the then Department of Industry, Science and Resources' National Radioactive Waste Repository Site Selection StudyA Report on Public Comment in 1999, and are reproduced in Tables 1 and 2, below. Also, see the current website found at: http://www.radioactivewaste.gov.au/default.htm.

The pattern that emerges from the history of Australia's radioactive waste management is one of:

  • little attention to the management of radioactive waste until the 1970s (as was the case in most countries around the world)
  • very drawn-out policy processes since the 1970s for resolving radioactive waste issues
  • (since the 1970s) sensitivities in the community causing significant difficulties for all governments in resolving radioactive waste management issues
  • in-principle cooperation between the Commonwealth and the states and territories, but tensions between them whenever the Commonwealth has approached the issue of specific proposals to locate radioactive waste facilities at identified sites or notionally in their jurisdiction, and
  • despite some efforts, an inability of the Commonwealth to respond successfully to calls to resolve nuclear waste issues as a precondition to the further development of nuclear industries.

Community concerns about the siting of national radioactive waste facilities have been partly related (for at least the last ten years) to opposition to the replacement research reactor at Lucas Heights. That component is likely to continue to be a significant driving force in the debate on radioactive waste management facilities, at least until the CEO of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) issues the operating licence for the reactor. This is because, if the establishment processes for radioactive waste management facilities have not advanced to his satisfaction, the then CEO made it clear in August 2000 that he will not issue the licence.

In its experience with nuclear waste management, Australia differs little from most countries that have nuclear programs. The most distinctive feature is that Australia has found it difficult to resolve its waste issues despite the tiny amount of material actually involved. Australia's minor radioactive waste stockpile continues to cast a very long shadow.

This chronology outlines the history of radioactive waste management in Australia. Australia has neither commercial nor military nuclear programs, but its long involvement with nuclear science, nuclear weapons tests and uranium mining has left a legacy of radioactive waste, the management of which has proven a tough policy nut to crack.

This chronology outlines the history of three main strands of activity. They are the management of:

  • radioactive medical, scientific and industrial waste, particularly through attempts to create waste repositories for relatively low-level wastes presently housed at dozens of sites around the country
  • spent nuclear fuel from Australia's research reactor at Lucas Heights near Sydney, and
  • site contamination from British nuclear weapon's tests conducted in South Australia in the 1950s.

This chronology does not address the history of wastes associated with uranium mining.

Radioactive waste

There are different ways of classifying radioactive waste. Australian debate about waste management has focussed on classifying wastes according to their treatment pathways and final management options. From this perspective, radioactive wastes are referred to as low, intermediate or high level wastes.

Low level wastes are those with minor levels of contamination by radioactive substances, such as laboratory waste, and other materials that might have come into contact with radiation sources. Special shielding is not normally required for transport and handling. The levels of radiation are sufficiently low that shallow burial in containers is generally regarded as a safe method of disposal.

Intermediate level wastes are those emitting higher levels of radiation. In turn, they are broken up into short-lived and long-lived intermediate level wastes. Short-lived intermediate level wastes are items that might be more radioactive than most low level materials, but the radiation is caused by radioisotopes that decay quickly. If they are stored or buried for relatively short periods (meaning decades or a few centuries), then their radiation levels drop to a point where they no longer present any risk. Long-lived intermediate level wastes will be radioactive in the long-term. These wastes sometimes require shielding during handling and transport. They include by-products from the treatment of spent nuclear fuel, some wastes produced by the operation of nuclear reactors, and some long-lived radiation sources used in industrial applications. These wastes are not suited to shallow burial, and in Australia the preferred approach is long-term above-ground storage, pending eventual disposal in a geological repository. Australia currently has not, however, commenced planning for such a repository. Spent fuel rods from the High Flux Australian Reactor (HIFAR) research reactor are being reprocessed overseas, and the resulting wastes will be long-lived intermediate level wastes. When they return to Australia, these wastes can be managed along with other holdings of this class of waste.

High level wastes arise as by-products from the reprocessing of spent nuclear power reactor fuels, and emit high levels of radiation and significant quantities of heat. Still controversial, the only disposal option considered for such waste is deep, permanent geological disposal. Australia does not generate high level wastes.

Table 1

Main sources and estimated volumes of low level and short-lived intermediate level wastes to be accepted at the national near-surface repository

Source

Type

Estimated volume (cubic metres)

Estimated annual generation rate (cubic metres)

ANSTOcurrent

Low level solid waste including compacted contaminated clothing, paper and glassware

1080

30

This generation is expected to continue after replacement of HIFAR with the replacement reactor

ANSTOHIFAR

Decommissioning wastes

Based on 30 years care and maintenance then entombment in the year 2035

500

nil

ANSTO

Replacement research reactor decommissioning wastes

Dependent on reactor type and operational arrangements

Less than HIFAR

nil

States / territories

Industrial gauges, exit signs, smoke detectors, medical sources

100

510

Defence

Electron tubes, radium painted watches, compasses, sealed sources

60

<5

CSIRO

Contaminated soil from CSIRO research into treatment of radioactive ores 3040 years ago

1950

nil

Source: National Radioactive Waste Repository Site Selection StudyA Report on Public Comment, Department of Industry, Science and Resources, June 1999, page 47.

Table 2

Estimated volumes of waste forms to be accepted at a long-lived intermediate level waste store

Source

Type

Estimated volume of waste form
(cubic metres)

Estimated annual generation rate (cubic metres)

ANSTORadioisotope Production

(a) Solid waste

(a) Solid waste from production

205

0.7

1.5

0.03

ANSTOHIFAR

spent fuel reprocessing waste until reactor closure

(a) Wastes in glass matrix from Cogema

(b) Cemented wastes from Dounreay

3

20

nil

nil

ANSTOHIFAR

decommissioning wastes

Based on 30 years care and maintenance then entombment

5

nil

ANSTOReplacement Research Reactor (depends on reactor design and operational factors)

(a) Operational wastes

(b) Spent fuel reprocessing waste

(c) Eventual decommissioning

nil

nil


Less than HIFAR

2

Similar generation rate as HIFARradiopharmaceutical production possibly increased by a factor of four

nil

Historical waste from Australian industry held by ANSTO

Thorium and Uranium residues from mineral sands processing

165

nil

States / territories

Mainly sealed sources including americium-241, radium-226,

caesium-137

100

2

Other Commonwealth

Sealed sourcesamericium-241 and radium-226

35

1

Source: National Radioactive Waste Repository Site Selection StudyA Report on Public Comment, Department of Industry, Science and Resources, June 1999, page 48.

Chronology

Milestones Details Source Documents

1895 and 1896, and into the 20th century

X-rays (1895) and radioactivity (1896) are discovered. Shortly afterwards, x-rays and radioactivity were being used in research in Australian universities. Australian physicians commenced using x-rays for clinical purposes in 1896. The technology spread very rapidly (it was in use, for example, in Albury and in Wilcannia during 1896).

Radioactivity entered into clinical use overseas around 1901. Its first use in Australia was in Melbourne, in 1903. It was used widely for treating tumours and also for dermatology. It had the advantage of being able to be introduced into the body in needles or tubes for local irradiation of tumours. Radiation emitted by radium was at consistent rates and was much more reliable than x-rays from the primitive equipment of the time.

Medical evidence emerged by the early years of the 20th century that exposures to x-rays and radioactivity could cause deleterious health effects. Nevertheless, the medical successes of radiation reinforced strong popular belief in the benefits for good health of radiation and, in particular, radioactivity. Products such as radium water and radium soap were promoted and used as remedies for a wide range of medical conditions.

Radium also had industrial, military and domestic uses. Until around 1960, for example, it was used widely in the form of luminous paint, which was applied to watches and clocks, scientific instruments, dials in instrument panels, and so on. X-rays also came into wider use in society, although the main use was in medicine. For example, by the 1950s, shoe shops in Australia commonly confirmed the fit of shoes (children's, especially) with equipment that used x-rays to show images of the feet in the shoes.

Australian Encyclopaedia, 1965 edition, Grollier Society of Australia, Sydney, vol. 7, pp. 3545.

'The X Rays and cancer. A local case. An appeal to the charitable', Albury Daily News, 15 October 1896.

Hugh Hammersley, 'Radiation Science and Australian Medicine, 18961914', Historical Records of Australian Science, vol. 5, no. 3, 1982, pp. 4163.

1929

The Commonwealth Government establishes the Commonwealth Radium Laboratory, which in 1935 becomes the Commonwealth X-ray and Radium Laboratory (CXRL). The Laboratory is set up to safeguard radium purchased by the Government and to distribute it to treatment centres in the capital cities (the Commonwealth had purchased 10 grams of radium at a cost of 100 000). The Laboratory is located at the University of Melbourne, and is controlled and staffed by the Commonwealth's Department of Health.

National Archives of Australia, Agency Notes for agency CA 2466; Agency Notes for agency CA 2467.

1946

The Commonwealth passes the Atomic Energy (Control of Materials) Act 1946. The Act is motivated by defence concerns in the wake of the creation of nuclear weapons at the end of World War II. It establishes an Atomic Energy Advisory Committee to assist the minister to deal with nuclear issues. It also asserts Commonwealth ownership and control of the minerals from which elements such as uranium, thorium and plutonium may be derived (sections 3, 6).

Atomic Energy (Control of Materials) Act 1946

1946

Australia begins protracted negotiations and deals with Britain and the United States, seeking access to scientific and technological information to support the development of industrial atomic energy. Discussions tend to involve talk of a trade: Australian uranium in exchange for American or British expertise and technology. Many, such as South Australian Premier Tom Playford, believe nuclear power is vital to future development and just years away from being realised in Australia.

Alice Cawte, Atomic Australia, University of New South Wales Press, 1992.

1950s

During the 1950s the States began to introduce radiation protection legislation.

By the 1950s, a range of radioactive waste had accumulated which include used x-ray tubes, used thermionic valves (e.g. radio valves), radioactive sources (many of which utilised radium) and radium-painted faces and hands from scientific, vehicular (including aeroplane) and domestic instruments. CXRL instituted a collection program for such materials. The materials that were collected were stored at the Department of Supply's site at Maribyrnong, Victoria.

Acts included Radioactive Substances Act 1957 (NSW); Health Act 1935 (SA); Radioactive Substances Act 1954 (WA).

1952 to 1957

The British Government conduct a series of nuclear weapon tests at the Monte Bello Islands off Western Australia, and at Maralinga and Emu in South Australia, which result in significant radioactive site contamination. The British subsequently make attempts to clean up Maralinga and Emu between 1963 and 1967; these are not successful.

Maralinga Rehabilitation Technical Advisory Committee, Rehabilitation of Former Nuclear Test Sites at Emu and Maralinga (Australia) 2003, Department of Education, Science and Training, 2002, pp. 812.

c. 1953

The government accepts scientific advice from its Atomic Energy Advisory Committee 'to embark upon a research and development programme leading to the industrial use of atomic energy'. This includes seeking to construct an experimental reactor in Australia.

House of Representatives Debates, 19 March 1953, p. 1391.

April 1953

The Atomic Energy Act 1953 comes into effect. The Act incorporates the powers of ownership and control previously in the Atomic Energy (Control of Materials) Act 1946. Most importantly, it creates the Australian Atomic Energy Commission (AAEC). The Commission is empowered to be involved in all stages of the nuclear cycle, including 'to sell or otherwise dispose of materials or energy produced as a result of the operations of the Commission' (subsection 17(1)(f)).

Atomic Energy Act 1953 (current version: sections pertaining to the AAEC were repealed by the Atomic Energy Amendment Act 1987).

