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Economics References Committee
02/08/2018
Selection process for a national radioactive waste management facility in South Australia

GRIFFITHS, Mr Hefin, Chief Nuclear Officer, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation

McINTOSH, Mr Steve, Senior Manager, Government and International Affairs, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation

PATERSON, Dr Adi, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation

[11:24]

CHAIR: Welcome. I remind officials that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state or territory shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted. Thank you for appearing before the committee today. I invite you to make a brief opening statement, should you wish to do so.

Dr Paterson : We have no opening statement.

CHAIR: Okay. Dr Paterson, could you take us through the standards that you operate when it comes to storage at the Lucas Heights facility. I want to give you the opportunity, for the benefit of anybody listening, to deal with any misconceptions up-front about radioactive waste that you might want to address.

Dr Paterson : The standards that are established for the management of nuclear waste at ANSTO have dated back to the earlier Atomic Energy Commission period and then into the ANSTO period now. During that period, we have stored waste that is associated with the historical activities of the Atomic Energy Commission and also that has been associated with the activities of ANSTO: operating the HIFAR reactor and the now operating OPAL reactor, having extensive activities in the research and production of nuclear medicines and supporting the research activities of others in order to expand the capacity and knowledge of Australia in the peaceful use of nuclear methods in everything from the dating of water resources through to the better understanding of the environment and the history of climate and a range of other activities. There's a broad remit for ANSTO. The critical thing is, as soon as radioactivity is involved, the management of that radioactivity through its own life cycle becomes important—and every stage is as important as the others. The end-of-life-cycle activities, as they are present in ANSTO today, are associated with the safe storage that has resulted from the activities that I have just described to you.

The safe storage processes are determined through engineering and safety assessments—the types of assessments that underpin careful design of facilities. The introduction of appropriate barriers where radioactivity is involved is particularly important. The waste facilities that we have at ANSTO are stratified into two layers: low-level waste and intermediate-level waste, using the definitions that apply at the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is the framework that we use and is the community with which we interact to continue to build our knowledge. I think low-level waste is often somewhat misunderstood. It can include things that, for example, have been used in the production of nuclear medicine, like gowns or gloves that may have been contaminated during those processes. It includes vials, syringes and things that are used to prepare the doses. This type of waste essentially has a low level of radioactivity, but it is important that it is contained. Those tend to be stored in drums in our low-level waste stores. Those drums are monitored and checked on a regular basis. The next stage, which is the one that we'll be getting to in the next few years, is that most drums are ultimately stratified into those that have radioactivity and those where that has decayed away. The ones that have radioactivity are compacted. They're put into overpacks and prepared for transport to a final disposal facility.

All of these technologies have been developed internationally. There is an important sharing of information in the design criteria, the underlying science, and the engineering that's associated with that is all well established. It is also always independently reviewed by ARPANSA, our nuclear regulator, and when transport is involved, for example, or safeguards are involved, also ASNO, which is in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. So the regulation of all of those things is a large envelope within which we operate safely.

In the case, for example, of intermediate level waste, the operation of the HIFAR reactor over a number of decades allowed us to take the spent fuel and ship it to the United Kingdom and France for reprocessing. As we stand at the moment, we have received one cask back from France with the vitrified residues from the reprocessing of that spent fuel, so we had the opportunity to send our spent fuel from the HIFAR reactor to France for reprocessing. The uranium plutonium extracted in that process became the property of French authorities who have used it to make mixed oxide fuel, which is used to produce electricity in France. So there's a disposal pathway that includes reprocessing and reuse, and the residues that then come back are vitrified in a glass that is safely contained within the cask which we currently have in interim storage at Lucas Heights. When an intermediate-level waste store is established on a national basis, it would make sense to transfer that cask and the casks to be returned from the United Kingdom and over the next 40 to 50 years from France to be stored in that facility while the final disposal pathways are developed.

