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Tuesday, 21 May 1985
Page: 2209

Senator CHILDS —Can the Minister for Resources and Energy indicate the amount of revenue earned by the production of radio-isotopes at the Australian Atomic Energy Commission's research establishment at Lucas Heights in the last financial year? Can he outline the costs involved in such production? Can he give an indication of the amount it would cost Australia to import radio-isotopes for its domestic use?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The figure for the production of radio-isotopes in 1983-84 is $2.252m. As to the costs involved in producing sales of that order, the overall costs in 1983-84 were $3.073m, which includes administrative costs, sales costs and indirect and direct manufacturing costs. As the Commission competes in the Australian radio-isotope market with multinational companies, giving any more detailed production costs information than that is a matter of commercial sensitivity and I cannot be more precise. As to the question of imports of radio-isotopes, the AAEC is one of several suppliers of radio-isotopes to the Australian market. In meeting its market share, the AAEC both produces and imports radio-isotopes. While the cost to Australia if all radio-isotopes were imported would be market dependent, I note that the AAEC provides a specialised service to customers which would not be available if all radio-isotopes were imported. In addition, and quite crucially, it has to be appreciated that some of the medical radio-isotopes have a very short half-life and if the AAEC did not produce them domestically they would not be available for medical use in Australia.

I should add that the whole question of full cost recovery by the Atomic Energy Commission for its radio-isotope production has been the subject of a degree of public interest over a period and of consideration on earlier occasions. The conclusion, however, until now has always been that, given the competitive nature of the market, while full cost recovery is certainly desirable, the character of the market is extremely price elastic and any increase in price would rapidly result in a decline in the Australian share of that market. So it is a nice matter of judgment as to just how far one goes down that track.