Ann Moyal, 'The Australian Atomic Energy Commission: A Case Study in Australian Science and Government', Search, vol. 6, no. 9, 1975, pp. 36584.

November 1955

Construction of the High Flux Australian Reactor (HIFAR) commences at Lucas Heights, in Sutherland Shire in Sydney's south-west.

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, A Brief History 19481995.

26 January 1958

The AAEC's High Flux Australian Reactor (HIFAR) achieves criticality. The reactor is officially opened by Prime Minister Robert Menzies on 18 April 1958.

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, A Brief History 19481995.

April 1961

The AAEC's small MOATA research reactor, comes into operation at Lucas Heights.

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, A Brief History 19481995.

1963

Repatriation to the United Kingdom of the first spent nuclear fuel rods from the HIFAR reactor.

Australian Atomic Energy Commission, Eleventh Annual Report, 196263, p. 61.

1960s

The AAEC commences using the HIFAR reactor to produce radioisotopes for use in the emerging discipline of nuclear medicine.

 

February 1969

Prime Minister John Gorton indicates the government's intention to introduce nuclear power in Australia. It is an idea that has been examined by the AAEC at least since 1965, and late in 1969, the AAEC completes a feasibility study and recommends construction of a power plant at Jervis Bay.

Gorton publicly endorses the proposal. The rationale for the scheme is as much military as industrial: the AAEC's preferred option is for a plant that could generate weapons-grade plutonium. The only awareness of nuclear waste issues appears to be minor concern about wastes in the event of a nuclear accident.

Alice Cawte, Atomic Australia, University of New South Wales Press, 1992, pp. 121, 124, 128.

'Gorton gave nod to nuclear power plant', The Age, 1 January 2000.

'Classic stoush the sub-text to nuclear plan', Canberra Times, 1 January 2000.

June 1971

Gorton's Prime Ministerial successor Billy McMahon opposes an Australian nuclear power program, and plans for an Australian nuclear power industry are deferred indefinitely.

'Gorton gave nod to nuclear power plant', The Age, 1 January 2000.

Circa 1972

The Department of Supply transfers the wastes collected by CXRL, and some Commonwealth wastes, to the Department's site at St Mary's, NSW.

 

1973

Australia signs (1970) and ratifies (1973) the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and thereby rules out a nuclear weapons program.

Alice Cawte, Atomic Australia, University of New South Wales Press, 1992, p. 129. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

1972–73

In 1972 the Commonwealth X-ray and Radium Laboratory is renamed the Commonwealth Radiation Laboratory, and in 1973 is renamed the Australian Radiation Laboratory. It continues to function as an element of the Department of Health. It acquires responsibility for studies of radioactive fall-out from the Department of Science.

National Archives of Australia, Agency Notes for agency CA 2468.

1978

During a meeting of Commonwealth, State and Territory Health Ministers, the State and Territory Ministers ask the Commonwealth to co-ordinate a national approach to the management of radioactive waste and the development of relevant codes of practice. The Commonwealth considers the request and agrees to take on that role.

The development of the NHMRC's 'Radiation Health Series' of codes of practice for the management of wastes arising from the medical, research and industrial use of radionuclides arises from this initiative, as did the search for a national repository site for low and short-lived intermediate level radioactive wastes.

'Cabinet to decide on N-waste', The Age, 10 February 1978.

'National dump to take all nuclear waste', The Australian, 28 June 1978.

1978

The NSW Government prepares to clean up a former industrial site in Hunters Hill, Sydney, which is contaminated with radioactive thorium and radium. However, proposals to dump the contaminated soil at a disused mine in the State's far west are abandoned following a lobbying campaign.

Rod Panter, 'Radioactive Waste Disposal in Australia', Issue Paper no. 6, Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1992. 'Radiation danger in streets', The Age, 20 November 1978.

1978

The AAEC and the Australian National University commence a joint venture to develop synroc (synthetic rock) as a possible containment material for high-level radioactive waste.

 
January 1979 The Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council (AIRAC) reports with recommendations on the future use of the Maralinga atomic weapons test range. AIRAC, Radiological safety and future land use at the Maralinga atomic weapons test range, Report No. 4, January 1979.
August 1979 The Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council (AIRAC) reports with recommendations on the future use of the Monte Bello Islands off Western Australia. AIRAC, Radiological safety and future land use in the Monte Bello Islands, Parliamentary Paper No. 311, 1979.
November 1980 The Department of National Development and Energy report notes that little residual radiation exists at the former British test sites. It notes that the removal of materials from Maralinga caused much public interest. DNDE, Management of former U.K. atomic weapons test sites in Australia, Report of the 1979 work program, 1980.
1980 A Commonwealth–State Consultative Committee on Radioactive Waste Management is established. Department of Arts, Sports, the Environment, Tourism and Territories. Code of Practice on the Management of Radioactive wastes from mining of Radioactive Ores, AGPS, Canberra, 1982.
1982 Under the Environment Protection (Nuclear Codes) Act 1978, the new 'Code of Practice for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Substances' is based on the International Atomic Energy Agency regulations of 1973 and the national radiation protection standards of 1980. Australian Parliament, Code of Practice for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Substances, AGPS, 1982.
January 1983 The Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council (AIRAC) finds that some 1300 Australians were actually or potentially exposed to some radiation during the 1950s British tests here. However, the levels of exposure were safe and within recommended levels. AIRAC, British nuclear tests in Australia–a review of operational safety measures and of possible after-effects, Report No. 9, January 1983.
November 1983 The Commonwealth Department of Health finds no significant adverse health affects for Australian personnel involved in the past UK atomic tests. CDH, Health of atomic test personnel, AGPS, Canberra, 1983.

November 1983

The Commonwealth Government asks Chairman of the Australian Science and Technology Council (ASTEC), Professor Ralph Slatyer, to prepare a report on Australia's role in the nuclear fuel cycle. It has been argued since that the purpose of the report was to give the Hawke Government some independent advice to support a shift in ALP policy to a more liberal position on the mining and export of uranium.

The ASTEC report, released in May 1984:

  • supports identification of 'sites suitable for disposal of low level radioactive waste and the development of facilities for interim storage and disposal of low and intermediate level radioactive waste' (p. 23)
  • argues Australia should participate in the international research effort on the disposal of high level waste, and
  • endorses continuing research into synroc.

ASTEC, Australia's Role in the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, AGPS, Canberra, May 1984.

16 July 1984

The Commonwealth Government establishes the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, chaired by Justice McClelland (also known as the Maralinga Royal Commission). The future management and use of the test sites was only one matter the Commission investigated, but it became one of the most prominent, with test site contamination becoming a major focus of both the Commission's report and the government's response.

Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, Report, AGPS, Canberra, 1985 (2 volumes and a conclusions report). Dr J. L. Symonds, A History of British Atomic Tests in Australia, Department of Resources and Energy, AGPS, April 1985.

1985

Following a fire in 1983 near an office basement being used to store radioactive waste, the Victorian Government selects a site for a storage site in country Victoria. As in NSW in 1978, a range of interests combine to lobby against, and ultimately defeat the proposal.

Rod Panter, 'Radioactive Waste Disposal in Australia', Issue Paper no. 6, Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1992. 'A radioactive waste facility–Melbourne style', The Herald (Melbourne), 29 December 1985.

1985

The Commonwealth-State Consultative Committee on Radioactive Waste Management recommends that a 'national program be initiated to identify potentially suitable sites for a national near-surface radioactive waste repository'. State and Territory governments commence studies to identify potentially suitable sites in their jurisdictions. The NHMRC issues the Code of Practice for the Disposal of Radioactive Wastes by the User.

Department of Primary Industries and Energy, National Radioactive Waste Repository Site Selection Study, Phase 2, Report on Public Comment, AGPS, Canberra, 1995. ARPANSA, Code of Practice for the Disposal of Radioactive Wastes by the User, 1985.

November 1985

The Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Evans) introduces into Parliament Bills to overhaul the Atomic Energy Act and replace the Atomic Energy Commission with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The Bills pass and come into effect in 1987 (see below).

Senate Debates, 6 November 1985,
p. 1618.

1986

The studies conducted by states and territories under the Commonwealth–State Consultative Committee indicate that most states and the Northern Territory contained potentially suitable locations for a repository.

Bureau of Resource Sciences, A Radioactive Waste Repository for Australia: Site Selection Study Phase 3 Regional Assessment, Bureau of Resource Sciences, Canberra, 1997, p. 2.

1986 The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), provides a concise guide to radioactive waste hazards and disposal. NHMRC, Code of Practice for the Disposal of Radioactive Wastes by the User (1985), AGPS, 1986.

20 June 1986

As part of the process of creating ANSTO, a review of the Atomic Energy Commission is commissioned to advise on 'whether the current objectives, programs, organisation and staffing of the AAEC appear appropriate for ANSTO', and if not, to 'recommend measures for achieving changes'.

Committee of Review of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, Report of the Review, October 1986.

September 1986

The Commonwealth Government accepts most of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into British Nuclear tests in Australia. It establishes technical and consultative committees to commence planning for a clean-up operation.

Senate Debates, 17 September 1986, p. 498. Government Response to the Recommendations of the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, Parliamentary Paper no. 678/1986.

October 1986

The Committee of Review of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission delivers its report. It recommends ANSTO be more outward-looking, set clearer objectives and work on succession planning amongst its scientific staff. It also identifies sudden changes by governments to programs as a source of problems in the past.

Committee of Review of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, Report of the Review, October 1986.

11 December 1986 The South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Act 1986 comes into force, having been endorsed by the South Pacific Forum. Also known as the Treaty of Rarotonga, it bans the manufacture, possession, stationing, and testing of any nuclear explosive device in Treaty territories for which the parties are internationally responsible; it also bans the dumping of radioactive waste at sea. Three Protocols extend the Treaty's provisions to states outside the zone. ASNO, Annual Report, 2003–04, p. 31.

April 1987

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Act 1987 takes effect, replacing the AAEC with a new statutory body, ANSTO. The functions of ANSTO are set out in section 5 of the Act.

The new Act requires:

  • the formation of a Nuclear Safety Bureau within ANSTO, to be appointed by ANSTO's Board, and responsible to the Minister 'for monitoring and reviewing the safety of any nuclear plant operated by the Organisation' (section 25), and
  • the establishment by the Minister of a Safety Review Committee to 'review and assess the effectiveness of the standards, practices and procedures adopted by the Organisation to ensure the safety of its operations'; the Committee's annual report is to be tabled in Parliament (Section 26).

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Act 1987

May 1987 The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), provides a concise guide to the morbid subject of the safe handling of corpses containing radioactive materials. NHMRC, Code of Practice for the Safe Handling of Corpses Contain-ing Radioactive Materials (1986), AGPS, 1987.

1988

The Northern Territory agrees to a Commonwealth-funded feasibility study of a possible national waste repository to be located in the Territory. The study is completed in 1989.

Bureau of Resource Sciences, A Radioactive Waste Repository for Australia: Site Selection StudyPhase 3 Regional Assessment, Bureau of Resource Sciences, Canberra, 1997, p. 2.

Late 1988

A short time before the shipping date, the US Department of Energy halts arrangements with ANSTO for the repatriation of 114 spent nuclear fuel rods, pending the preparation of an environmental impact statement by the Department on the return of spent fuel from research reactors around the world.

'Greenies block nuke proposal', Daily Telegraph, 25 February 1989.

April 1989

Defence contractors discover radioactive contamination of soil at a CSIRO chemical research facility at Fishermens Bend in Victoria. Between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s, scientists at the facility had undertaken research to develop chemical processes to extract uranium from Australian ores.