It is also important, from an ANSTO perspective, as a national nuclear agency, to work on those final disposal pathways and, as recently as last month, we had an international delegation come to visit to do a workshop with us and also in association with our colleagues in CSIRO to look at the possibility of a bore hole base disposal, ultimate disposal, for the intermediate-level waste. It was a wonderful workshop. There were very fruitful discussions with people from around the world who work on this area already. It gave us an opportunity to calibrate our own Australian views of the potential for that one pathway—there are others—and to continue to build up our knowledge, even though this will only in a number of decades be required. The responsibility of nuclear organisations is always to take the long view, to understand what the current best practice is, what the future alternatives might be and how we might beneficially determine future pathways for successful management of nuclear waste in order to provide society with confidence that this can be done safely, responsibly and in a sustainable way.

CHAIR: Dr Paterson, your organisation is very well respected. Perhaps just for the benefit of those listening: why do we need to look for a new site? What's the deficiency in the current arrangements—I think there are over 100 different places around Australia where we store some level of radioactive material? Why can't we just store more material at Lucas Heights?

Dr Paterson : The function of the Lucas Heights site is for the purpose of undertaking research, producing beneficial outcomes from nuclear operations, such as the production of nuclear medicines, and to develop the next generation of people who will be involved in understanding how the benefits of the peaceful use of nuclear science and technology can be adopted by our society. The facility is not developed for long-term storage of either low-level waste or intermediate-level waste.

It is ANSTO's view, which we think is important in the context of the international setting, to follow the international best practice, which is to have a dedicated and final low-level waste disposal facility. There are a number of other nations which have achieved some effectiveness in this regard. There's good practice, for example, in both Finland and Sweden, but there are a number of other countries, like Spain, where we have had many visits by our engineers to see their facility at El Cabril. These countries are showing great leadership in providing their citizens with assurance that there is a proper management pathway in place, that there is not only legislation which we have but also an intent to be a responsible nation in terms of dealing with this waste. That's not because the waste is scary; it's because it needs to be managed carefully. It is possible to envelope the safety and the operations of these facilities to provide the public assurances which would be independently tested by organisations like ARPANSA.

ANSTO, as a research and technology organisation, is also in the position to continue to work on the improvement and validation of systems to deal with waste. For example, for our intermediate-level liquid waste which we hold on the site at the moment, we are busy developing the world's first Synroc plant. This is an alternative to the cementation of the waste, where you put it into cement. When you put liquid radioactive material into cement, the volume tends to increase, so you take a small volume of liquid and get a bigger volume of cement, ultimately.

The Synroc technology was developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the principal person involved was Professor Ted Ringwood at ANU. ANSTO took on that idea and those technologies and we have continued to work on it. Its great benefit is that his idea, which is a rather wonderful idea, was to look at the most ancient rocks in the world. He studied them to find out how far radioactive isotopes had moved in those very ancient rocks. He then chose the rocks where the movement of radioactive isotopes was the shortest distance over geological time—1.1 or 1.2 billion years; very large periods of time. Using that understanding of those different types of rocks, he developed the idea of a synthetic rock taking that same geology of the rock and making it as a repository, if you will, for the radioactive material that you put into it. Because there's an understanding of the history of geology, that would make that a very safe rock, and Synroc becomes the very safe repository for the intermediate-level waste.

That's the process which we are taking through engineering at present. What it does for Australia is that if the Synroc does not prove to be successful, we still have the cement option. So we're creating two options as opposed to just one option in Australia. There's very keen interest internationally in this work that we're doing as well. I believe that over time, many other countries will work with us to further develop that technology. That's the responsible thing to do—to use our best minds to come up with solutions that are more robust, more sustainable and more effective than the current ones, because that has a public benefit and it also provides public assurances. So we're very involved in it.

CHAIR: This Synroc approach would deal with some of the concerns that people would have that if it's a liquid the material would leak under certain circumstances. This technology allows you to convert it into a solid.

