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Monday, 27 June 1994
Page: 1995


Senator COULTER —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Can the minister confirm that he intends to keep open the option to export Australian spent fuel rods to Scotland for reprocessing and to reimport highly radioactive liquid waste arising from that process? Is the minister serious about the option to export spent fuel rods to Scotland, or is he attempting to use it as leverage in case the United States decides not to accept Australia's spent fuel? Is the minister aware that this option blatantly contradicts the promise made by the Prime Minister in his 1992 environment statement to prohibit the import of high level radioactive waste? Does this paper not reveal that the government has no idea what to do with the spent fuel rods at Lucas Heights? During his forthcoming visit to Indonesia is the minister intending to sign a joint Australian-Indonesian nuclear science cooperation agreement?


Senator GARETH EVANS —Mr President, the subject matter of that question largely relates to the Department of Primary Industries and Energy and ANSTO. I am not entirely clear why the question has been directed to me, except that I understand that my own department did prepare a technical paper for a preparatory meeting of a proposed regional hazardous wastes convention which addresses some of those issues. Presumably it is that which has excited Senator Coulter. That paper does address the option of future overseas reprocessing of spent fuel rods and subsequent reimport of small amounts of high-level radioactive waste.

  All options for disposal of HIFAR spent fuel are currently being considered by the government in the context of the research reactor review. I did not see the paper, but my understanding is that it just refers to that option in quite general terms and does not specifically refer to any option of sending fuel rods to Scotland to the Dounreay reprocessing plant which I think was contemplated in Senator Coulter's question.

  As to Senator Coulter's second question concerning our seriousness with regard to an option to export spent fuel rods to Scotland, all options for disposal of HIFAR spent fuel are currently being considered by the government, as I have said, in the context of the research reactor review. I certainly have not formed any view as to how seriously that option might be pursued. That is essentially a policy matter in the first instance, anyway, for the department and the agency that I have mentioned.

  In his third question Senator Coulter said that the option blatantly contradicted the promise made by the Prime Minister to prohibit the import of high-level radioactive waste. It does not contradict any such statement made by the Prime Minister because that statement was deliberately cast in terms of prohibiting the import of high-level radioactive waste of foreign origin. With the option that is in issue here the waste would be of Australian origin, not foreign origin. There is no question whatever of that particular policy commitment being breached.

  In his final question Senator Coulter suggested that the government has no idea what to do with the spent fuel rods. I can inform Senator Coulter that that is not the case. All sorts of ideas and different options are being contemplated. As to the final question, which concerned whether I intended to sign an Australian-Indonesian nuclear science cooperation agreement when I visit Indonesia at the end of this week, the answer is no, not on that occasion.