'On the road again: radioactive soil heads to Woomera', Sydney Morning Herald, 8 December 1994.

December 1989

In early 1989, the Queensland National Party government builds a temporary radioactive waste storage facility at Redbank in southeast Queensland for the State's waste material. In December, following the election of a new ALP government, the facility is closed without ever being used.

'A damp dawn on the picket line', Courier-Mail, 17 May 1989; 'State's "hot" waste plan "temporary"', Courier-Mail, 27 May 1989; 'Redbank toxic waste dump opened, then closed', Courier-Mail, 13 December 1989.

1989 The Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade investigates the adequacy of plans by Federal and State authorities to deal with unexpected radiation incidents involving foreign ships. Australian Parliament, Visits to Australia by nuclear powered or armed vessels: Contingency planning for the accidental release of ionizing radiation, AGPS,1989.

1990

The contaminated soil held by CSIRO at Fishermens Bend in Melbourne is moved to ANSTO's facility at Lucas Heights, in around some 10 000 of 44-gallon drums.

Department of the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories, Code of Practice for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Substances 1990, June 1990.

November 1990

The Technical Assessment Group, established by the Government in 1986 after the Maralinga Royal Commission, delivers its report on the Rehabilitation of Former Nuclear Test Sites in Australia. It represents the completion of extensive preliminary studies, resulting in the setting out of a range of rehabilitation options.

Technical Assessment Group, Rehabilitation of Former Nuclear Test Sites in Australia, Department of Primary Industries and Energy, Canberra, 1990.

April 1991

The Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Crean) meets with a delegation from Sutherland Shire Council over concerns about the management of radioactive waste on the Lucas Heights site. The Minister asks the Australian Radiation Laboratory's Safety Review Committee to undertake a review of ANSTO's management of radioactive waste at the site.

Safety Review Committee, Management of Radioactive Waste at Lucas Heights Research Laboratories, AGPS, Canberra, August 1991.

April 1991 The Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council (AIRAC) reports on low-level radioactive waste management, to the Hon Mrs Ros Kelly MP, Minister for the Arts, Sports, the Environment, Tourism and Territories. AIRAC, Report on low-level radioactive waste management, (loose leaf), April 1991.

May 1991

The Northern Territory indicates it is no longer willing to host a repository under the Commonwealth-State cooperative process.

Bureau of Resource Sciences, A Radioactive Waste Repository for Australia: Site Selection Study Phase 3 Regional Assessment, Bureau of Resource Sciences, Canberra, 1997, p. 2.

July 1991

ANSTO enters into a contract with Australian Defence Industries (ADI) to condition and store radioactive waste from the ADI site at St Marys. Sutherland Shire Council responds by launching a court action against ANSTO.

Senate Select Committee on the Dangers of Radioactive Waste, No Time to Waste, 1996, p. 3.

August 1991

The Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Free) tables in Parliament the report of the Safety Review Committee, commissioned in April. The report concludes that ANSTO's waste management practices are sound and safe, but makes veiled criticism of progress on developing national waste facilities, urging that: The Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments begin the process by identifying specific objectives and target dates for appropriate low and medium level radioactive waste repositories and that they allocate sufficient priority and resources to achieve those objectives and targets.

Safety Review Committee, Management of Radioactive Waste at Lucas Heights Research Laboratories, AGPS, Canberra, August 1991, p. ix.

September 1991

Primary Industries Minister Simon Crean officially seeks the participation of all governments in a coordinated search for a site for a single national radioactive waste facility. All states and territories except Western Australia agree to participate.

 

1992

Western Australia constructs the Mount Walton East Intractable Waste Disposal Facility, for the disposal of low level radioactive waste and other intractable wastes. Community interests in the Goldfields region opposed the facility. The availability of the site underpins Western Australia's subsequent resistance to involvement in the search for a national waste repository site.

'Mt Walton for WA waste only', The West Australian, 20 June 1992.

5 February 1992

The Sutherland Shire's court action against ANSTO, launched in July 1991, is successful. The NSW Land and Environment Court finds that ANSTO's functions under the ANSTO Act do not extend to the storage of radioactive waste belonging to other entities, and orders that ANSTO must not bring the waste from St Marys to its Lucas Heights site, and that CSIRO's contaminated soil, already brought to Lucas Heights, must be removed within three years.

Council Of The Shire Of Sutherland v. Australian Nuclear Science & Technology Organisation, Land and Environment Court of New South Wales, Decision of 5 February 1992, Unreported, Case no. 40215/91.

30 June 1992

The ANSTO Amendment Act 1992 takes effect, giving ANSTO immunity from legal action under state and territory laws relating to the use, proposed use or environmental consequences of land or premises, radioactive materials or dangerous goods, or licensing related to certain activities. The changes are designed to avoid a repeat of the Sutherland Shire Council court case.

The amendments also establish the Nuclear Safety Bureau as a body corporate with functions that included monitoring and reviewing the safety of any nuclear plant owned or operated by ANSTO, and providing technical advice to the Commonwealth on the safety of nuclear plant and related matters.

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Amendment Act 1992. Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Amendment Bill, Bills Digest, 2 April 1992, Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1992.
AEA Decommissioning and Radwaste, A study of the decommissioning and waste management options for the HIFAR reactor, 10 March 1992.

30 September 1992

The Commonwealth establishes the Research Reactor Review. The three members of the review panel are asked to report on the possible replacement of the ageing HIFAR reactor at Lucas Heights.

'Lucas Heights review starts next month', Canberra Times, 1 October 1992.

7 October 1992

The Commonwealth releases its report National Radioactive Waste Repository Site Selection Study, Phase 1 for public comment by December 1992. The Phase 1 report is prepared by the National Resource Information Centre (NRIC), a science unit within the Department of Primary Industries and Energy (DPIE). The report:

  • describes the nature of radioactive wastes
  • briefly describes the criteria for assessing the suitability of sites for hosting a waste repository
  • outlines a Geographic Information Systembased system for applying the criteria, and
  • describes the way a repository would be constructed.

NRIC, A Radioactive Waste Repository for Australia: Methods for Choosing the Right Site, DPIE, Canberra, 1992.

November 1992

The National Health and Medical Research Council approves a Code of practice for the near-surface disposal of radioactive waste in Australia.

NHMRC, Code of practice for the near-surface disposal of radioactive waste in Australia, Radiation Health Series no. 35, AGPS, Canberra.

December 1992

A consultant's report into the future economic development of the Mt Isa region in Queensland suggests establishment of a nuclear waste facility as one possible option. The proposal draws the support of the town's mayor, contributing to a decision to include the Mt Isa region in more detailed analyses by the Commonwealth of potentially suitable sites for a national nuclear waste repository.

'Mt Isa will take Sydney A-waste', Sun-Herald, 13 December 1992.

June 1993

After two years of negotiations, the British Government makes an offer of 20 million pounds (approximately $50 million) to Australia to assist in funding the clean up of the Maralinga and Emu nuclear test sites. The clean-up is anticipated to cost twice that amount.

'Cabinet agrees to UK offer on Maralinga', Canberra Times, 30 June 1993; 'Nuclear waste clean-up', Herald Sun, 28 April 1996.

August 1993

The report of the Research Reactor Review examines, among many other things, the issue of the management of spent fuel rods from the HIFAR reactor, which had been accumulating at Lucas Heights since 1963. The Report says:

  •  'a solution to this problem is essential well prior to any future decision about a new reactor', and
  • 'The spent fuel rods at Lucas Heights can only sensibly be treated as high level waste The pretence that spent fuel rods constitute an asset must stop' (p. 216).

The report states that 'it would be utterly wrong to decide on a new reactor before progress is made on the identification of a high level waste repository site' (p. xiv).

Research Reactor Review, Future Reactions: Report of the Research Reactor Review, 1993 and an Appendices volume.

ANSTO, The case for a new reactor, (Submission to the Australian Science and Technology Council ASTEC), October 1991.
ANSTO, Financial and Economic Evaluation of Proposed New Reactor, Coopers & Lybrand Consultants, October 1991.
Alan Murray, Estimates of the consequences of severe accidents in HIFAR, Nuclear Safety Bureau, ANSTO, NSB/4, August 1990.

August 1993

The Commonwealth releases its Report on Public Comment on Phase 1 of the site selection process for a low level waste repository.

DPIE, National Radioactive Waste Repository Site Selection Study, Phase 1, Report on Public Comment, AGPS, Canberra, 1993.

9 November 1993

The Minister for Science and Small Business (Senator Schacht) announces decisions on a number of nuclear issues, including:

  • 'The Government broadly accepts the findings of the Research Reactor Review'.
  • The Nuclear Safety Bureau is to be amalgamated with the Australian Radiation Laboratory 'to form a new Australian Institute for Radiation Protection'. The new body is to have regulatory and licensing powers in respect of the Commonwealth's nuclear and radiation activities, and report to the Minister for Health. Subsequently, administrative responsibility for the Nuclear Safety Bureau is transferred to the Minister for Health. However, the proposed Institute had not been established when the Labor Government lost office in 1996.
  • An inter-agency committee will be established 'to examine and report on matters related to the disposal of the spent fuel rods from HIFAR'.

'Government resolves nuclear issues', Media Release, 9 November 1993. William Puglia, Paul Amico, Jon Young, Safety Technology of Research Reactors: an examination of current safety issues and regulatory requirements, SAIC-92/6672, Final Report prepared by Science Applications International Corporation for ANSTO, (looseleaf), March 24, 1992. ANSTO, Report on the approach to regulation and licensing for a new research reactor for Australia, Preliminary engineering and financial study of the new reactor project, (loose leaf), 11 May 1992. T F Robertson, Second Submission by Sutherland Shire Council to the Research Reactor Review, Frederick Jordan Chambers, June 1993.

Mid-1994

A regulation is made to enable ANSTO to condition intermediate level radioactive waste at ADI's site at St Marys. Following the recommendation of a Senate inquiry, the regulation is replaced with a regulation which contains a sunset clause.

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Regulations, No. 259 of 1994 and No. 415 of 1994. Senate Debates, 11 October 1994, pp. 143144.

1 July 1994

Responsibility for the Nuclear Safety Bureau is transferred to the Minister for Health and Family Services. The change separates the lines of accountability for ANSTO and for monitoring the safety of ANSTO's Lucas Heights operations.

Nuclear Safety Bureau, Annual Report 1995-96, p. 4.

18 July 1994

The Commonwealth releases its report National Radioactive Waste Repository Site Selection Study, Phase 2 for public comment by September 1994. The Phase 2 report:

  •  describes the revised GIS-based model for assessing sites (now called ASSESS: A system for selecting suitable sites)
  •   applies the model to a data set covering the Australian continent
  • selects eight regions for more detailed assessment (five on the basis of application of the model, three as a result of consultation processes)
  • applies the model in more detail to those eight regions, and
  • concludes that all eight regions contained potentially suitable sites for a nuclear waste repository.

NRIC, A Radioactive Waste Repository for Australia: Site Selection StudyPhase 2, DPIE, Canberra, 1994.

23 August 1994

The Minister for Industry, Science and Technology announces that the CSIRO radioactive soil waste and the other radioactive waste at St Marys will be moved to Woomera for interim storage. The Commonwealth Environment Protection Agency will review final transport and storage arrangements.

'Statement from the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Senator Peter Cook', Media Release, 23 August 1994.

