City Hub

Nuclear ‘solution’ not as safe as they say

BY LUCAS BAIRD

Green groups have questioned the Federal Government’s plans to implement the “international best practice” system of creating a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility.

Last month, the government announced plans to consolidate various nuclear storage sites around the country into a single facility. Six potential sites were shortlisted around the country, with the chosen site to receive $10 million dollars from the government.

Natalie Wasley from Uranium Free NSW (UFNSW), criticised the plan. She told City Hub that a single facility would not reduce the amount sites currently holding nuclear waste in Australia.

“They wouldn’t actually be reducing the number of sites, in fact they are creating one more that needs to be managed.” Ms Wasley said.

“Even if they did build a single repository it wouldn’t drastically reduce the number of sites around the country.”

“While those sites are still operating and producing waste, they need to be storing what they are producing until it is removed and taken to a national repository,” she said.

Ms Wasley also explained that the the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s (ANSTO) claim that this storing method was “international best practice” was incorrect.

“When they say it is international best practice for a single site, they are actually talking about disposal of intermediate level materials.” Ms Wasley said.

“This current proposal, The National Radioactive Waste Management Project, isn’t progressing as a site for the disposal of those materials.” She said.

Secretary for the Australian Nuclear Association and former ANSTO employee, John Harries, said a single site was better than the hundreds of sites around the country, which included hospitals.

“At the present time, Australia has hundreds of sites around the country.” Mr Harries said.

“Having it in one specific location where it can be properly managed is a better way of having it than having it in different places like hospitals,” he said.

Uranium Free’s complaints come a week after the first batch of repossessed nuclear waste from France was received in Port Kembla, on December 5.

The waste was received back from France as part of a government deal from the 1990s.

Australia shipped nuclear waste to France, because unlike Australia, that country had facilities to reprocess waste to make it safe for long term storage

Australia has also sent nuclear waste to the US and UK for reprocessing.

From Port Kembla, ANSTO transported the waste by road to the Lucas Heights Facility.

In a written statement, Jon Atkins of Marrickville Peace Group said it was “with great alarm” that he heard the waste would be transported by road.

“Temporary storage of this waste at Lucas Heights highlights the significant dangers of radioactive waste. The nuclear industry has yet to find a solution to the disposal of this dangerous material which remains hazardous for tens of thousands of years,” he said.

An ANSTO spokesperson told City Hub that the containers transporting the waste were secure from “high speed projectiles and crashes.”

This description included anything from a 9 metre drop, heat of 800 degrees Celsius, jet plane strikes and crashes up to 160 km/h.

Mr Harries said that these regulations should ease the community’s minds on the fact that hazardous materials are being transported through their areas.

“It [the transportation] is highly regulated.” Mr Harries said.

“There are hazardous items being moved along the road all the time. I don’t think this is any different.”

“It’s just a standard process that has to be properly regulated and it is at the current time.” He said.

Ms Wasley, however, maintained that this method of transportation was still a risk.

“Transporting radioactive materials is definitely a risk and the more transports you undertake the higher that risk becomes.” Ms Wasley said.

Ms Wasley raised the issue of untrained safety officers like firefighters as being a key issue in the matter.

“The Firefighters have been clear that they don’t think they have adequate training and equipment to respond to a radiological incident.”

“Firefighters in NSW have been clear in submissions to NSW government inquiries,” she said.

Under the 1990s deal, French scientists undertook the task of reprocessing previously spent fuel from the High Flux Australian Reactor (HIFAR).

The Agreement also stated that Australia would reclaim the waste from this operation by the end of 2015.

ANSTO has stored this waste in their Lucas Heights Facility for the time being, transporting the waste to the National Radioactive Waste