- Parliamentary Business
- Senators & Members
- News & Events
- About Parliament
- Visit Parliament
Environment: Maralinga Rehabilitation
- Parl No.
- Question No.
Allison, Sen Lyn
Environment: Maralinga Rehabilitation
- System Id
Table Of ContentsDownload Current Hansard View/Save XML
Previous Fragment Next Fragment
- Start of Business
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Moore, Sen Claire, Hill, Sen Robert)
(Lightfoot, Sen Ross, Alston, Sen Richard)
(Marshall, Sen Gavin, Hill, Sen Robert)
(Bartlett, Sen Andrew, Hill, Sen Robert)
(Cook, Sen Peter, Hill, Sen Robert)
(Nettle, Sen Kerry, Hill, Sen Robert)
National Security: Terrorism
(Ludwig, Sen Joe, Ellison, Sen Chris)
Australian Defence Force: Support for Families
(Chapman, Sen Grant, Vanstone, Sen Amanda)
(Evans, Sen Chris, Hill, Sen Robert)
Immigration: Ms Puangthong Simaplee
(Greig, Sen Brian, Ellison, Sen Chris)
Transport: Border Protection
(Campbell, Sen George, Macdonald, Sen Ian)
(Buckland, Sen Geoffrey, Hill, Sen Robert)
Immigration: Refugees and Asylum Seekers
(Colbeck, Sen Richard, Ellison, Sen Chris)
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: ADDITIONAL ANSWERS
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS
- ENVIRONMENT: WORLD WATER DAY
- SPORT: 2003 CRICKET WORLD CUP
- RENEWABLE ENERGY
- NUCLEAR ENERGY: WASTE STORAGE
- IRAN: ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION
- MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS
- DELEGATION REPORTS
APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 3) 2002-2003
APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 4) 2002-2003
- BROADCASTING SERVICES AMENDMENT (MEDIA OWNERSHIP) BILL 2002
TRANSPORT SAFETY INVESTIGATION BILL 2002
TRANSPORT SAFETY INVESTIGATION (CONSEQUENTIAL AMENDMENTS) BILL 2002
- CUSTOMS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 2) 2002
- Information Technology: Policy
- Indigenous Affairs: Banking Services
- Gaudron, Justice Mary
- Indigenous Affairs: Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights
New South Wales: Election
- Fuel: Ethanol
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Gippsland Electorate: Programs and Grants
(O'Brien, Sen Kerry, Ellison, Sen Chris)
(Allison, Sen Lyn, Hill, Sen Robert)
Trade: Export Finance Insurance Corporation
(Brown, Sen Bob, Hill, Sen Robert)
Dairy Structural Adjustment Program
(O'Brien, Sen Kerry, Macdonald, Sen Ian)
Indian Ocean Territories Health Service
(Crossin, Sen Trish, Macdonald, Sen Ian)
Defence: Anthrax Vaccination
(Lees, Sen Meg, Hill, Sen Robert)
- Gippsland Electorate: Programs and Grants
Tuesday, 25 March 2003
Senator ALLISON (3:59 PM) —In his statement accompanying this report the Minister for Science says that the Maralinga Rehabilitation Project is something the government can be proud of. I do not think so; at least, I do not think it ought to be proud of its record on this issue. The minister's statement and the 403 pages of this report by the Maralinga Rehabilitation Technical Advisory Committee have not persuaded the Democrats that the clean-up was anything but botched and inadequate. No matter how many reports are produced, the fact of the matter is that 22 kilograms of plutonium are buried in simple unlined earth trenches, some of it just a couple of metres below the surface. The government says, `That is not right—five metres of clean soil was put on top,' but those who were involved say that it was much more like two or three metres in some places.
The government has consistently said that these simple earth burials were constructed consistent with the national code of practice for near-surface disposal of radioactive waste. What it does not admit is that this code of practice is not suitable for—was never designed for, never written for—debris which is highly contaminated with plutonium. Why else would a government—Labor, as it happens—have decided in the first place to vitrify the debris before it was buried? After the explosion in 1999 in one of the pits, this government agreed to drop the process. The minister says that the explosion caused major damage to ISV equipment and the process was discontinued for safety reasons. It just so happens that that decision saved the contractor an enormous amount of money.
Critics of this government—and there are plenty of them—argue that had the debris been properly sorted to make sure material that was likely to explode had been removed prior to vitrification there would have been no explosion. We still have no explanation about what caused that explosion. The only thing the government knows is that it was enough to stop that process. The minister's statement says the melt blocks were excavated and reburied at greater depth. This is simply not true; the blocks were cracked and broken up and, in so doing, the plutonium was exposed.