17 November 1994

As a result of the NSW court decision of February 1992, removal of the CSIRO waste from Lucas Heights to temporary storage in a Department of Defence facility at Woomera in South Australia commences. The program involves about 120 truckloads of drummed waste, and is completed by 7 January 1995. The shipments receive widespread publicity, particularly in South Australia, which is critical of the process.

Senate Select Committee on the Dangers of Radioactive Waste, No Time to Waste, 1996, p. 4.

8 December 1994

A small amount of moist material is found on the side of a drum during transport by road from Lucas Heights to Woomera. The incident attracts the attention of the media and the South Australian Government. Tests performed by the SA Health Commission's Radiation Protection Branch find no radiation in the material above naturally occurring background levels.

'Leak of radioactive load', Sydney Morning Herald, 9 December 1994. CSIRO Public Affairs, 'Shipment of Low Level Radioactive WasteNo spillage confirmed', Media Release, no date [December 1994]

9 December 1994

South Australian Liberal Senator Grant Chapman gives notice of a motion in the Senate to establish a Senate Select Committee on the Dangers of Radioactive Waste. The Committee is formally established on 9 March 1995, despite the ALP government's opposition, and reports in April 1996.

Senate Debates, 9 December 1994,
p. 4416; Senate Journals, 9 March 1995, p. 3059.

December 1994

In December 1994, the Queensland Government opens a new facility at Esk for the storage of radioactive waste. This followed from a 1991 EIS, which recommended the construction of a facility for the storage of radioactive waste at Esk. The facility was opposed by local community interests, particularly in the Wivenhoe Dam catchment area. Radioactive waste material that was in storage in Brisbane is moved to the facility.

Queensland Legislative Assembly, Debates, 9 October 1991, p. 1466.

May 1995

The intermediate level radioactive waste in storage at St Marys is transported to a Department of Defence facility at Woomera. The Department of Defence had assumed administrative responsibility for the waste some time previously.

'Canberra firm on radioactive waste transfer', The Age, 22 March 1995;
'N-waste site search gains momentum', The Australian, 9 June 1995.

May 1995

ANSTO's MOATA reactor is closed down. The fuel is of US-origin. In due course, the US agrees to the spent fuel being repatriated, with no waste to be returned to Australia.

ANSTO, Annual Report 199495, ANSTO, Lucas Heights, p. 16.

20 June 1995

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works tables its report on the Maralinga Rehabilitation project. The report outlines the objective of the project:

The proposed clean-up will reduce the radiological hazard at the test sites to enable Aboriginal traditional land use and transit of the test site area, reduce and possibly eliminate the need for control and surveillance of the sites and remove potential Commonwealth liabilities arising from contamination. It will also enable the land to revert to control of the South Australian Government which has indicated its intention to add the land to Maralinga Tjarutja freehold land (p. 1).

Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, Report Relating to the Proposed Maralinga Rehabilitation Project, SA, Report no. 10 of 1995, Parliamentary Paper no. 109/1995.

September 1995

Maralinga clean-up operations commence with the construction of the camp that will be the base of operations. Clean-up operations themselves start in May 1996.

 

27 October 1995

The Minister for Industry, Science and Technology (Senator Cook) and the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Senator Collins) announce that the Government has authorised ANSTO to negotiate terms for shipment of spent nuclear fuel of UK origin to Britain for reprocessing, which involves recovery of unused uranium for peaceful non-military purposes. The Ministers note that UK origin spent fuel comprises about half the (then) current holdings at Lucas Heights, the remaining holdings being of US origin.

'Spent nuclear fuel to leave Australia', Media Release, 27 October 1995.

November 1995

The Commonwealth releases its Report on Public Comment on Phase 2 of the site selection process for a low-level waste repository.

Department of Primary Industries and Energy, National Radioactive Waste Repository Site Selection Study, Phase 2, Report on Public Comment, AGPS, Canberra, 1995.

19 April 1996

ANSTO ships 114 spent nuclear fuel rods to Dounreay, Scotland, for reprocessing. Wastes from the reprocessing are to be returned to Australia within 25 years in the form of a quantity of cemented, intermediate level radioactive waste.

Senator Meg Lees (Australian Democrats), 'Government must find answer to Dounreay waste', Media Release, 24 June 1996.

24 April 1996

The ALP government in NSW indicates it is opposed to the location of a nuclear waste repository in the Broken Hill area, one of the eight regions identified in the Phase 2 report on selecting a site for a low level nuclear waste repository.

'NSW refuses to aid N-dump', Sydney Morning Herald, 25 April 1996. NSW Legislative Assembly Debates, 24 April 1996, p. 471.

29 April 1996

Senate Select Committee on the Dangers of Radioactive Waste releases its report, No Time to Waste. The report:

  • criticises the Department of Industry, Science and Technology for a lack of cooperation with the inquiry process
  • recommends that the Commonwealth's nuclear regulatory agency have no involvement in the nuclear industry
  • recommends that there be statutory third-party enforcement rights in radiation safety laws
  • suggests possible disposal of the lowest-level wastes in active uranium mines, and
  • that 'a national above ground storage facility be established which has the capacity to take low, intermediate and high level radioactive waste' (p. 134).

Senate Select Committee on the Dangers of Radioactive Waste, No Time to Waste, Tabled 21 May 1996. Parliamentary Paper no. 7/1996.

13 May 1996

The US Department of Energy (DOE) issues a record of decision on the final environmental impact statement on foreign research reactor spent nuclear fuel. The decision outlines the provisions under which DOE will accept and manage spent US origin fuel arising from scientific research in foreign countries. Spent fuel shipped under the program must be out of the reactor by 12 May 2006 and arrive in the United States by 12 May 2009.

Record of Decision for the Final Environmental Impact Statement on a Nuclear Weapons Nonproliferation Policy Concerning Foreign Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel, US Department of Energy, May 1996.

November 1996

The Commonwealth Government responds to the No Time to Waste Report, indicating:

  • it is currently considering establishing a separate regulatory body
  • that third-party enforcement of the laws is unnecessary
  • willingness to conduct a feasibility study into disposal of certain low-level wastes in uranium mines, and
  • rejection of an above ground facility for all waste, maintaining that 'international standards and practice clearly indicate that near-surface disposal is appropriate' for low level waste.

Senate Debates, 21 November 1996, pp. 583136.

1997

The CommonwealthState Consultative Committee on Radioactive Waste Management reaches in-principle agreement on the need for a national intermediate level waste store. The Committee also endorses the co-location of the intermediate level waste store with the low level waste repository, and the government accepts this as a possible approach.

Safe Storage of Radioactive Waste: The National Store Project: Methods for Choosing the Right Site: Report Responding to Public Comment, Department of Industry, Science and Resources, 2002, p. 13. Senator Warwick Parer, 'SA region selected for National Radioactive Waste Repository site', Media Release, 18 February 1998.

3 September 1997

The Minister for Science and Technology (Mr McGauran) announces construction of a replacement research reactor at Lucas Heights, to be commissioned in 2005, at a cost of $286 million. The announcement also states:

  • The Government will establish a new agency, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) 'to regulate and licence the Commonwealth's future nuclear and radiation activities. ARPANSA will combine the existing resources of the Australian Radiation Laboratory and the Nuclear Safety Bureau. It will be headed by a statutory office holder reporting to the Minister for Health and Family Services'.
  • 'The Government has decided not to establish a reprocessing facility at Lucas Heights or anywhere else in Australia. Instead, $88 million has been set aside to remove spent nuclear fuel rods from Lucas Heights and meet the costs of reprocessing offshore'.
  • 'Australia is to enter into a contract with the US Government to repatriate 689 spent fuel elements of US origin. Shipments will begin in the next 12 months. No waste will be returned'.
  • 'The balance of about 1300 spent fuel elements from HIFAR's [lifetime] operations will be shipped to Dounreay, Scotland for reprocessing, with shipments to begin in the next two years. The wastes will be encapsulated in cement and returned to Australia in about 10 to 20 years'.
  • 'All overseas shipments of spent nuclear fuel will be subject to a strict environmental assessment process under the Environmental Protection Act 1974 (sic)'.

'Nuclear reactor replaced', Media Release, 3 September 1997.

ANSTO/PPK, Overview of Proposed Replacement Nuclear Research Reactor, (booklet document in addition to the Draft EIS Summary Volume 1 Main Report, Volume 2 Appendices, Volume 3 Supplement), undated.

2 October 1997

The Senate refers to the Senate Economics References Committee the question of whether a new reactor should be built to replace the High Flux Australian Reactor (HIFAR). The terms of reference include whether the issues raised by the 1993 Research Reactor Review have been satisfactorily addressed in the context of the decision to proceed with a new reactor at Lucas Heights.

Senate Debates, 2 October 1997,
p. 7433.

November 1997

The Commonwealth releases its report National Radioactive Waste Repository Site Selection Study, Phase 3, as part of an information kit and consultation process, for public comment by April 1998. The Phase 3 report:

  • uses improved data sets to re-apply the ASSESS model to the eight regions identified in Phase 2
  • states that the aim of the process is 'to select the region with the largest areas of high suitability' (p. 10), and
  • concludes that the preferred region for detailed assessment is Billa Kalina, the region of outback South Australia that happens to include Australia's largest uranium mine (Roxby Downs) and Woomera, to which a considerable amount of radioactive waste had already been transported in 1995.

Bureau of Resource Sciences, A Radioactive Waste Repository for Australia: Site Selection StudyPhase 3 Regional Assessment, Bureau of Resource Sciences, Canberra, 1997.
Department of Primary Industries and Energy, Our radioactive waste: managing it safely, Community consultation 1998 (information kit).

April 1998

ANSTO ships 240 spent nuclear fuel rods from Lucas Heights to the United States. No waste will return to Australia from the US shipment.

Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, Proposed replacement research reactor, Lucas Heights, NSW, August 1999, p. 68.

May 1998

In-situ vitrification of old British nuclear waste burial pits commences as part of the Maralinga clean-up process. The technique, developed in the United States in the 1990s, involves passing massive electrical currents into the ground, heating it to temperatures of 1400 to 2000C, causing it to melt and then solidify to form a glass-like solid that is highly resistant to weathering, locking in radioactive contaminants.

Maralinga Rehabilitation Technical Advisory Committee, Rehabilitation of Former Nuclear Test Sites at Emu and Maralinga (Australia) 2003, Department of Education, Science and Training, 2002.

5 June 1998

The UK Government announces that Dounreay will take on no further commercial reprocessing work. This announcement has the effect of precluding the new contract with ANSTO for reprocessing HIFAR spent fuel that was envisaged in the announcement of 3 September 1997.

United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, 'Commercial reprocessing to cease at Dounreay', Media Release, 5 June 1998.

2 July 1998 The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Act 1998 is assented to, but can not be brought into effect until 2003 and by even then not all of the provisions are in force. The Treaty prohibits any nuclear explosion whether for weapons or peaceful purposes. The Treaty establishes an organization to ensure its implementation through a verification regime. ASNO, Annual Report 2004–05, p. 30.
11 November 1998 The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 (ARPANS Act), along with consequential amendments, is passed by Parliament. This brings together activities previously undertaken by the Australian Radiation Laboratory and the Nuclear Safety Bureau. (See 5 February 1999). Australian Parliament, Hansard.

1 December 1998

A promotional video prepared by a nuclear waste management consortium, Pangea Resources, is leaked to the Australian media. The video recommends outback Australia as a suitable location for a geological repository for international high level nuclear waste. The Minister for Industry, Science and Resources (Senator Minchin) confirms bipartisan opposition to such a development, and states that: 'no high level radioactive waste facility is planned for Australia and the government has absolutely no intention of accepting the radioactive waste of other countries. The policy is clear and absolute and will not be changed. We will not be accepting radioactive waste from other countries.' This position is also reflected in already-existing Customs regulations.