Dr Paterson : My understanding is that all of the liquids which we will have processed on the site will be reduced to this form or to an alternative solid form. In my understanding of the current discussions, there is no intention to store any liquids at this facility that are radioactive in nature. That's what we call the waste acceptance criteria. If you're operating a facility, the waste acceptance criteria say what may or may not come into that facility, and normally those waste acceptance criteria are set in such a way that you provide that assurance to the public that you're not dealing with radioactive liquids or stuff that has just been stored in a liquid in a hospital setting, for example. You're also not dealing with high-intensity solid sources that haven't been appropriately packaged—for example, cobalt-60 sources used in hospitals historically need to be properly managed.

The irony is that I think that in every state and territory of Australia, irrespective of any legislation, there are many stores that we have at the moment for historical and legacy nuclear materials which are not, from a federal perspective, under the appropriate full management and control. That's why I think the action being taken by the federal government to progress this matter is so important, because it allows us to work with our colleagues in the states and territories to draw together a common practice across all jurisdictions so that the ultimate destination and these waste acceptance criteria can be to the benefit not just of the Commonwealth waste holdings but also of all the states and territories. That's the great wisdom of the act: it is a national act, not just a Commonwealth act. I think that's sometimes underestimated in these discussions, but from an ANSTO perspective we want to assist the states with their historical and legacy waste, which is something we do all the time. For example, when buildings that might have been used for research on uranium materials at universities and other places are decommissioned, ANSTO assists with that decommissioning. So, as a responsible federal agency, we can see the deficiencies of having too many practices across the nation. I think the combination of the development of this facility—not just its physical character but also the waste acceptance criteria and the management capabilities that are associated with that—should provide a great deal of confidence to the public of Australia that this is the best way forward, whether you're a state or a territory or whether you're a Commonwealth institution.

Mr McIntosh : The waste acceptance criteria will form part of the licence application that will go to ARPANSA. So there will be proposed waste acceptance criteria which will be put to ARPANSA and will be published for public comment as part of the licensing process that ARPANSA talked about. Ultimately, ARPANSA will determine whether those waste acceptance criteria provide sufficient protection to the public and the environment.

CHAIR: Thank you. Your submission talks about international best practice in relation to the selection process, and you've been very much involved in that selection process. To what extent do our current processes in Australia that we're following for the selection of the site replicate some of the elements of, say, the Finnish or Canadian processes?

Dr Paterson : The processes as we see them at the moment have drawn on the practices that have been seen in these leading countries. Finland is a very good example. It has a nuclear power program as well as a range of other nuclear activities. For example, they had a research reactor that was switched off just last year, which will have to undergo decommissioning and ultimate disposal of some of the radioactive waste from that. They have a high-level repository which is located on Olkiluoto Island, and they are preparing that to come into its operational phase in the early 2020s. It's a below-ground disposal facility. Their site selection process looked at a range of sites and ultimately focused on the one site. It was fairly similar to what we're doing here. Technical and environmental assessments and community consultations are the three elements that have characterised that process in Finland. I think that in the Finnish setting there is a strong social licence that has been established, and that social licence, I think, has been established by the rigour of the process and the independence of their regulator, for example. Those are key and important factors.

If one looks at Canada, Canada operates a number of nuclear power reactors. It also had a significant number of research reactors. It has had nuclear medicine production facilities, and there is extensive uranium mining capability in Canada. They've also been able to process fuel, for example. So they have a range of activities that is broader than Australia's. They took the approach of establishing a national waste management organisation in 2002 and, because of their very extensive nuclear power program, are gradually developing the technical criteria in order to come to decision-making from a technical assessment point of view. They've also had a site volunteer process. In 2017, the original 21 sites that volunteered were reduced to five, based on a series of factors such as we have just mentioned, like environmental factors or technical factors. Again, we seem to, I think, have adopted the Australian version of what is an increasingly clear set of processes internationally that work.

