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Nuclear Waste Sites Shortlisted

www.radioactivewaste.gov.au

Credit: www.radioactivewaste.gov.au

The Federal government has shortlisted six sites for a permanent National Radioactive Waste Management Facility. The site will contain Australia’s low-level radoactive waste, with the capacity to store some intermediate-level waste.

“The shortlist represents sites that are all of an excellent standard to host such a facility. The important task now is engagement and consultation with local communities. The final site will be discreet in size, world-class in standard and absolutely safe to both communities and the environment...

“Australia has a responsibility to manage these materials properly. That process is on a strong footing and I commend the Department for the process thus far.”

Ben Heard is a Member of the Independent Advisory Panel for the National Radioactive Waste Facility, a doctoral candidate at The University of Adelaide and a Director of Think Climate Consulting.

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“The proposal is for a site to store low-level radioactive waste, which is currently at many locations around Australia. The case for a centralised waste store presumes that the overall risk to the community will be reduced. To justify that claim, there should be at least plausible risk calculations that compare the risk to the community of leaving the waste where it is with the risk of transporting it to one site where it would be safer. I have not seen such a calculation. It obviously should be done before we make a commitment to a centralised waste store.

“The government announcement adds that intermediate-level waste could also be stored at the proposed site. This is a much more complex, and much more pressing, issue. The intermediate-level waste from the decommissioning of the original Lucas Heights research reactor is due to be returned to Australia next year. This is much more dangerous and requires serious isolation from the community and the biosphere for thousands of years. It is not clear from the announcement that those offering to host waste are aware that they are likely to receive intermediate-level waste as well as low-level waste.

“A third issue is the need to consult traditional owners of the land and obtain informed prior consent for the proposal. Two previous attempts by the Commonwealth government to establish a site to store radioactive waste have collapsed when it became clear that the traditional owners had not given their consent. While the announcement is silent on this issue, there could be legitimate concern that the government is proposing again to assume that the traditional owners’ rights can be ignored.”

Ian Lowe AO is Emeritus Professor in the School of Natural Sciences at Griffith University. He has a doctorate in physics and was a member of the Radiation Health and Safety Advisory Council from 2002 until March 2015. He is former President of the Australian Conservation Council.

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“The disposal facility is for low-level waste. It is stuff that you can stand beside without harm. Australia produces around 40 m3/year, less than one shipping container. At present it is stored in rooms at hospitals, universities and a big shed at ANSTO’s Lucas Heights site.

“International best practice is to have a central disposal facility, and most countries in the world with any sort of nuclear activities already have this type of near-surface facility. A good example is the El Cabril site in Spain.”

Tony Irwin is a visiting lecturer at the Australian National University. He is also Chairman of the Nuclear Engineering Panel in Engineers Australia’s Sydney Division.

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“Whichever site is selected, earthquake risk needs to be considered. There is no such thing as an aseismic location in Australia, just locations where we haven’t recorded any earthquakes yet. This may be due to lack of monitoring equipment in the region, or from a lack of historical information due to sparse population in the regions.

“We can potentially have a magnitude 7.5 earthquake anywhere in Australia, and the devastation that a nearby magnitude 6.1 earthquake can cause was seen clearly in Christchurch. Although earthquakes are less frequent in Australia it does not mean they will be any less damaging when they do eventually happen.

“Any potential location for such a facility needs to be monitored at a micro-seismic level (for at least a year, preferably longer) to establish a baseline of seismic activity and to delineate any active faults before a decision is made as to the engineering requirement of any critical facility. Current knowledge of seismicity in the proposed regions is not sufficient to confidently evaluate the seismic hazard and therefore the earthquake resistance for engineering requirements.”

Adam Pascale is head of the Seismology Research Centre, a division of ESS Earth Sciences, which provides monitoring solutions in the fields of meteorology, hydrology, seismology, oceanography, air quality and geotechnical engineering.