Senate Debates, 1 December 1998,
p. 952.

Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956, Regulation 4R.

January 1999 The Draft EIS for a new ANSTO facility is released on 17 August 1998 for public comment, generates 935 submissions. The Supplement reviews these and provides the proponents' response to the issues raised in relation to the replacement research reactor. The Supplement together with the Draft EIS together represent the Final EIS. ANSTO/PPK, Replacement Nuclear Research Reactor, (Draft EIS Summary: Volume 1 Main Report, Volume 2 Appendices, Volume 3 Supplement), January 1999.

January 1999

Following the UK Government's decision to end the reprocessing of spent fuel rods at the Dounreay facility in Scotland, ANSTO contracts with French reprocessing company, Cogema, to reprocess Australia's holdings of UK-origin HIFAR spent fuel and all future arisings of spent fuel for the remainder of HIFAR's service life, and to reprocess the spent fuel from the replacement reactor. The waste from reprocessing HIFAR spent fuel is scheduled to be returned to Australia in a single shipment in 2015 at the latest.

ANSTO, Annual Report 1998–99, p. 47.
Proposed replacement nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights Science and Technology Centre NSW: statement of evidence to the parliamentary standing committee on public works, February 1999.

5 February 1999

Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 comes into force. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) is to be the Commonwealth's licensing agency for nuclear facilities and radioactive waste disposal facilities.

ARPANSA is part of the Health portfolio, and is formed by the amalgamation of the Australian Radiation Laboratory and the Nuclear Safety Bureau. For the first time, 'all Commonwealth radiation and nuclear activities will come under the scrutiny of an independent regulatory agency'.

In due course, ARPANSA commences the 'Radiation Protection Series' of publications, replacing the NHMRC's 'Radiation Health Series'.

Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998

ARPANSA website

National Archives of Australia, Agency Notes for agency CA 8736.

Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Bill 1998, Bills Digest no. 211, Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1997–98.

Nuclear Safety Bureau, Annual Report 199697, p. 3.

21 March 1999

An explosion occurs during the in-situ vitrification processing of a contaminated waste pit during the Maralinga clean-up operations. After extensive reviews and debate, it is not possible to identify the cause of the explosion. The in-situ vitrification process is abandoned due to end product quality concerns and safety concerns, and the remaining pits are treated by exhumation and reburial.

Maralinga Rehabilitation Technical Advisory Committee, Rehabilitation of Former Nuclear Test Sites at Emu and Maralinga (Australia) 2003, Department of Education, Science and Training, 2002.

June 1999

The Commonwealth releases its Report on Public Comment on Phase 3 of the site selection process for a low level waste repository.

Department of Industry, Science and Resources, National Radioactive Waste Repository Site Selection Study, Phase 3, Report on Public Comment, AGPS, Canberra, 1999.

11 August 1999

The Western Australian ALP Opposition, reacting to the leaked Pangea high-level waste dump proposal, introduces into the West Australian Parliament the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Bill 1999. The Bill is intended to enshrine in law a prohibition on establishing a facility that would store radioactive material derived from nuclear reactors, weapons, reprocessing facilities or isotope enrichment plants. The government supports the bill, with some amendments.

Western Australian Legislative Assembly Debates, 11 August 1999; 13 October 1999.

1 September 1999

The report of the Senate Economics References Committee, A New Reactor at Lucas Heights, is tabled in the Senate. It is a majority report by the Opposition and Democrat Committee members.

The Committee proposes that a public inquiry be conducted into the Government's decision to construct the replacement reactor. Its recommendations include that:

  • the issue of the management of spent fuel rod reprocessing waste be further considered by the proposed public inquiry, and
  • no new reactor be constructed until a permanent site for disposal of the Lucas Heights nuclear waste is determined.

The minority report by Government Senators endorsed the Government's decision to proceed with the construction of a replacement for HIFAR.

Senate Economics References Committee, A New Reactor at Lucas Heights, September 1999.

22 September 1999

Following consideration of an application from ANSTO, the CEO of ARPANSA issues ANSTO with a licence to prepare the Lucas Heights site for the Replacement Research Reactor.

ARPANSA, Licence and Conditions Authorizing the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO) to Prepare a Site for the Replacement Research Reactor

26 November 1999

ANSTO despatches its first shipment of spent fuel308 rodsto Cogema for reprocessing.

ANSTO, Annual Report 1999–00, Core nuclear facilities operation and development.

7 December 1999

Western Australia's Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 1999 takes effect, with the objective of 'prohibiting the establishment of a nuclear waste storage facility in this State or the use of any place in this State for the storage or disposal of nuclear waste' (section 4).

Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 1999

Late 1999 early 2000

Aboriginal residents in the Billa Kalina region, including the Kupa Piti (Kungka) Tjuta (Coober Pedy Aboriginal Women's Council), indicate their opposition to the construction of a low level waste repository in the Billa Kalina area, which is the Commonwealth's preferred site for the facility.

Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, irati wanti website

November 1999–May 2000

The leaked Pangea high-level waste dump idea, together with Commonwealth proposals for a national waste repository, stir up sufficient anti-nuclear sentiment in South Australia that the Government, Opposition and the Australian Democrats each introduce separate Bills into the South Australian Parliament aimed at banning the construction of nuclear waste management facilities, with the exception of facilities to manage low level wastes. The Democrats introduce the first Bill, in late 1999, followed by the ALP Opposition in April 2000, and finally the Liberal government in May. The Opposition and Democrats' Bills are both called the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Bill, while the government's Bill is the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition No. 2) Bill.

South Australian Assembly Debates,
13 April 2000, p. 923; 31 May 2000, p. 1313.

South Australian Legislative Council Debates, 17 November 1999.

1 March 2000

ARPANSA declares the remediation work at Maralinga is satisfactory, thus marking the clean-up project's official completion. It is anticipated that there will be a process by which the land will be returned to the South Australian Government, and then to the local Aboriginal people.

Senator Nick Minchin, 'Main Maralinga test sites now clean', Media Release, 1 March 2000.

6 June 2000

The Minister for Industry, Science and Resources announces the preferred tenderer for the design and construction of the replacement research reactor at Lucas Heights. The preferred tenderer is the Argentinian company, INVAP, in alliance with Australian companies, John Holland Construction & Engineering Pty Ltd and Evans Deakin Industries Limited.

'Preferred tenderer for replacement research reactor announced', Media Release, 6 June 2000.

May June 2000

Controversy develops around the process of locating and tendering for the replacement research reactor, its budget, and implications of its possible design. This leads to the Senate agreeing to a motion that there be laid on the table by the Minister for Industry, Science and Resources any documents held by ANSTO relating to:

  • the nature of the fuel required in the new nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, and
  • the implications of the fuel specification for the type and nature of waste produced by the reactor.

The Minister tabled relevant documents on 26 June.

Fred Brenchley, 'Core promises', The Bulletin, 16 May 2000, pp. 324; 'No solution to reactor's fuel problems', Adelaide Advertiser, 19 June 2000. Senate Journals, no. 125, 26 June 2000, p. 2893.

13 July 2000

ANSTO enters into a contract with INVAP for the construction of the replacement nuclear research reactor (RRR) at Lucas Heights.

The contract includes a provision whereby INVAP, if requested, will arrange for the fuel to be processed in Argentina or provide an alternative solution for spent fuel from the RRR. The solution must not involve direct disposal of spent fuel in Australia, reprocessing in Australia, or indefinite storage of spent fuel in Australia. Any waste returned to Australia is to be long-lived intermediate level waste. A treaty between Australia and Argentina is needed to underpin this provision.

ANSTO, 'Contract signed for Australia's history-making Replacement Research Reactor', Media Release, 13 July 2000.

3 August 2000

The CEO of ARPANSA says that by the time he is considering issuing a licence for the operation of the replacement research reactor, 'spent fuel arrangements would want to be written in blood and be able to be implemented and the store [for waste from spent nuclear fuel reprocessing and other long-lived intermediate level waste] would need to be pretty well on track so we would have confidence that it would be located and built by [the time it was needed for management of waste from reprocessing]'.

'No dump, no new reactor', St George and Sutherland Leader, 3 August 2000.

11 August 2000

The Commonwealth announces the formal commencement of the search for a site for a storage facility for intermediate level radioactive waste. The announcement fuels conflict over whether South Australia should host both the low and intermediate level waste repository sites.

Senator Nick Minchin, 'Search for a site for the national store for intermediate level radioactive waste', Media Release, 11 August 2000.

15 August 2000

The Senate establishes a Select Committee to inquire into the contract for a new reactor at Lucas Heights. The management of spent fuel and other wastes is one aspect of the Committee's terms of reference.

The Committee receives evidence that the clause in the contract relating to the possible processing of spent fuel in Argentina is invalid because it is in conflict with the Argentine Constitution. This evidence is refuted by the Argentine Ambassador in his evidence.

Senate Debates,
15 August 2000, p. 16351.
Dr Montenegro, Senate Select Committee for an Inquiry into the contract for a new reactor at Lucas Heights, Evidence, 27 October 2000, p. 258; Ambassador Stancanelli, Evidence, 6 November 2000, pp. 3701.

November 2000

The South Australian Parliament passes the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000, which is the result of a South Australian government Bill (see November 1999 entry).

Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000

23 January 2001

ANSTO despatches the second shipment of spent fuel360 rodsto Cogema for reprocessing. With this shipment, more than half the spent fuel arising over the entire lifetime of the HIFAR reactor has been sent overseas.

ANSTO, Annual Report 2000–01,
pp. 234.

24 January 2001

The Minister for Industry, Science and Resources (Senator Minchin) announces that a preferred site has been chosen for the low level waste repository. The site, known both as 52a and Evetts Field West is within the Woomera Prohibited Area. That site, together with two others nearby (45a and 40a), are to undergo environmental assessment under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to determine their suitability.

Senator Nick Minchin, 'Preferred site for national low level radioactive waste repository to undergo environmental assessment', Media Release, 24 January 2001.

8 February 2001

The Minister for Industry, Science and Resources issues a media release in which the Minister says the Federal Government will establish a purpose built facility on Commonwealth land for the storage of national intermediate level radioactive waste produced by Commonwealth agencies. The Minister says he has 'ruled out co-location of the national intermediate level radioactive waste store with the national low level repository in South Australia'.

Senator Nick Minchin, 'Intermediate radioactive waste store to be built on Commonwealth land', Media Release, 8 February 2001.

March 2001

Greenpeace takes legal action in France that delays the unloading at the French port of Cherbourg of the consignment of spent fuel that was despatched by ANSTO in January 2001. Cogema appeals and the court upholds the appeal.

Subsequently, Greenpeace attempts to prevent the reprocessing of Australian spent fuel by taking action on other grounds against Cogema in the French courts (see 3 February 2003, below).

'French court ruling puts cloud over reactor', The Australian, 17 March 2001; 'Court reverses nuclear waste decision', Sydney Morning Herald,
4 April 2001.

May 2001

The Senate Select Committee for an Inquiry into the contract for a new reactor at Lucas Heights delivers its report. It is a majority report by the Opposition and Democrat Committee members. It:

  • criticises the government for allegedly not heeding the recommendations of the Research Reactor Review of 1993
  • recommends that, in the light of growing opposition overseas, ANSTO prepare and fully cost a contingency management plan for spent fuel conditioning and disposal within Australia. This plan should fully describe the technologies to be used should Australia have to manage its spent fuel wholly within Australia, and
  • recommends 'that the Government satisfactorily resolve the question of the safe disposal of new reactor spent fuel before approval to construct a new reactor is given' (p. 230).

