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Monday, 24 June 1996
Page: 2017

Senator LEES —My question is directed to Senator Hill in his capacity as both the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Minister for the Environment. Can you confirm statements made by the Minister for Science and Technology on 60 Minutes last night that Woomera, in our home state of South Australia, is the national dump site for intermediate level radioactive waste? He also went on to say that we can take as much waste back from Dounreay as we need to. Is this correct? Does this mean all of the Dounreay radioactive waste material is going to Woomera? Have all the environmental assessments been completed for this?

Senator HILL —I did not see 60 Minutes last night. I doubt whether he would have described it as the national dump site. Certainly, the last Commonwealth government, as you know, determined that Woomera would become a temporary storage site for nuclear waste from a number of different sites in Australia—St Marys and Lucas Heights immediately come to mind. As I understand it, proper environmental assessments were made at that time. I think Australia is obliged to take back the waste from Scotland within 20 years. If I am correct, I think that is a bit inconsistent with what you said in your question. I think that is the case.

Senator LEES —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. Woomera was only ever cleared for low level waste. The minister talked last night about intermediate level waste. Everything that comes back from Dounreay is going to be intermediate level waste. We have already sent 114 radioactive rods to Dounreay. We get back 85 times the volume in intermediate level waste. In other words, we will be getting back at least 15,000 litres of intermediate level waste. If we send all the rods to Dounreay, we will get back over 200,000 litres of intermediate level waste. If it is not going to Woomera, where is it going to go?

Senator HILL —The last government told us for years that it would establish a permanent repository at least for low level waste, but never got around to doing it. It established a temporary repository at Woomera. Most people thought that it would become the de facto permanent waste site. The issue about the definitions of `low' and `intermediate', as I understand—

Senator Schacht —You have changed the definition.

Senator HILL —Senator Schacht, thank you for your intervention. At the request of the Democrats, the other day I saw the Greenpeace representatives who are particularly concerned with this matter. They argued that intermediate level waste is high level waste, and that low level waste is intermediate level waste. The definitional questions are really quite complex in this regard. I will go back to the science minister and seek clarification of what he said last night, and to see whether the new Commonwealth government has anything further to add. (Time expired)