Safe Management of Australia’s Radioactive Waste
Australian Nuclear Association Inc
The ANA strongly supports establishment of a national radioactive waste management facility for the management of radioactive waste and the disposal of low level radioactive waste from all Commonwealth agencies, States and Territories.
Australia needs a safe, effective and a permanent solution for managing the radioactive wastes accumulated as a by-product of a wide range of beneficial uses of nuclear science and technology, including production and use of medical isotopes for therapy and treatment, industrial processes and research.
Currently, radioactive waste is stored on over hundred locations across Australia. Some of these facilities include labs, basements and store rooms located in hospitals, universities and factories. Most of these storage arrangements are not ideal: some facilities are located in high population density zones. Some facilities are nearing capacity, and were not designed for storage over the longer term. Ongoing operation of such storage facilities is not ideal from safety, security and operations perspectives. A national radioactive waste facility would allow radioactive waste stored in all these sites around Australia to be effectively and securely managed in one centralised location.
Australia currently has legacy holdings of around 4,250 cubic metres of low-level radioactive waste, with annual generation being approximately 40 cubic metres. (Department of Industry, Innovation and Science 2016/).
Extensive experience in many countries demonstrates that radioactive waste can be safely managed, stored and disposed. In these countries, the disposal of low and intermediate level radioactive waste is a standard practice. Many overseas disposal facilities are designed for over 500,000 cubic metres of radioactive waste; vastly more than the amount of radioactive waste destined for a national radioactive waste facility in Australia.
Compared to many other types of hazardous waste, radioactive waste is easier to identify, contain and safely manage. Low level radioactive waste can be disposed of in properly engineered structures that would ensure containment and isolation of waste until the radioactivity in the waste naturally decays to non-hazardous levels. The small amount of intermediate level waste can be stored in a secure facility until a deeper underground disposal facility is available.
A radioactive waste management facility designed, constructed and operated to current international standards will present negligible risk to the public. In Australia, the regulatory controls for such a facility require that the design and operational procedures ensure that radiation received by a member of the public who spends extended time in a publicly accessible location near the facility for a whole year is very low – approximately the radiation dose a person gets on a one-way flight from Australia to Europe.
Remote locations are not necessarily ideal places to place radioactive waste management facilities. Rather, their siting should take maximum advantage of stable geology, hydrology and climate and be located close by reliable road and rail access and be readily serviced by construction and security services. For these reasons many overseas waste management and disposal facilities are within a hundred kilometres of towns with more than 50,000 people. There are no safety concerns that could be more easily met by siting the facility in a remote location and there are advantages for the facility to be not too far from the main waste generators.