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Thursday, 18 March 2010
Page: 2985

Mr HAASE (1:51 PM) —With the few moments left in this debate before a very important question time, I take this opportunity gladly. The National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 is going to resolve finally the vexed issue of who is going to be playing host to the storage of our industrial waste of a radioactive nature. But I remind you it is just that: industrial waste. In the main, if one checks the detail, it includes 4,020 cubic metres of low-level and short-lived intermediate-level waste.

The majority of this is a product of ANSTO at Lucas Heights. Presently, that material is stored in lined—yes, plastic lined—44-gallon drums stacked very high in tin sheds in the middle of a population of 150,000 or thereabouts. It is a clear indication that the hype and the terror that is being created in our society at large with the mere mention of ‘radioactive waste’ is simply an unnecessary alarmist condition that has been underlined by a number of political operators in this field for many decades. It is time that the situation was brought into the light of day and that the debate was put to rest once and for all.

This proposition to site this single management facility in the Northern Territory is the continuity of a proposition that was put together by the Howard government. There was never any expectation from the current Labor government that we would resist the passage of this legislation because it clarifies the situation. If the public of Australia are a little better informed about the reality of radioactive waste after this debate then henceforth we will be living in a better Australia—an Australia where there is a little less hype and fear mongering and a little more reality and, frankly, better and more efficient management of the storage of industrial waste.

A colleague associated with the uranium industry said to me only yesterday that it is time Australians at large took a different view of radioactive waste material. He explained to me that at a press conference not so long ago he used descriptive terms for his audience, for instance, that ‘this is your waste’. It is the waste that has been accumulated after use by many Australians right across the nation.

If there were a proposition put forward because of the result of fear mongering in the community that we should shut down the use of radioactive materials for fear that the depleted materials had to be stored somewhere there would be a great and justified hue and cry across the nation because one particular component of radioactive waste comes from radioactive isotopes, which are saving lives and speeding up diagnostic activities right across Australia. To propose that we suddenly took ourselves back to the Dark Ages and ignored the use of the facility of radioactive isotopes in X-ray to diagnose diseases would be unheard of. There would be a justified hue and cry about us taking medicine back to the Dark Ages and the bloodied bandages of the blood-letter in the barber shop. It is just nonsense, and yet there is an equal amount of nonsense being trotted out by those with a political objective in mind to put the fear of God into the population of Australia because there is a proposition to store in one single well-managed location the industrial waste which results from our use of radioactive materials.

Every time somebody goes into a building in Australia and sees an exit light, that is radioactive material. In the good old days I used to have a Phantom ring that glowed in the dark. I thought it was wonderful and that it was the greatest acquisition I had ever made as a boy. That was radioactive material. As we look around ourselves radioactivity is used as an asset by mankind every day of our lives.

The storage of radioactive material today, with its high-class regulation, is probably less dangerous than the storage of LPG or petrol. I know that if I were, for instance, asked to store a drum of yellowcake or a bucket of petrol in my garage, I would certainly refuse to store the bucket of petrol. I would much rather store the drum of yellowcake. I might add that I have held yellowcake in my hand, I suggest with no detrimental effects. It is something that is quite innocuous. But many people would scoff at that idea because they have no understanding whatsoever of the nature of yellowcake and they have no understanding whatsoever of the danger associated with industrial waste as a result of our use of radioactive material. It is just industrial waste, albeit with some of the most highly regulated storage conditions one could ever imagine because it has this connotation of ‘radioactive’.

All of us know about Chernobyl, All of us know about the Three Mile Island accident, and all of us know about Hiroshima. Radioactive nuclear materials can be used in a very dangerous way, but we are not talking about that sort of radioactivity or nuclear material: we are simply talking about industrial waste that happens to have previously been of a radioactive nature.

We have had, for instance, in the House today a luncheon for kids suffering from juvenile diabetes. Those children are desperately seeking a solution to be found in medical research for their condition. That is one of the very conditions shared by 140,000 Australians, a condition for which the solution will be found by modern medicine and modern medical research. That research will involve radioactive materials, and having been used in that research they become industrial waste and that waste needs to be stored somewhere. So if after this debate there continues to exist in any microcosm of Australian society the idea that industrial waste of a radioactive nature is somehow so forbidden or horrendous that no-one is going to store it, then that is a condition that we must not tolerate as leaders of opinion in Australia today.

We have sitting on the frontbench of the government right now somebody whose whole previous career was predicated on the basis of nuclear being evil: anything nuclear had to be put down and removed from the vocabulary of Australians.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 pm the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 97. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member for Kalgoorlie will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.