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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 5870

Senator Ludlam asked the Minister representing the Minister for Resources and Energy, upon notice, on 15 September 2008:

(1)   Is the Minister accurately quoted in an article on page 1 of The Age on 9 June 2008 stating ‘He said it was necessary to finalise the site well before the next election because nuclear waste from Sydney’s Lucas Heights research reactor sent overseas for reprocessing would return to Australia from 2011’.

(2)   Can the Minister confirm that the Contract for the Management of ANSTO’s [Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s] Research Reactors Spent Fuel, dated 1999, between ANSTO and the French company Compagnie Generale des Matieres Nucleaires (COGEMA) for reprocessing the spent nuclear fuel from Lucas Heights, states at 5.3.1 ‘Principle’ that return ‘shall take place in 2015 at the latest’, with a reference at under the heading ‘Performance bond’ to the date of 31 December 2015.

(3)   Can the Minister confirm that in the aforementioned agreement there is a reference to ‘any extension permitted by COGEMA’ indicating the potential for a later date to be sought by Australia.

(4)   Can the Minister confirm that while the contract provides for a potential return ‘as soon as technically possible’, there is a provision that a performance bond be paid by Australia of 1.5 million francs (approximately $397 514) to COGEMA in 2013, which may then be forfeit if return is not made by 31 December 2015.

(5)   In the absence of a radioactive waste management strategy that satisfies the ALP [Australian Labor Party] National Platform and Constitution 2007, ‘Chapter 5’, ‘scientific, transparent, accountable, fair and allows access to appeal mechanisms’, will the Minister consider negotiating an extension arrangement with COGEMA or paying the performance bond and further management costs for Australia’s waste to remain in France.

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)   Yes.

(2)   Yes.

(3)   The reference to the contract is correct. However, 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.

(4)   Yes.

(5)   No. A request to COGEMA to retain reprocessing waste in France longer than technically necessary would breach the commitment made by Australia to France in 1999. Such a course of action would also ignore the waste to be returned to Australia from the reprocessing of spent research reactor fuel in the United Kingdom.