The Australian government and “low level” nuclear waste

  What should the government do about LLILW?

 First, the government needs to carry out a thorough audit/inventory of LLILW, considering the following issues:

  • volume/mass and radioactivity of LLILW at each current storage site;
  • whether waste production is ongoing at each particular site and if so, whether storage capacity has been reached or is approaching and if so, whether increasing storage capacity is an option;
  • nature and adequacy/inadequacy of current storage conditions;
  • nature and adequacy/inadequacy of institutional control.

 Second, the government should initiate a thorough, transparent process to consider all options for management of LLILW. There is no logical reason for the initiation of that process to wait until “the National Facility Project is underway” as the government now states. The delay is not only illogical, it also feeds uncertainty and suspicion.

What does the government plan to do with long-lived intermediate-level waste (LLILW)?

 Jim Green, Friends of the Earth, 8/3/2016. Here is the government’s formal position (8/3/16 email from Department of Industry, Innovation and Science):

“Australia’s current management approach toward long-lived intermediate-level waste is for long-term above ground storage pending future disposal. The preferred option for the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility, as identified in the Initial Business Case, provides for the centralised management of intermediate-level waste in a purpose-built storage facility. The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science will undertake a detailed consideration of disposal pathways for Australian generated intermediate level waste once the National Facility Project is underway.”

What is the government really planning?

1.  The government is already considering deep borehole disposal of LLILW. It might be at intermediate depth, perhaps 200 metres underground.

2. Deep borehole disposal of LLILW could possibly be pursued at the same site as a shallow repository for lower-level radioactive waste. That option is floated in an ARPANSA document (see below).

3. Or the government could go in a very different direction – a stand-alone shallow repository for lower-level wastes withoutco-location of a LLILW store (or a deep borehole for LLILW disposal). Government representatives have said in public meetings that ILW would not be moved to the shallow repository site (for above-ground storage) for 10-20-30 years after the shallow repository is established, and presumably the reason for that is that the government is considering alternative options (borehole disposal at a different site, or perhaps above-ground storage at a different site). Or perhaps the statement that ILW wouldn’t be moved to the site for 10-20-30 years isn’t true, or at least it certainly isn’t locked in, and it is simply designed to quell public opposition.

4. Even if the government does decide that borehole disposal of LLILW is the best way forward, it would likely take decades to progress that project. So above-ground storage of LLILW for many decades at the same site as the shallow repository remains a distinct possibility.

5. The government must be considering the potential to reduce opposition to a shallow repository for lower-level wastes by separating that project completely from its half-baked plans for LLILW. That separation could be enshrined in the MoU that the government plans to establish with the host community for the shallow repository. It could also be enshrined in legislation.

That separation might indeed reduce public opposition, although it wasn’t effective in SA in the early 2000s. From 1998–2003, the Howard government planned co-location, and by the time it reversed that position and decided to separate management of lower level wastes from LLILW, opposition was so entrenched and widespread that it made little difference. The Howard government established a National Store Committee to develop plans for LLILW disposal, but it was disbanded in 2004, at the same time as the government abandoned its plan to impose a repository for lower-level wastes in SA………

What should the government do about LLILW?

First, the government needs to carry out a thorough audit/inventory of LLILW, considering the following issues:

  • volume/mass and radioactivity of LLILW at each current storage site;
  • whether waste production is ongoing at each particular site and if so, whether storage capacity has been reached or is approaching and if so, whether increasing storage capacity is an option;
  • nature and adequacy/inadequacy of current storage conditions;
  • nature and adequacy/inadequacy of institutional control.

Second, the government should initiate a thorough, transparent process to consider all options for management of LLILW. There is no logical reason for the initiation of that process to wait until “the National Facility Project is underway” as the government now states. The delay is not only illogical, it also feeds uncertainty and suspicion.

……………………………….

8 March 2016

Hello,

Thank you for email, and ongoing interest in the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility.

Australia has a comparatively small volume of long-lived intermediate-level waste. No country with a similar volume of waste has moved towards disposal.

Australia’s current management approach toward long-lived intermediate-level waste is for long-term above ground storage pending future disposal. The preferred option for the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility, as identified in the Initial Business Case, provides for the centralised management of intermediate-level waste in a purpose-built storage facility. The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science will undertake a detailed consideration of disposal pathways for Australian generated intermediate level waste once the National Facility Project is underway.

Kind Regards,

The National Radioactive Waste Management Project Department of Industry, Innovation and Science GPO Box 9839, Canberra ACT 2601 Australia

Ph: 02 6243 7030 or toll free 1800 682 704

Email: radioactivewaste@industry.gov.au

Internet: www.radioactivewaste.gov.au

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