In their minority report, Government Senators say that they are satisfied that the Government is putting in place concrete measures to ensure that the problem of the ultimate disposal of intermediate level waste will be resolved before approval to construct the replacement reactor is given.

In a supplementary report, the Australian Democrats say they have no confidence that the arrangements for reprocessing spent fuel and the arrangements for storing the waste returned to Australia from overseas are guaranteed or reliable.

Senate Select Committee for an Inquiry into the contract for a new reactor at Lucas Heights, A New Research Reactor? May 2001.

23 June 2001

The Commonwealth issues final guidelines for the preparation of the Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed national Low Level Radioactive Waste Repository Project.

Guidelines: Environmental Impact Statement: Proposed National Low Level Radioactive Waste Repository Project, Environment Australia, June 2001.

July 2001

The Commonwealth releases its report Safe Storage of Radioactive Waste: The National Store Project: Methods for Choosing the Right Site, for public comment by 31 August. The report:

  • describes the intermediate level waste to be stored, and distinguishes it from low level waste, and
  • outlines the site assessment methodology to be used in the project. This will involve using the ASSESS geographic information system already utilised in the low level waste repository process.

Safe Storage of Radioactive Waste: The National Store Project: Methods for Choosing the Right Site, Department of Industry, Science and Resources.

8 August 2001

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Argentine Foreign Minister sign the Agreement between Australia and the Argentine Republic concerning Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy.

As of August 2003 the treaty partners were yet to ratify the Agreement.

Agreement between Australia and the Argentine Republic Concerning Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy. Department of Foreign Affairs, Agreement between Australia and the Argentine Republic [etc]: National Interest Analysis.

August 2001

ARPANSA's Radiation Health and Safety Advisory Council endorses a revised Code of Practice for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material.

ARPANSA, Code of Practice for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material, Radiation Protection Series no. 2, ARPANSA, Victoria, June 2001.

21 March 2002 The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (Licence Charges) Amendment Act 2002 is introduced into Parliament. Australian Parliament, Hansard.

4 April 2002

The CEO of ARPANSA issues 'a licence to ANSTO to allow it to construct the proposed Replacement Research Reactor at Lucas Heights'. Construction begins a few days later.

Subsequently, Greenpeace challenges in the Federal Court the CEO's decision to issue the licence for the construction of the reactor (see 13 September 2002, below).

ARPANSA, Licence for ANSTO to construct a controlled facility, 4 April 2002.

May 2002 The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties supports the agreements on nuclear safeguards with Argentina, the United States of America, the Czech Republic and the Republic of Hungary. Australian Parliament, Four Nuclear Safeguards Treaties Tabled in August 2001, Report 44.

3 May 2002

The Commonwealth releases its Report Responding to Public Comment on the Safe Storage of Radioactive Waste: The National Store Project: Methods for Choosing the Right Site.

Safe Storage of Radioactive Waste: The National Store Project: Methods for Choosing the Right Site: Report Responding to Public Comment, Department of Industry, Science and Resources.

27 July 2002

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the National Low Level Radioactive Waste Repository is released for public comment. Submissions are accepted until 23 October. Six hundred and sixty seven submissions are received.

Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the National Radioactive Waste Repository, Department of Education, Science and Training and PPK, Main Report (Volume 1) and Summary, 31 May 2002.

13 September 2002

The Federal Court dismisses Greenpeace's challenge to the decision by the CEO of ARPANSA to issue a licence for the construction of the replacement research reactor.

'Greenpeace fails to stop nuclear reactor', The Australian, 14 September 2002.

3 December 2002 Joint Convention on the safety of spent fuel management and on the safety of radioactive waste management, is conducted at Vienna on 5 September 1997; with a proposal for Australia to ratify, after its signing on 13 November 1998. Australian Parliament, Documents tabled on 3 December 2002, Category B Treaty.

23 January 2003

Final Environmental Impact Statement for the National Low Level Radioactive Waste Repository is released.

Supplementary report on draft Environmental Impact Statement for the National Repository Project, Department of Education, Science and Training and PPK, January 2003.

3 February 2003

Media reports emerge that the Department of Defence has concerns about the preferred site for the low level waste repository, claiming 'Defence officials have warned Senator Hill the EIS drafted by DEST was misleading, failed to adequately consult Defence and misjudged missile impact risks and radiation exposures' (3 February).

'Defence drops bomb on N-dump', The Australian, 3 February 2003; 'Waste dump risks understated: Hill', The Australian, 12 February 2003. Senate Environment, Education, Information Technology and the Arts Legislation Committee, Estimates Debates, 11 February 2003.

3 February 2003

The Cherbourg county court dismisses Greenpeace's action to prevent the reprocessing of Australian spent fuel by Cogema, ruling that Australian spent fuel rods imported by Cogema for reprocessing at La Hague are not waste in the eyes of the law and that Cogema is not violating French law by storing them at the reprocessing complex.

'Cherbourg court rules against Greenpeace France and Manche Nature', Media Release, 3 February 2003.

March 2003

The final report of the Maralinga Rehabilitation Technical Advisory Committee is tabled. The report provides a comprehensive review of the Maralinga clean-up process and sets out the basis for the Committee's conclusion that 'the rehabilitation program as implemented has achieved its objectives' (p. li).

Maralinga Rehabilitation Technical Advisory Committee, Rehabilitation of Former Nuclear Test Sites at Emu and Maralinga (Australia) 2003, Department of Education, Science and Training, 2003.

8 May 2003

The NSW Government announces a parliamentary inquiry into the sourcing, transport and storage of radioactive waste.

NSW Legislative Assembly, Votes and Proceedings, 8 May 2003, item 17(12), p. 90.

9 May 2003

Following controversy over Department of Defence resistance to siting a nuclear waste repository at the preferred location, 52a, the Commonwealth announces that site 40a on a pastoral property called Arcoona Station (one of two alternative locations analysed in the Environmental Impact Statement) will be the location of the low level waste dump.

'N dump named', Daily Telegraph,
10 May 2003.

9 May 2003

The Minister for Science (Mr McGauran) announces that South Australia will be ruled out as the host for the national intermediate level nuclear waste store. Western Australia and the Northern Territory both react immediately, indicating they will fight any proposal from the Commonwealth to site the store in their jurisdiction.

Peter McGauran MP, 'SA ruled out', Media Release, 9 May 2003. 'Premier warns Commonwealth to keep its waste out of WA', Media Release, 9 May 2003; 'No nuclear waste dump for the Territory', Media Release, 9 May 2003.

2 June 2003

The South Australian government, which has strongly opposed the siting of the low level waste repository in its State, believes it has found a way to stop the federal government from putting the dump in South Australia. Premier Mike Rann (ALP) draws attention to section 42 of the Commonwealth's Lands Acquisition Act 1989, which states that the Commonwealth may not make a compulsory land acquisition of:

an interest in land that consists of, or is in, a public park unless the Government of the State or Territory in which the land is situated has consented to the acquisition of the interest.

South Australia accordingly announces its intention to declare the Commonwealth's preferred site as a public park.

'Parkland 'ploy' for dump site', The Australian, 3 June 2003.

Lands Acquisition Act 1989.

Department of Education Science and Training, National Radioactive Waste Repository–Waste Acceptance Plan, Canberra, July 2003.

7 July 2003

The Federal government successfully pre-empts the South Australian strategy, by compulsorily acquiring the land at its preferred site for the low level waste repository before South Australia parliament has had time to pass a law declaring the site a park. The Finance Minister (Senator Minchin) conceded that, had the South Australian law passed, compulsory acquisition would not have been possible.

'Canberra buys land for nuke dump site', The Australian,
8 July 2003.

6 August 2003–
3 September 2003
Native title claimant Mr McKenzie and the South Australian government commence Federal Court proceedings seeking judicial review of the Commonwealth government's compulsory acquisition of the proposed waste repository site.  
11 November 2003 The Non-Proliferation Legislation Amendment Act 2003 is passed to enable the offices of the national authority for safeguards to be consolidated into a single entity named the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO). ASNO, Annual Report 2004–05, p. 27.
8 December 2003 Federal Court Judge Brad Selway dismisses the appeal against the compulsory acquisition. State of South Australia v Honourable Peter Slipper MP [2003] FCA 1414.
December 2003 Mr McKenzie and South Australia appeal to the full court, seeking to overturn Judge Selway's decision.  
April 2004 An advisory body to the CEO of ARPANSA finds a lack of information, in the Government's application, about water flow under the proposed site for a nuclear waste dump. Nuclear Safety Committee, Report on the DEST application for a licence to site, construct and operate a national radioactive waste repository addressing Engineered Barriers Hydrogeological Issues, ARPANSA, April 2004.
24 June 2004

In a Full Court decision of the Federal Court, the judges rule 3-0 in favour of the appellants, setting aside the Commonwealth's compulsory acquisition of land in South Australia for a low level waste repository. The court finds that:

  • The steps taken by the Commonwealth to avoid the operation of s. 42 of the Lands Acquisition Act (the section giving a State an effective veto over compulsory acquisition of a public park) were illegal; and
  • Even if that had not been illegal, the compulsory acquisition would have failed 'because of denials of procedural fairness to the appellants'.

The Commonwealth government indicates it will consider an appeal to the High Court. The Howard Government abandons its plan to establish a low-level waste repository in South Australia, citing the Federal Court decision and a lack of cooperation from the states and territories. It accepts responsibility for the safe and secure disposal of its own low-level waste and declares that the states and territories would carry the same responsibility for their own waste. The Government also states its intention to co-locate low-level and intermediate-level waste facilities on Commonwealth land, whether onshore or off shore, and reiterates that it would not locate an intermediate-level facility in South Australia. A process to select a new site began anew.

State of South Australia v Honourable Peter Slipper MP [2004] FCAFC 164
'Court throws out land grab for nuke dump', The Australian, 25 June 2004. Minister for Science, Peter McGauran MP, 'Government Committed to safe disposal of radioactive waste', Press Release, 24 June 2004.

14 July 2004 The Prime Minister announces that the Federal Government has abandoned its plan to establish a national low-level waste repository at site 40a at Woomera, as well as any national facility for intermediate level wastes to be co-located there. Further: 'the Australian Government will seek a commitment from all states and territories that they will adopt world's best practice in the management of radioactive waste materials in their jurisdictions. This should include:
1. undertaking an immediate and comprehensive inventory of all low level waste within their jurisdictions;
2. establishing safe and secure storage facilities for low level waste held within their jurisdictions;
3. establishing appropriate disposal arrangements.'
The Australian Government will be examining sites on Commonwealth land, both onshore and off shore, for the establishment of a suitable facility. The announcement creates a furore.
Prime Minister Hon John Howard MP, 'Radioactive Waste Management', Media Release, 14 July 2004. Editorial, 'Politics trumps policv on nuclear waste' The Australian, 16 July 2004, p. 12.
24 August 2004 As the national search for suitable repository sites continues, the media reveals possible candidate sites in various locations. State and Territory Governments indicate their concerns. They suggest that a list exists of 22 sites, including three in the ACT, nine in NSW, four in the Northern Territory, two each in Queensland, South Australia and Victoria. However, the Federal Government claims that the list is a year old and also excludes possible off-shore islands.

