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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 406


Mr BARRY JONES (Minister for Science)(8.26) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This legislation establishes the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation as the successor to the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, which is to be abolished under the provisions of the Atomic Energy Amendment Bill. The Atomic Energy Act 1953 gave the AAEC the role of an active participant in the development of all phases of the peaceful uses of atomic energy, including the exploitation of Australia's uranium resources and the eventual introduction of nuclear power into this country.

With the rapid development of Australia's major fossil fuel resources, it became increasingly apparent in the 1970s that there would be no need for the introduction of nuclear power into this country in any foreseeable future, and consequently research at the AAEC in this area was curtailed. In recent years the AAEC has ceased its involvement in the uranium mining industry, and the uranium enrichment research based on centrifuge technology, which has been undertaken by the AAEC since the mid-1960s, was recently terminated. In phasing down its enrichment program the AAEC, in conjunction with the Australian Safeguards Office, undertook a project on the development of safeguarding techniques using this centrifuge equipment. This project was part of Australia's program of assistance to the International Atomic Energy Agency and has now been concluded. While moving away from nuclear fuel cycle activities, in line with the Government's policy-which is that Australia not become involved in any stages of the nuclear fuel cycle other than the mining and milling of uranium and the disposal of waste-the AAEC has continued to apply its substantial expertise to research activities into the uses of radioisotopes and radiation. However, the AAEC's research program has been without firm legislative directions for the future.

This new legislation will provide the direction needed to ensure that Australia is able to take full advantage of the many benefits to be derived from the peaceful application of nuclear science and technology.

The creation of ANSTO is a wonderful new acronym to add to the galaxy of acronyms we already have-will be more than just a superficial change of name for the AAEC. The Government proposes to use the opportunity to rationalise the nuclear research and development programs of Australia's principal nuclear research establishment, and in this context I draw honourable members' attention to the report of the review committee of the AAEC which was tabled in the House on 11 November.

The Government recognises that nuclear technology, when applied to areas such as medicine, science, industry, and agriculture, can make an important contribution to the social and economic well-being of Australia and accordingly these are the areas in which ANSTO will focus its activities. The AAEC has already made a major contribution to the development of nuclear medicine in Australia and currently supplies more than 50 hospitals with a wide range of radiopharmaceuticals. The medical radioisotopes supplied represent a total of about 100,000 patient doses per year. The Government believes that ANSTO will be able to build on the AAEC's success in the nuclear medicine field by expansion of the range of products it produces when the national cyclotron facility announced in the August Budget comes on line and by strengthening its research and commercial activities in the other areas I have just mentioned.

The Government will encourage ANSTO to increase its commercial or cost recovery orientation, along the lines of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority's Research Establishment at Harwell. Of course, the Government recognises that the Organisation will be unlikely to achieve the same level of self-sufficiency from commercial activities as Harwell, given the much larger industrial base in the United Kingdom. However, to promote progress towards this goal, it is proposed that ANSTO will retain its commercial revenue, subject to the agreement of the responsible Minister and the Minister for Finance. It is also proposed that, subject to specific ministerial approval, the Organisation may undertake non-nuclear research where this would make efficient use of its facilities and provided such research does not duplicate work undertaken by other Commonwealth bodies.

In the past it has been suggested that the AAEC has undertaken research directed at nuclear weapons development, despite repeated denials by both the AAEC and responsible Ministers, including me. Of course, nuclear weapons development and related research is specifically prohibited by the Treaty on the non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which Australia joined in 1973. However, to make it absolutely clear that ANSTO's activities will be directed solely to the peaceful uses of nuclear technology, the proposed legislation will prohibit ANSTO from undertaking any research or development into the design or production of nuclear weapons or other explosive devices.

An area where the AAEC has been subject to criticism in recent years is in relation to the safety of operation of its facilities. Much of this criticism has centred on the AAEC being self-regulating, in that the Regulatory Bureau's Director has reported to the Commission, whose membership include the Chief Executive of the Research Establishment. The AAEC has had an excellent safety record to date and I have no reason to believe this will not continue to be the case. However, in recognition of the criticism about self-regulation, a Nuclear Safety Bureau will be established which will be directly responsible to the Minister for monitoring and reviewing the nuclear safety of any nuclear plant operated by the Organisation.

The Minister will also be required to establish a Safety Review Committee to review and access the effectiveness of the standards, practices and procedures adopted by the Organisation to ensure the safety of its operations. To ensure the independence of advice by this Committee, a majority of members will be required to be drawn from outside ANSTO. The structural arrangements proposed for ANSTO are intended to draw on a wide range of expertise external to the Organisation. It is proposed that ANSTO be governed by a board of directors of up to seven members, a majority of whom will be required to be drawn from outside the Organisation.

To ensure that a broad spectrum of views will be available to the Minister and the Board, an Advisory Council of up to 11 members will be created. The majority of Council members will be drawn from outside the Organisation, including representatives of ANSTO user groups. The Council will also include at least one staff elected representative. The Minister will be able to establish specialist advisory committees considered necessary to advise the Board of the Organisation on particular matters. The Joint consultative Committee, a forum for consultation between management and staff, will also be given legislative recognition consistent with the Government's industrial democracy objectives.

Conclusion

I believe this Bill will establish a viable basis for the conduct of nuclear research in this country and will ensure that in future the direction and purpose of this research will reflect government policy and will be relevant to the needs of the Australian community. I commend the Bill to the house and tender the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Braithwaite) adjourned.