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Tuesday, 28 September 1999
Page: 9073


Senator STOTT DESPOJA (6:50 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I rise to speak on the second quarterly report of the Chief Executive Officer of ARPANSA, the regulatory authority which was established this year under the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act. That act came into force on 5 February and the accompanying regulations on 17 March 1999. These dates are particularly significant since there was a six-month transition period inserted into the act during which all Commonwealth agencies were to apply for licences to permit their involvement in the operation of radiation sources, facilities and nuclear installations. That six-month period has now passed and all Commonwealth facilities must now be licensed.

One of those facilities now licensed by ARPANSA is the Lucas Heights complex, which is operated by ANSTO. Since ANSTO is the intended operator of the new nuclear reactor the government wants to build in Lucas Heights, I would like to comment on some of the incidents that have been referred to in this particular report. Although it did not actually occur during the quarter of this report, the fuel rod handling incident has received another special mention. This seems to be due to a decision by ANSTO to change the INES rating of the accident. The INES rating is a figure on an agreed scale—it is actually an internationally agreed scale—from level zero to level seven, zero being where there is no safety impact and seven where there is a major accident such as Chernobyl. The fuel rod accident was moved from zero to one on that scale.

The accident was examined extensively by the Economics References Committee during the recently completed inquiry into the new nuclear reactor. Some of the evidence that was received during those hearings demonstrated a fairly lax view of the seriousness of this particular incident. I note that a period of eight weeks elapsed between the accident and the provision of a submission on recovery procedures by ANSTO. Curiously, ARPANSA's review of that submission took less than 24 hours and the operation was completed the same day.

The next incident report relates to a damaged sewer pipeline at Lucas Heights. This problem was dealt with rapidly, but the blaming of subcontractors bears an intriguing resemblance to the major discharge of water into the Woronora River late last year.

Perhaps most significant in the ANSTO related issues covered in this report is the small mention of the Little Forest Burial Ground. It is understood that previous media reports led to this inclusion. So that it is clearly stated on the record, I will repeat the sentence from the report. It states:

In total approximately 47,600 packages of active waste, with a volume of 1,765 cubic metres, were buried in 77 three metre deep trenches.

This is in a suburban area, not part of the main ANSTO complex. So apparently ANSTO will be applying for a licence to operate the site. I should hope so. My under standing is that those same media reports which prompted a reference to this site in the ARPANSA report also suggested that there had been vandalism and theft of radiation monitoring equipment at the site.

We know very little about what is actually stored at Little Forest, which provided waste disposal for the Australian Atomic Energy Commission from 1960 to 1968. Certainly, there is uranium, cobalt, beryllium, small amounts of plutonium, traces of other isotopes and extensive low level radioactive waste. I hope that the commitment that has been given by ANSTO to make further investigations at the Little Forest Burial Ground in the context of the licensing process for Lucas Heights has been followed through. The Little Forest Burial Ground remains a major issue for the local community.

I conclude my remarks with a brief reference to the new nuclear reactor that has been promoted by this government. The ARPANSA report makes reference to the licence application for this new reactor, referring to it with the government's preferred phrase of `replacement reactor' when we know it is a new reactor. This report refers to materials which would be considered in investigating the licence application. Included were 73 public submissions. I hope these submissions have been treated seriously by ARPANSA. I hope that ARPANSA has been the regulator of government nuclear activities. I hope it will be the regulator of these activities. It should be. I am not confident of that. I understand that ARPANSA has now granted a site licence for the new nuclear reactor. The construction and operation of a reactor is not necessary. It is not appropriate. I reiterate the Democrats' opposition to Australia's continuing involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle. (Time expired)

Question resolved in the affirmative.