As the Federal Election approaches, even this claim is overtaken when the media reports that the Government has ruled out building a Commonwealth nuclear waste dump on mainland Australia. Environment Minister Ian Campbell reportedly says on September 30 that only offshore islands would be considered for the dump site. 'The commonwealth is not pursuing any options on the mainland,' Senator Campbell says according to The Australian of 1 October 2004.

Catherine Hockley, 'Feds eye Victoria for nuclear waste dump', Herald Sun, 24 August 2004, p. 2. Stephanie Peatling, 'Nine (NSW) towns on shortlist for nuclear waste dump', Sydney Morning Herald,
28 September 2004, p. 1. AAP, 'Howard must release nuclear dump list, says SA govt', AAP, 29 September 2004.

4 November 2004

The Northern Territory s Nuclear Waste Transport, Storage and Disposal (Prohibition) Act 2004 comes into effect to attempt to prevent the movement and handling of nuclear materials brought into the Territory from elsewhere.

Nuclear Waste Transport, Storage and Disposal (Prohibition) Act 2004 (NT)

9 December 2004 The federal government reveals that it is still considering onshore sites for a nuclear waste dump, despite an election promise to seek an offshore site. Environment Minister Ian Campbell said during the campaign the federal government would only consider offshore islands for storing its nuclear waste, after an outcry across the country. AAP, 'Govt puts onshore nuke dumps back in plans', AAP, 9 December 2004.

4 November 2004

The Northern Territory s Nuclear Waste Transport, Storage and Disposal (Prohibition) Act 2004 comes into effect to attempt to prevent the movement and handling of nuclear materials brought into the Territory from elsewhere.

Nuclear Waste Transport, Storage and Disposal (Prohibition) Act 2004 (NT)

     
24 January 2005 The Federal Government announces that spent fuel rods from the new OPAL reactor will be sent to their origin in the United States for reprocessing. They will stay there until 2016. High level waste from the existing HIFAR reactor is due to return in 2015 from reprocessing in France. Later, the Federal Government refuses to rule out the use of off shore islands or Nauru as a site for a nuclear waste dump. During this period, extensive media discussion ensues on the relative merits of the nuclear power option.
Environment News Service, U.S. Agrees to Accept Australia's Spent Nuclear Fuel, 24 January 2005. Amanda Hodge, 'Nauru a potential N-dump', The Australian, 25 January 2005, p.6.
28 February 2005 The South Australian Government announces the start of a study to select a site for a State nuclear waste management facility to take only South Australia's generated waste. The Western Mining Corporation Olympic Dam site appears to be the likely choice. Daniel Clarke, 'Low level radioactive dump search soon', The Advertiser,
1 March 2005, p. 24.
2 March 2005 A review of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) finds issues in conflicting regulation, poor cost recovery, inadequate licensing, and inconsistent monitoring. The ARPANSA chief executive officer says that a satisfactory waste-management strategy must be in place before he will issue a licence to operate the new reactor. Meanwhile, the location of a waste store is not resolved. ANAO, Regulation of Commonwealth Radiation and Nuclear Activities–ARPANSA, Audit Report No. 30, 2004–2005.
6 June 2005 The Northern Territory Government and Country Liberal Party opposition both express opposition to any dump site within the Territory. The West Australian Government expresses similar concerns. Ashleigh Wilson, 'Territory opposes N-dump', The Australian, 7 June 2005, p. 6.
July 2005 NSW Premier Bob Carr urges consideration of the nuclear power option. Federal Labor says that it would not locate a waste repository in SA, would remove all radioactive waste from SA and would house it in the national facility. Labor had earlier flagged its commitment to a 'genuinely independent review of the new reactor project'. Peter Roberts, 'Carr calls for nuclear debate', Australian Financial Review, 3 June 2005, p. 21.
15 July 2005 The Minister for Education, Science and Training, the Hon Dr Brendan Nelson MP, announces three potential locations to be investigated for the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Facility. The three locations are properties located near Katherine and Alice Springs in the Northern Territory: Fishers Ridge, Department of Defence property, southeast of RAAF Base Tindal; Mt Everard, Department of Defence property, northwest of Alice Springs; and Harts Range, Department of Defence property, northeast of Alice Springs. The new facility will co-locate low-level and intermediate-level radioactive wastes. See the item at: http://www.radioactivewaste.gov.au/default.htm
The Hon Brendan Nelson MP, 'Responsible Management of Radioactive Waste in Australia', Media Release, 15 July 2005 MIN 1157/05.
26 September 2005 Former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke calls for Australia to consider accepting the world's nuclear waste, creating a furore. Nick Leys, 'Hawke's nuclear plan proves explosive', The Australian, 27 September 2005.

13 October 2005

The Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2005 is introduced into the Parliament in an attempt to override the Northern Territory s Nuclear Waste Transport, Storage and Disposal (Prohibition) Act 2004 and any external actions to thwart its investigation of sites in the Northern Territory. A review by the Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee is split on party lines. The Bill subsequently passes on 7 December 2005.

House of Representatives Debates, 13 October 2005, p.1

18 December 2005

The South Australian Government announces that its nuclear waste disposal facility will be located at the Western Mining Corporation Olympic Dam site.

Laura Anderson, Nuclear dump for the north , The Advertiser,
19 December 2005.

30 March 2006 

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Bill 2006 is referred for review to the Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee. The Bill provides for ANSTO (see list of acronyms) to fully participate in actions possibly required by the Commonwealth and its agencies in the management of radioactive materials and waste beyond ANSTO s operations. In practice, this would enable ANSTO to handle the complete pre-disposal management of the Commonwealth s holdings of radioactive wastes. The Opposition registers its reservations that the Bill would be used to allow waste transfer to a nuclear waste repository to be constructed in the Northern Territory, with the ANSTO Lucas Heights facility to become the de facto national site.

House of Representatives Debates, 30 March 2006, p. 8

May 2006

ANSTO publishes its March 2006 report, by Professor John H Gittus, commissioned on the economics of introducing nuclear power to Australia, Introducing Nuclear Power to Australia: An Economic Comparison. It alludes to the necessity for appropriate finance plans, grants or subsidies. It says that building a power station immediately would cost about $3.5 billion. On 23 May, The Hon Kim C Beazley MP, Leader of the Opposition and Martin Ferguson MP Shadow Minister for Resources and Energy, put out a statement opposing Nuclear Power in Australia , (Joint Statement, 23 May 2006).[h1] 

Nick O'Malley, Atomic report kept under wraps , Sydney Morning Herald, 27 May 2006.

15 May 2006

During discussions in Washington between the Prime Minister John Howard and the United States President George W Bush, the Australian Government says that it will consider taking back spent nuclear fuel from uranium it sells overseas. The meeting is expected to consider nuclear fuel leasing - where uranium is leased, rather than sold, to countries and the fuel is taken back for disposal by the supply country. This news triggers major debate on Australia's nuclear future, including disposal of nuclear waste.

Saffron Howden and Maria Hawthorne, N-waste may be returned to Aust , The Canberra Times, 15 May 2006.

6 June 2006

The Prime Minister, John Howard, convenes the Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy Review (UMPNER) Taskforce. The Taskforce is chaired by Dr Ziggy Switkowski, former Chief Executive Officer of Telstra, a nuclear physicist by profession and a former member of the Board of ANSTO. Other members are Professor George Dracoulis, Head of the Department of Nuclear Physics at the Australian National University (ANU); and Professor Warwick McKibbin (ANU), an economist who has written extensively on climate change economic modelling, and a member of the Board of the Reserve Bank of Australia.

Prime Minister, Transcript of the Prime Minister, the Hon John Howard MP address to the CEDA Sydney, 17 July 2006.

7 June 2006

Additional Taskforce members announced on 7 June 2006 are occupational safety expert Dr Sylvia Kidziak, Dulhunty Power Ltd. chairman Martin Thomas, and former Supervising Scientist with Environment Australia, Dr Arthur Johnston. The Chief Scientist, Dr Jim Peacock, would provide support to the Taskforce, including peer review of the scientific aspects of the inquiry. However, there remains scepticism directed towards the review.[h2] 

Senator Milne, Public shut out of PM's nuclear review: Greens , Media Release , 27 June 2006

10 June 2006

Speculation mounts that Australia may become a dumping site for the world s nuclear waste. In this view, the nuclear debate is more about whether Australia should import nuclear waste than about development of a domestic nuclear power industry.

Graham Lloyd, Waste dump on track , Courier Mail, 10 June 2006.

19 June 2006

Sydney s Lucas Heights nuclear research reactor is reported as having had recorded 13 safety breaches in the past 18 months. This includes one case in which a worker was exposed to abnormally high radiation.

Nassim Khadeivi, Lucas Heights in 13 safety breaches , The Age, 19 June 2006.

6 July 2006

The Prime Minister, John Howard, rules out taking nuclear waste from foreign countries, quashing a politically damaging issue he discussed with the United States earlier in the year (see 15 May 2006). Mr Howard says that he does not want Australia used as a repository for other countries' nuclear problems.[h3] 

Peter Denis, PM rules out foreign N-waste dump here , Canberra Times, 7 July 2006.

14 July 2006

ARPANSA issues an operating licence for the Open Pool Australian Light-water (OPAL) Research Reactor located at Lucas Heights in southern Sydney. OPAL is operational at 11.25pm on 12 August 2006. OPAL is a state-of-the-art 20 megawatt (MW) pool research reactor which uses low enriched uranium fuel and is cooled by water. It is a multi-purpose facility for radioisotope production, irradiation services and neutron beam research. OPAL produces just 20 MW with 30 kg of uranium (about 6 kg of Uranium-235).

Jenny Macklin MP, Shadow Minister for Education, Training, Science and Research, New Reactor to go ahead , Media Release, 14 July 2006.

7 September 2006

Labor resources spokesman Martin Ferguson warns his colleagues to stop scaremongering over radioactive waste and backs a low-level nuclear waste centre in Australia.

Dennis Shanahan, Ferguson supports nuclear waste site , The Australian, 8 September 2006.

9 October 2006

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties reports on matters including: Amendments to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material; and the Exchange of Notes constituting an Agreement between Australia and Japan to replace the Delineated and Recorded Japanese Nuclear Fuel Cycle Program. The Committee supports both proposals.

Senate Debates, 9 October 2006, p.52

2 November 2006

The Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Committee reports on the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Legislation Amendment Bill 2006. Introduced on 2 November 2006, the Bill proposes to provide for the return of nominated Aboriginal land and removes access to previous procedures and/or judicial review of any site for a national radioactive waste repository. The Committee review examines the site nomination process, legal obligation of land councils and the return of nominated land. Opposition and other parties oppose the Bill and its intent, the haste of its preparation and claim a mishandling of sensitive issues. The Bill passes in December 2006.

House of Representatives Debates, 2 November 2006, p. 1

21 November 2006

The UMPNER taskforce provides its draft report. The major thrust of the report is that, nuclear power generation in Australia only becomes viable, if existing power generators are included in a carbon tax regime to pay for their true costs of greenhouse gas emissions. While the taskforce supports further development of Australia s uranium resources, it recognises high commercial and technology barriers here to uranium conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication.

Stephanie Peatling, Waste site a long way down the track , Sydney Morning Herald , 22 November 2006.

6 December 2006

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties reports on Treaties tabled on 8 August 2006 including an Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the People s Republic of China on the Transfer of Nuclear Material (Canberra, 3 April 2006); and an Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the People s Republic of China for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy (Canberra, 3 April 2006). The Committee concludes that the sale of uranium to China is in Australia s national interest and that the safeguards agreement offers adequate assurance that China would use Australian uranium and technology for peaceful purposes only. The Committee makes recommendations to strengthen some aspects of the safeguards arrangements including greater funding and support of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). A dissenting report from the Democrats opposes any such uranium exports to China as well as to India.

