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Thursday, 22 May 1980
Page: 3145

Mr Uren asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1 980:

(   1 ) Is he able to say whether the Japanese Government has decided to proceed on a trial basis with the dumping of low-level nuclear waste in the Pacific Ocean; if so, has it sought the Australian Government 's views on such action.

(2)   Has the Australian Government expressed any attitude to the Japanese Government regarding nuclear waste dumping in the Pacific; if so, what attitude was expressed.

(   3 ) What are the Australian Government 's intentions concerning the dumping of nuclear waste in the Pacific Ocean.

(4)   Is he able to say what is the estimated quantity and lifetime of any radioactive material Japan may propose to dump in the Pacific Ocean and where is it proposed that the waste be dumped.

(5)   Is he able to say which countries (a) have previously dumped, (b) presently dumped or (c) propose to dump nuclear waste in the Pacific Ocean; if so, in each case, what is the estimated (i) quantity and (ii) lifetime of radioactive material contained in these wastes.

Mr Peacock (KOOYONG, VICTORIA) (Minister for Foreign Affairs) - The answer to the honourable member 's question is as follows:

(1)   and (2) We have been in touch with Japan on this matter and have been informed that the Japanese Government proposes to proceed on a trial basis with the dumping of low-level nuclear waste in the Pacific Ocean in mid- 1981. Thereafter the Japanese authorities propose to spend approximately two and a half years on a safety assessment and evaluation of the trial dumping operation before further decisions are taken on sea dumping.

Japan has not yet formally consulted other Governments about these plans. This will await the completion of action already under way to permit Japan to ratify the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Waste and Other Matter and to participate in the OECD Council Decision of 22 July 1977 establishing a Multilateral Consultation and Surveillance Mechanism for Sea Dumping of Radioactive Waste. Japan is therefore taking steps to ensure that any future dumping operation would be carried out in accordance with internationally agreed standards.

Article 3 (b) of the OECD mechanism requires a participating country to notify the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency twelve months before it intends to execute a sea dumping operation, if a new site is proposed, of the characteristics and composition of the wastes, the dumping sites selected, reasons for the selection of the site and the operational procedures envisaged. The Nuclear Energy Agency circulates this information to Member countries for possible comment.

Australia, which is a member of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, will be in a position to give detailed examination to the proposed Japanese dumping operation following formal notification by Japan to the Nuclear Energy Agency of its proposal.

(3)   The Australian Government has no plans to dump nuclear waste in the Pacific Ocean.

(4)   It is understood that the wastes which Japan proposes to dump on a trial basis are in the form of 5,000 to 10,000 cement-solidified drums of 200 litre capacity containing a maximum of 500 curies of radioactivity. The composition of the wastes has not been specified. Four possible dumping sites are under consideration:


(5)   (a) Between 1946 and 1970 the United States dumped about 14,500 curies of low level waste into its own offshore coastal waters outside San Francisco Bay. Between 1950 and 1964, Japan dumped about 400 curies of low level laboratory waste at the entrance to Tokyo Bay.

(b)   None known.

(c)   Japan. See answer to (4) above. The United States has no current plans for future dumping in the Pacific, but is evaluating the concept of ocean dumping.

Wastes dumped contain a mixture of radionuclides, with a wide range of half lives. In respect of the United States wastes, most included traces of plutonium isotopes which have a long half life.

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