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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 216

Senator Ludlam asked the Minister representing the Minister for Resources and Energy, upon notice, on 16 December 2008:

   With reference to the answer to question on notice No. 737 (Senate Official Hansard, 13 October 2008, p. 5870), in which the Minister stated that, ‘in 1999 Australia and France exchanged letters pursuant to the 1981 Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the French Republic concerning Nuclear Transfers between Australia and France. In these letters, Australia stated that it will accept the return of spent research reactor fuel reprocessing wastes and committed to taking “all reasonable steps to facilitate their return, within the framework of relevant regulatory requirements, as soon as such return is technically possible”, and assured France that it “does not intend to take or support any legislative or regulatory initiative or other action which would prevent or hinder execution of the [ANSTO-COGEMA] contract relating to the return” of wastes to Australia’:

(1)   Can a copy of the letter be provided; if not, can the Minister confirm the dates of these letters and who signed on behalf of Australia.

(2)   Can the Minister confirm the legal status of these non-public, voluntary letters of commitment.

(3)   Can the Minister confirm whether these letters effectively replace the contractual requirements as stipulated in the Contract for the Management of ANSTO’s [Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s] Research Reactors Spent Fuel, between ANSTO and the French company Compagnie Generale des Matieres Nucleaires (COGEMA) for reprocessing the spent nuclear fuel from Lucas Heights.

(4) (a)   Can details be provided of the return arrangements for Australian waste which is to be returned to Australia from the reprocessing of spent research reactor fuel in the United Kingdom (UK); (b) what is the date by which such waste is to be returned to Australia; and (c) what is the quantity of waste returning from the UK.

Senator Carr (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The Minister for Resources and Energy has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:

(1)   The letters are publicly available on the United Nations Treaty Collection website at

(2)   These public letters have less-than-treaty status, that is, they are not legally binding. They represent political and moral commitments between Australia and France that embody the two countries’ understanding and intentions as to how they will conduct themselves in the future in relation to the matters covered by the letters.

(3)   ANSTO has a commercial contract under French law with COGEMA for the reprocessing of its spent research reactor fuel. The contract includes requirements for ANSTO to accept reprocessing wastes within timeframes specified in the contract. The letters exchanged between the Australian and French governments do not affect these contractual requirements, but rather commit

  • both governments not to take or support legislative or regulatory action that would prevent ANSTO or COGEMA fulfilling their obligations under the contract; and
  • the Australian Government to take all reasonable steps to facilitate the return of reprocessing wastes within the contractual timelines.


(a)   and (b) Waste arising from the reprocessing of research reactor spent fuel by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is presently being cemented. The UKAEA will store the waste for a minimum period of two years after cementation is complete. ANSTO and the UKAEA have agreed on a return date between July 2015 and June 2016.

(c)   Australia will receive an estimated fifty-three 500L drums of cemented waste. As cementation is presently in process the exact number of drums has not been finalised and may vary from the estimate by up to three.