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Thursday, 30 May 1996
Page: 1493

Senator CHAPMAN(7.17 p.m.) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

The report of the Select Committee on the Dangers of Radioactive Waste was tabled out of session on 29 April. It is timely that this report was tabled on the 10th anniversary of the then Soviet government's admission of the Chernobyl disaster.

Australia does not have a nuclear power industry and the amount of radioactive waste created in Australia is only a minute fraction of what is produced in some other countries. Therefore, fortunately, it is not possible for Australia to experience a Chernobyl-type accident. Nevertheless, the disastrous consequences of Chernobyl are a salutary reminder of the need for adequate regulation of radioactive materials. Radioactive materials used in industry and medicine, some of which save lives, do provide benefits. However, they also have potential health risks if the radioactive waste is not managed safely.

Radioactive waste cannot be destroyed. Radioactivity occurs naturally over periods that may take millions of years.

Senator Panizza —It is called the half-life.

Senator CHAPMAN —It is the half-life, as you said, Senator Panizza. In using radioactive materials to obtain the benefits, there is a price to be paid. That price is eternal vigilance in managing the waste.

The committee was concerned at the lack of up-to-date information on Australia's radioactive holdings. A national inventory of radioactive waste has not been prepared since 1986. The committee was told that radioactive waste is stored in approximately 100 places around Australia, but it seems that the exact figure is quite uncertain. The committee has therefore recommended that an up-to-date inventory be compiled.

Some conservation groups argue that the way to eliminate radioactive waste is to eliminate the use of radioactive materials altogether. This is not realistic because of the important uses of radioactive materials. Nevertheless, that does not diminish the importance of minimising the creation of radioactive waste and safely managing the waste that has been created. We can achieve both. Our report stresses this need to minimise the creation of radioactive waste. I notice that the Senate is due to get on to the adjournment debate, Madam Deputy President. I am just wondering whether, with the leave of the Senate, I might briefly continue into the adjournment time to conclude my remarks.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There are a number of speakers for the adjournment debate, Senator. I think you will have to continue next time.

Senator CHAPMAN —What I might do is finish this paragraph and seek leave to incorporate the balance of my remarks in Hansard .

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I think you should seek leave to continue your remarks on the next occasion.

Senator CHAPMAN —Our report stresses this need to minimise the creation of radioactive waste. The hierarchy of waste management—that is, reduce, reuse, recycle and treat before disposal—should apply as much to radioactive waste as to any other category of waste. Research projects which create radioactive waste in hospitals, for example, should undergo rigorous justification processes to weigh the likely benefits against the difficulty of handling the waste.

Debate interrupted.