The minister says ARPANSA considers that a simple earth burial is a useful benchmark of scientifically acceptable standards for plutonium buried as radioactive waste. This is complete nonsense. The government says the amount of uranium, plutonium and americium buried in trenches at Maralinga is well below the levels allowed in the NHMRC code of practice. Here they have used the oldest trick in the book: they have averaged out the contaminated material and counted in the enormous amount of lightly and noncontaminated material—some 360,000 cubic metres of material, largely soil—that is in the pits.
I understand why the government would want to silence, denigrate and discredit its critics—they have been extremely critical of the government and this process. I am not talking here about conservation groups or the Democrats, who might not be expected to have inside knowledge about the detail of the clean-up or understand the complex technical nature of processes like ISV—vitrification. The people most critical of this botched clean-up are professional people—engineers and the like—who were intimately involved in the process but who can now speak openly and honestly, independent of government and independent of contractors who stood to gain so much from this change in process. The government—the minister in particular—has done its best to vilify these people. The most recent of them is Mr Dale Timmons, who this week was described as a loner by Minister McGauran. The minister said that Mr Timmons's motivation is different from that of the Australian government. Well, yes it is; it is different in respect of Mr Timmons wanting to see that the Australian public are properly informed about this botched clean-up. The minister went on to say:
Mr Timmons, I suspect, has launched a pre-emptive strike—
getting right with the language of the time—
so as to maintain the reputation of his technology and Mr Timmons has a certain motivation, I believe, because his technology exploded.
Wrong, Mr Minister. Mr Timmons has no financial interest in the vitrification process or technology nor in the company that offers this technology. He was a consultant hired to assist with the Maralinga project because of his expertise in high-temperature geochemistry and his experience with vitrification technology.
Mr Timmons thinks the Australian public should be aware of what actually went on at Maralinga. He thinks we have been left with anything but world's best practice. World's best practice is vitrification; it is said to encase and immobilise plutonium for a million years. Not even the United States would consider burying this kind of material in unlined earth pits, and it certainly would not describe it as world's best practice. Some members of MARTAC, the authors of this final report, held the view that the debris should not have been buried this way but, at the very least, should have been encased in concrete. The government says the problem with vitrification, apart from the explosion, was that the blocks were cracked. Mr Timmons, an expert in the field, points out that the blocks should have been allowed to cool naturally over a period of about 12 months but, instead, the contractors uncovered the blocks then drenched them with cold water so that they could take samples. It is little wonder they cracked.
The report is very lengthy at 403 pages, and it is not possible to do it justice in only two hours. However, it is useful to examine the minister's statement. We found it riddled with errors and misleading statements. I hope, in this respect at least, that his statement does not reflect the report itself. Let us go to the second paragraph. The minister says:
The project achieved its goals and a world's best practice result.
One of the goals of the project was to treat the Taranaki pits by ISV; that was option 6(c). This was not done; therefore, the minister cannot claim that the project met its goals. It is interesting to talk about world's best practice because if you look at the ARPANSA web site, which was apparently written by Geoff Williams from ARPANSA, you will see that he says that terms such as `world's best practice' are `bureaucratese' and `the last resort of scoundrels'. So the minister himself is using this last resort of scoundrels. The minister misquotes the 1985 royal commission, saying it recommended that Maralinga and Emu should be cleaned up so that the land could be fit for habitation by the Aboriginal traditional owners. In fact, it recommended the clean-up be done so that the land could be fit for unrestricted access. This is not what we are left with. The minister says:
The implementation of option 6 (c) would permit unrestricted access to about 90% of the 3200 square kilometre Maralinga site and permit access ...
In fact, this is completely misleading because the area enclosed by the boundary markers is about 450 square kilometres out of a total of 3,200 square kilometres. That is not 90 per cent which is available to unrestricted access—it is more like 86 per cent. Also, the only land that has been added that is suitable for unrestricted access is that cleaned at the TM sites and Wewak, and that area is 0.5 square kilometres. The 1.6 square kilometre cleaned area at Taranaki is within the boundary markers and the Indigenous people have been advised that access is restricted. In other words, very little has actually been added to the land available for unrestricted access. The minister indicates:
The Maralinga Rehabilitation Project was oversighted by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training ...
Then, two paragraphs down, he says that it was oversighted by ARPANSA. This is just another example of getting it wrong. In fact, ARPANSA was responsible for the regulation, not for the oversighting at all.
The minister says that one of the problems was that the vitrification process did not melt the steel. It was not meant to melt the steel; in fact, it was meant to encase the plutonium which was coated on that steel. The minister says that it was the 11th melt of the series which exploded. Again, that is wrong; it was the 13th. The minister says no worker received any measurable take-up of plutonium during the clean-up. The draft report said otherwise. It said that two workers received a measurable uptake of uranium. (Time expired)