Australian Democrats Minority Report
Senators have some concerns with the Australian Science and Technology
Organisation Amendment Bill 2006.
A provision of the Bill clarifies ANSTO’s authority to handle radioactive waste material
returned to Australia as a result of contractual arrangements involving
ANSTO sending spent nuclear fuel overseas for reprocessing. The Democrats
understand that this provision fulfils a contractual obligation, however, we
are concerned that this opens the door to the importation and disposal of
foreign nuclear wastes, particularly given that there is no specific
legislation to prevent this. More specifically, the
legislation may facilitate the imposition of an international high-level
nuclear waste dump on unwilling communities and States or Territories should
the Commonwealth decide to support such a dump. The Government should use the
current legislative process to give legal weight to its stated view of
opposition to Australia's hosting of a high-level international nuclear dump.
While the Democrats oppose
a national storage facility, particularly one as remote as is being proposed in
the Northern Territory, we note that if the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste
Management Facility is not in operation by 2011, when spent fuel reprocessing
waste is due to return, this waste may then be stored at Lucas Heights which goes against
repeated promises from the Federal Government not to return spent fuel
reprocessing wastes to Lucas Heights.
Democrats draw attention to recent revelations that ANSTO has stopped 24 hour
monitoring of radiation levels at Lucas Heights reactor and has “cut back on
reactor inspections”, potentially
compromising safety at Lucas Heights. Given that a provision of this bill, as
ANSTO asserts in its submission, effectively allows ANSTO to manage and operate
the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Facility, we are concerned about
ANSTO’s ability to ensure safety at the facility.
Democrats also object to the relatively short period allowed for this inquiry
and that no hearing was held. Four submissions were received and, notably,
there is a lack of submissions from environmental groups. We note that a
hearing on this bill may have resolved some of our questions and concerns. The
Democrats will not be supporting the bill in its current form.
Democrats have participated extensively in past committee work on issues of
nuclear waste handling and storage. See Senator Stott Despoja’s supplementary reports to the Senate Economics
References Committee Inquiry “A New
Reactor at Lucas Heights” and the Select Committee for an Inquiry into the
contract for a new reactor at Lucas Heights.
Democrats take this opportunity to make further general comments about uranium
waste disposal in Australia which remains an ongoing concern for many.
consider it hypocritical of this Government to call for a national code for the
siting and development of wind farms to ensure community concerns are taken
into consideration, while on the other hand, it overrides, via the Commonwealth
Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2005, Territory Government objections, and
majority community objections, on the siting of nuclear waste storage
facilities. Rather than consult, the Government did quite the opposite - the
Northern Territory Chief Minister first heard about the Government's decision
in a press release from the Minister, similarly, Alice Springs Council first
heard of the proposal on local radio, and a property owner adjacent to one of
the sites found out through a friend.
International Atomic Energy Agency has stated that recent experience suggests
that broad public acceptance will enhance the likelihood of project approval,
that an inclusive approach to public involvement should be adopted from the
beginning of the planning process, and that providing open access to accurate
and understandable information about the development program was critical for
trust and acceptance.
Democrats argue that it is imperative to manage Australia's radioactive waste in a responsible, scientifically
robust and transparent manner. To date the Federal Government has failed to act
in such a manner. Specifically we object to:
consultation with and impact on the democratic rights of Territorians and the
will of the NT Parliament;
the rights and interests of local communities and local government authorities
along proposed transport routes across Australia;
disregard for the rights and interests of Traditional Owners of the proposed
dump site areas;
comparative and quantified community risk analysis of continued onsite storage
verses risks in transport of wastes to a centralised facility;
quantified analysis of the claimed reduction in number of Commonwealth waste
storage sites if the proposed NT dump facility were to go ahead.
comparative costings for enhancing onsite storage facilities for Commonwealth
organisations generating radioactive wastes verses the NT nuclear dump plan
with the continuation of onsite storage facilities for existing users in any
studies of siting suitability and design for above ground storage and a
comparative analysis of above ground and burial options (in fact one of the
sites identified was recently submerged under water during the recent floods in
of a long-term strategy to reduce minimise waste generation.
Democrats remain concerned that the Government's push for a radioactive store
is not a genuine attempt to address a growing environmental issue but a move to
facilitate an industry expansion that would result in the creation of even more
concerns have been heightened in light of the recent deal to sell uranium to China and the possibility of selling uranium to India. In this context, we are concerned that the
Australian Government intends, or is under increasing pressure for Australia to be, a repository for high level waste generated by
countries to which we export uranium.
Australian Democrats recognise that radioactive waste is a reality and a
continue to hold the view that low level waste should be stored as close as
possible to its production and that repositories should be established in each
state and territory for this purpose and we continue our long opposition to the
construction of a new nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights.
Democrats support the strategy advocated by the Medical Association for the
Prevention of War, the Australian Conservation Foundation and Friends of the
Government must minimise waste generation.
Government should aim to minimise transportation. Waste management is preferably done on-site, in a retrievable and
Government should focus on establishing a secure, monitored, above ground
storage which responsibly addresses the need to maximise long-term safety and
does not preclude any improved storage options which become available in the
Government should gain community acceptance of the management system – based on
the principles promoted by the International Atomic Energy Agency. This does
not simply mean “consultation”: the community must give informed consent to the facility.
Senator Lyn Allison
Senator Natasha Stott Despoja
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