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Tuesday, 19 August 1980
Page: 400

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) asked the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 20 February 1980:

(1)   Has his attention been drawn to President Carter's assertion that all past attempts to dispose of highly radioactive nuclear waste have failed and that it would be at least the mid 1990s before the United States has just one satisfactory permanent dump for nuclear waste; if so, is the Australian Government still persuaded by the weight of scientific evidence placed before it that there is a demonstrated method of dealing permanently and safely with highly radioactive nuclear waste.

(2)   If this is still the Government's belief, what efforts has it made to convince the US President and the US people that the problems of nuclear waste disposal have been solved.

Mr Malcolm Fraser - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1)   When announcing the establishment of the United States' first comprehensive radioactive waste management program, President Carter said "... Past Governmental efforts to manage radioactive waste have not been technically adequate. Moreover, they have failed to involve successfully the States, local governments, and the public in policy or program decisions. My actions today lay the foundation for both a technically superior program and a full co-operative Federal-State partnership to ensure public confidence in a waste management program'.

President Carter's statement also explained that the site for the first full scale repository in the United States will be selected by about 1985 and will be operational by the mid-1 990s. The development of such a repository will proceed in a careful step by step manner while ensuring full public participation and maintaining the full co-operation of all levels of Government, so that technical or scientific standards will not be compromised out of haste.

The establishment of the President's Waste Management Program is predicated on the existence of technology which will enable the assessment of suitable geological sites for nuclear waste repositories. The Inter-Agency Review Group on Radioactive Waste Management which reported to the President in March 1979 found that '. . . Present scientific and technological knowledge is adequate to identify potential repository sites for further investigation. No scientific or technical reason is known that would prevent identifying a site that is suitable for a repository provided that the systems view is utilised rigorously to evaluate the suitability of sites and designs, and in minimising the influence of future human activities'.

The President went on to say that 'Based on the technical conclusions reached by the IRG, I am persuaded that the capability now exists to characterise and evaluate a number of geologic environments for use as repositories built with conventional mining technology'.

These statements reinforce the Australian Government's view that the technology exists for the safe management and ultimate disposal of highly radioactive waste.

I also noted in my statement to the House on 25 August 1977 that the technology for solidification of high level radioactive liquids was being developed to a commercial scale and that this technology had not hitherto been put into full scale use as the commercial quantity of waste had not warranted a fully commercial process. The vitrification process for solidification of high level waste is now operating on a commercial scale in France and the technology has been adopted by the Federal Republic of Germany.

(2)   In view of the similarity of the views expressed by President Carter and ourselves the action suggested is unnecessary.

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