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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15697

Mr Andren asked the Minister for Science, upon notice, on 12 February 2003:

(1) From which locations are the more than 30,000 packages of radioactive material routinely transported across Australia each year, and to where are they shipped.

(2) What are the distances between starting locations and destinations over which they are transported.

(3) How many packages are transported by (a) air, (b) rail, (c) sea and (d) road.

(4) What is the number, and what the details, of any incidents and accidents involving vehicles carrying nuclear waste by (a) air, (b) rail, (c) sea and (d) road.

Mr McGauran (Minister for Science) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) ANSTO Radiopharmaceuticals and Industrials (ARI) sends an average of 3,000 packages a month (approx 36,000 per year), although these figures do vary from month to month.

More than 99% of ARI shipments are dispatched from Lucas Heights, NSW, with the balance being shipped from the National Medical Cyclotron next to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Camperdown, NSW. Shipments are sent to over 200 nuclear medicine centres in all states and territories (capitals and country areas) and to a number of industrial customers. ARI also ships to overseas customers, including customers in the Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand, Malaysia, China, Taiwan, Burma, the United States and some European destinations.

It should be noted that ARI is not the only entity in Australia that is involved in the routine transportation of radioactive materials. Other entities routinely transport a wide range of radioactive materials across Australia (for example, smoke detectors, industrial gauges and mineral ores). However, details of such shipments are not available, as they are a matter for the relevant State and Territory authorities.

(2) Delivery distances range from a few kilometres (for example Lucas Heights to Liverpool) to thousands of kilometres.

Within Australia, packages are often sent to their destination by air, including to destinations as close to Sydney as Brisbane or Canberra. This is due to the short-lived nature of the particular radioisotope product being transported. For example, the product with the shortest half-life supplied by ARI is FDG (Fluorine-18 deoxyglucose), with a half-life of only 110 minutes. For these short-lived products, air transport is chosen due to the speed of delivery. For longer-lived products, transport by road becomes viable for Australian destinations.

(3) All packages are transported (initially) by road, while approximately 70% would travel further by air by either freighter or passenger aircraft, including to some country NSW destinations, and then by road to the point of use. Given the short half-life of most ARI isotopes no sea or rail transport is used.

(4) Within Australia, there has only been one incident involving a vehicle carrying radioactive waste since 1980. In December 1994, a small amount of liquid was found to have seeped from a drum containing very low level waste soil that was being transported by road from Lucas Heights to Woomera. Some 98% of the soil being transported had levels of radiation so low as to not require compliance with the Australian Code of Practice for Safe Transport of Radioactive Substances (1990). Nevertheless, as a precautionary measure, it was being transported in accordance with the code.

The spill was discovered near Port Augusta, South Australia during a routine load inspection. No radioactivity above background levels was found in the spilled material, and the spilled waste was contained on the tray of the truck. The incident posed no threat to the health and safety of workers or the public.