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Wednesday, 20 March 1985
Page: 488


Senator McINTOSH —I direct my question to the Minister for Resources and Energy. I ask the Minister how much Commonwealth funding has been allocated for the development of synroc and associated projects? Through which departments or bodies have the funds for the various projects been made? At what stage of development is synroc? Lastly, if the project turns out to be successful in developing a reliable storage facility for nuclear waste, what will be the Government's attitude to application of such technology?


The PRESIDENT —Order! Before I call the Minister for Resources and Energy, I mention that this is the first time that he has been heard today and I ask that he be extended the usual courtesies.


Senator GARETH EVANS —Thank you, Mr President. The Government is continuing to support the development of synroc as a promising second generation method for the immobilisation of high level radioactive waste. Synroc technology is still in the developmental phase. The Australian synroc program involves six concurrent lines of work which I propose to indicate but not elaborate upon. They are the fabrication and testing of synroc containing simulated waste; the fabrication and testing of synroc containing small amounts of elements found in actual radioactive waste; studies of the effects of radiation damage on synroc; continual research and development on synroc formulations; studies of synroc fine structure, phase crystallography and leaching mechanisms; and, finally, the development of synroc manufacturing technology. Synroc is also being studied at several overseas laboratories. Agreements have been signed with the United Kingdom and Japan to pave the way for close collaboration between scientists in those countries and Australia in the fabrication and testing of synroc.

If the promise of synroc as a waste form is realised, it could be expected that its superior performance in immobilising what I am told are the long lived actinide elements-which, shades of Jim Webster, in turn leads me to tell honourable senators are uranium, plutonium and curium-generated by the nuclear fuel cycle will make it easier for nuclear countries to find acceptable sites for geological repositories to dispose of their high level waste. To date the government has approved funding totalling $4.61m in support of synroc research and development. The breakdown of this figure is $1.512m provided since 1978 by the National Energy Research Development and Demonstration Council program for synroc research and development projects at the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, the Australian National University and Griffith University; $2.754m approved by the Government in June 1985-that does not sound right-


Senator Ryan —No, it doesn't really. Senator Baume will accuse you of misleading the Senate.


Senator GARETH EVANS —Well, it was a fine brief otherwise, Mr President. I am indebted to you for giving me the opportunity to read it, but it obviously needs correction in that respect. The $2.754m was approved by the Government-I think it was last year-for the construction by the AAEC of a pilot demonstration plant for manufacturing full sized, non-radioactive canisters of synroc, and $344,000 provided by the NERDDC program to fund Australia's share of a co-operative program of research and development with the United Kingdom.

As to the very last point in Senator McIntosh's multiple part question regarding the Government's attitude to the application of this new technology, the situation is that, because Australia does not produce high level radioactive wastes, the potential demand for synroc is obviously not here but in countries with nuclear power programs. Australia will continue to encourage its development in the interests of enabling those countries to apply the best practicable technology to the task of isolating high level radioactive wastes from the biosphere.


Senator Chaney —Having heard the answer, we can understand why it was treated as a maiden speech. I ask that the Minister table the relevant paper.


The PRESIDENT —The Minister has tabled the paper.