House of Representatives Debates, 6 December 2006, p.3

6 December 2006

The inquiry report into Australia s Uranium Greenhouse friendly fuel for an energy hungry world is released by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry and Resources. This extensive and in-depth report considers waste management of the uranium industry; social and health impacts on traditional owners in relation to uranium mining resource projects; regulation and federal support; and safeguards regimes. The Committee finds that nuclear power deals with its waste more explicitly and transparently than many other sources of energy and therefore deserves greater support especially as nuclear power unquestionably makes a significant contribution to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. The Committee concludes that new nuclear facilities combined with improved reactor performance and operating life extensions are likely to outweigh reactor retirements in the years ahead, thereby increasing projected uranium requirements and hence demand on production here. The Committee also concludes that the nuclear power industry has by far the best safety record of all major energy industries, including coal, oil, natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas and hydro.

House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry and Resources, BIPARTISAN URANIUM REPORT: Australia s uranium Greenhouse friendly fuel for an energy hungry world , Media Release, 6 December 2006.

7 December 2006

During debate on the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2006, the Greens unsuccessfully propose amendments that are designed to close loopholes which could prevent uranium mines, nuclear waste dumps and nuclear transport facilities from being assessed. This is if they were to occur in the context of either bioregional plans, strategic assessments, conservation agreements, declarations made under section 33, or in the context of the minister granting approval under the Act.

Senate Debates, 7 December 2006, p. 197.

29 December 2006

The UMPNER nuclear taskforce provides its final report. UMPNER finds that the earliest nuclear electricity could be added to the grid would be 10 to 15 years away, subject to available resources and, that a repository for low-level and high-level radioactive waste would appear to suit an Australian site.

Review of Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy in Australia.

8 February 2007

The Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade reports on the Non-proliferation Legislation Amendment Bill 2006 introduced on 6 December 2006. The purpose of the Bill is to implement new requirements of the amendments to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and regulate, with respect to nuclear safeguards, the decommissioning of a nuclear facility to ensure that Australia is able to meet its international obligations to the IAEA, as well as to make penalties for the most serious offences consistent with penalties under comparable Commonwealth non-proliferation legislation. The Committee considers treaty and convention obligations as well as previous legislation, before endorsing the Bill as meeting Australia s new obligations to protect nuclear facilities and materials. The committee strongly supports continued Australian engagement in multilateral efforts on disarmament and non-proliferation.

Senate Debates, 8 February 2007, p. 26.

14 February 2007

The Department of Education, Science and Training refuses to reveal incentives it might offer indigenous people to nominate their land for a proposed nuclear waste disposal site. The government says that it wants to work with traditional owners to find a place for the waste dump, and is seeking an agreement from indigenous people to offer up indigenous land for the facility. The Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Workplace Relations and Education - Science Group Estimates hearing is told that the Department had met with the indigenous representatives of the Northern Land Council twice since November 2006 to negotiate the possibility of building the nuclear waste disposal site on its land.

David Crawshaw, N-dump offer to indigenous people kept secret AAP, 14 February 2007. Senate Hansard, (Estimates) p. 108, 14 February 2007.

6 March 2007

Labor alleges that: the Commonwealth seems on the verge of announcing a site for the nation s first nuclear waste dump... After discussions with landowners at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory, an announcement seems imminent. The Government has been deliberating over three sites* in the NT since the last election .Labor will legislate to restore transparency, accountability and procedural fairness including the right of access to appeal mechanisms in any decisions in relation the sighting of any nuclear waste facilities. *See 15 July 2005 entry.[h4] 

Senator Kim Carr, Govt s waste dump fiasco, cont d , Media Release 12/07, 6 March 2007.

5 April 2007

Former mining executive Hugh Morgan reiterates his belief that Australia needs to play a bigger part in the global nuclear industry. As one of the men behind a bid for a nuclear industry in Australia, he reportedly says that there should be an internationally owned and run nuclear waste facility in Australia with the ideal site on the South Australia Western Australia border.

Cameron England, New push for nuke waste in Outback , The Advertiser, 6 April 2007.

20 April 2007

The OPAL Research Reactor is officially opened as the dawn of a new era for Australian science . Nuclear energy is a source of hope and part of the future for all mankind , the Prime Minister, John Howard, says. Opening the new $400 million science research reactor at Lucas Heights, Mr Howard gives a powerful endorsement for atomic power. Nuclear energy, nuclear science, nuclear power is part of Australia's future, he says. ANSTO's chief executive, Ian Smith, confirms that a water leak, first revealed in January, would force the reactor to be shut down later in the year so that the Argentinean builder, INVAP, could make repairs.

Richard Macey, Nation s energy future is nuclear: Howard , Sydney Morning Herald, 21 April 2007.

28 April 2007

The Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd forces the abandonment of Labor's long standing commitment to the party's three mine uranium policy but not before facing stiff opposition on the floor of the ALP National Conference. Mr Rudd wins the day by committing a future Labor Government to tough new safeguards covering uranium exports.

Glen Milne, Three mines policy axed , The Sunday Mail, 29 April 2007.

9 May 2007

The Federal Budget provides $4 million to ANSTO to allow for continued waste storage at Lucas Heights. The $4 million has been set aside to expand and upgrade the existing waste compaction infrastructure at Lucas Heights, ensuring sufficient capacity to store low level wastes until the proposed Commonwealth radioactive waste management facility is established the Budget Paper Media Release states.

Stephanie Peatling, Nuclear waste storage to cost $4m Sydney Morning Herald, 9 May 2007.

28 May 2007

According to reports, Muckaty Station near Tennant Creek is nominated by the Northern Land Council (NLC) as the site for the national nuclear waste facility. The nomination is reportedly ratified by the full land council meeting at Gulkula, near Nhulunbuy, in return for a $12 million grant. The announcement is welcomed by the Federal Government but draws condemnation from environmentalists and opponents. In particular, campaigners such as Dr Helen Caldicott note that the site is in a geologically unstable area subject to earthquakes and with underground aquifers. She claims that the site will be used with the Darwin to Alice Springs rail line to import used nuclear fuel rods from other nations.

Ben Langford and Jasmin Afianos, Nuke site deal: owners agree to waste facility , Northern Territory News, 28 May 2007. Helen Calidicott, Risky plans fuel Australia s nuclear future , Courier Mail, 8 August 2007, p. 31.

2 July 2007

A former US ambassador on disarmament and weapons of mass destruction, Robert Gallucci, states that Australia should allow nuclear waste to be stored in the outback as part of a worldwide effort to secure fissile material and prevent it falling into the hands of terrorists.

Anne Davies, Warning on nuclear waste storage , Sydney Morning Herald, 2 July 2007.

20 July 2007

Reports suggest that Australia is negotiating a deal with the United States to co-operate on the development of a nuclear energy industry. The proposal is for Australia to sign up with the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). One of the goals of the GNEP is enhancing nuclear safeguards and proposed to help prevent misuse of civilian nuclear facilities for non-peaceful purposes by developing enhanced safeguards programs and technologies.

Anne Davies, Australia poised to sign nuclear deal with Washington , The Age, 20 July 2007.

27 July 2007

ANSTO announces that OPAL is to shut down after a series of problems arise. This includes the heavy water dilution issue found earlier in the year, where a small amount of light water from the reactor pool was seeping into the heavy water contained in the reflector vessel surrounding the core. In addition, the three fuel assemblies inserted into OPAL s core in the last monthly fuel change are each found to have one of 21 fuel plates partially dislodged. There are reportedly no safety or radiation exposure issues, and the independent regulator ARPANSA is advised by ANSTO.

ANSTO, Reactor to shutdown for about eight weeks , Media Release, 27 July 2007.

27 September 2007

The Federal Government is to consider a fourth potential site at Muckaty Station after accepting the Northern Land Council s application. The Science Minister Julie Bishop says that the offer had been accepted and a detailed assessment of the nominated sites physical and biological environmental will now be conducted. The assessment will take several months and then be subject to a further environmental assessment, placing the final decision after the coming Federal Election. The Northern Land Council welcomes the decision.

John Breusch, Nuclear waste dump option No. 4 , Australian Financial Review, 28 September 2007, p. 20.

29 October 2007

The United States National Academy of Sciences tells the US President, George W Bush, to dump an ambitious nuclear energy plan that involved countries such as Australia supplying other nations with reactor fuel and reprocessing their nuclear waste. The 17-member panel Academy says that the GNEP plan relies on reprocessing technology that has not been proven.

Wendy Frew, Panel dashes hopes of nuclear fuel plan , Sydney Morning Herald, 2 November 2007, p. 4.

4 November 2007

ANSTO advises that the new $400-million OPAL nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights will remain shut down for six-months. Some experts estimate that the true costs in lost nuclear medicine production, neutron beam research and industrial irradiation services, as well as the reactor repairs, could reach $10million. The Argentinean company that built the reactor, INVAP claims that a failure in nuclear fuel had led to the problem. The fuel was manufactured by another Argentinean company but INVAP accepts responsibility as the supplier. ANSTO has now ordered new start-up fuel from a European manufacturer.

Heath Gilmore, Cost of nuclear plant closure put at $10m , Sun Herald, 4 November 2007, p. 5.

13 November 2007

During the 2007 election campaign, the Prime Minister John Howard tries to distance the Coalition from the possible construction of nuclear power plants in Australia. He says that the possible development of a home-grown nuclear industry was a commercial matter and the Government had no plans for plants to be built.

Peter Jean and Ben Packham, Nuclear on backburner , Herald Sun, 14 November 2007, p. 5.

 

Further information online

Department of Education, Science and Training's Radioactive Waste Management website: http://www.dest.gov.au/radwaste/

Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency website: http://www.arpansa.gov.au, the Annual Report of the CEO ARPANSA and the Quarterly Reports of the Chief Executive Officer of ARPANSA.

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation website: http://www.ansto.gov.au and the ANSTO Annual Report 2004–2005.

Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office website: http://www.asno.dfat.gov.au and the ASNO Annual Report 2004–2005.

Australian Nuclear Association: http://www.nuclearaustralia.org.au/

Further reading

Alice Cawte, Atomic Australia 19441990, University of new South Wales Press, Sydney, 1992.

Ian Holland, 'Consultation, Constraints and Norms: The Case of Nuclear Waste', Australian Journal of Public Administration, vol. 61, no. 1, 2002, pp. 7686.

Ian Holland, 'Waste Not Want Not? Australia and the Politics of High Level Nuclear Waste', Australian Journal of Political Science, vol. 37, no. 1, 2002, pp. 283301.

Ann Moyal, 'The Australian Atomic Energy Commission: A Case Study in Australian Science and Government', Search, Vol. 6, No. 9, 1975, pp. 36584.

Rod Panter, 'Radioactive Waste Disposal in Australia', Issue Paper no. 6, 1992, Parliamentary Research Service, Canberra.

J. F. Richardson, The Australian Radiation Laboratory: A Concise History 19291979, AGPS, Canberra, 1981.

Dr J. L. Symonds, A History of British Atomic Tests in Australia, Department of Resources and Energy, AGPS, April 1985.

The Northern Territory Parliamentary Library provides an Introduction to The Debate on Nuclear Policy in Australia, 2005-2006. This introduces a series of papers which examines the arguments presented for and against the expansion of Australia s present engagement in nuclear activities uranium mining, radioactive waste storage and, potentially, nuclear power generation

 

 

For copyright reasons some linked items are only available to members of Parliament.


Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print
Back to top