Sweden has done a similar thing. Sweden had a competition between different communities. At each stage of the competition, the communities that had stepped aside from that process were rewarded for having participated in and contributed to that. The ongoing community that had been identified to host the facility will obviously get the benefit of the jobs and capabilities that come into that community as a result of operating the facility. I say that because there's a net employment benefit and, in most cases that we've seen around the world—in the Netherlands, for example—there's also a net tourism benefit. People do like to see these types of facilities, to understand how nuclear waste is managed, to understand the underlying safety cases—the science—and, in some cases, to learn more about the benefits of the application of nuclear peacefully in our society.

CHAIR: I've got a couple more questions. I really appreciate your comprehensive answers, but I just want to get through a couple more questions, and I know my colleagues will have other questions as well. You mentioned jobs. This came up in our consultation in Hawker, and there was some degree of scepticism, I suppose, because originally it was proposed that there would be 15 jobs created at the management facility and then it suddenly became 45 jobs and there was some confusion as to how that happened. Can you explain what's going on there?

Dr Paterson : Yes. As the process developed, the original 15 jobs were really scoped about one fairly tight aspect of the facility, which was the low-level-waste disposal component. On review of the scope and the activities, ANSTO was asked to put together a more detailed plan with a broader scope. The scope increase related to having public access to the facility for a welcoming centre and knowledge transfer to the public, as well as co-locating the intermediate-level-waste storage facility. Those factors were then documented, and the department asked ANSTO, based on our experience of nuclear waste management on our site, to scope the employment envelope that would come from that. Based on our experience and our current practices, we looked at that and defined the roles and responsibilities that would be necessary to operate that facility. There's nothing, I think, particularly mysterious about the process. It's been well documented. The org charts, I believe, have been published. It's very, very consistent with what we do at ANSTO and allowed us to then give that input to the department. I was in the fortunate position of, when that document was released, being in Hawker and had extensive conversations with a number of community members about it to give them the understanding of the background around that change.

CHAIR: Senator Patrick's been good enough to provide me with a report. How many of the 45 jobs relate to the intermediate waste as opposed to the—

Dr Paterson : I'm going to pass to Hefin Griffiths.

Senator PATRICK: Just assume that we're working on the same baseline. The data we've got before us came from the Cadence Economics cost-benefit analysis that had the 45 people. I presume they got that off you?

Mr Griffiths : Yes. They would have got that from the department, but we supplied that data to the department.

Senator PATRICK: So it's the same data.

Mr Griffiths : In effect, it would be a proportion of the operational jobs. The provenance of the 15 initially came from myself as an initial estimate that did not include things like security or all the ancillary services, and I believe that that's framed within the fact sheet that the department put out. In terms of the number of jobs for the intermediate-level waste, it would be a proportion of those 10-15 operational jobs—maybe about half of those.

CHAIR: Finally, in relation to consultation with the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation, they said—although there were some caveats around it—that no member of their organisation had toured the sites with ANSTO. Do you have a comment about that?

Dr Paterson : We've been aware of that corporation and have been engaging with them. My understanding is that they will be visiting ANSTO next week. We are engaging with them and, through a number of channels, became aware of their concern in relation to consultation and communication. That was the basis of the invitation.

Senator BUSHBY: Thank you for assisting us today. It's nice to see you again. There's the issue of the jobs. Of the 45 that are estimated to be created through this, how many are likely to be able to be filled by locals? We're not talking about 45 high-level scientists coming in. Some of the jobs, I would imagine, will be able to be filled by locals. I apologise. You might have gone through this before.

Senator PATRICK: Chair, if it helps, they're public documents, but we can table them as well. There are two: one for Kimba and one for Hawker.

Senator BUSHBY: Thank you.

Mr Griffiths : My opinion would be that a significant proportion of those will be available to be filled from the community: certainly the operational jobs, the security component and many of the ancillary roles. In my experience of previously managing the waste at ANSTO and also managing the health physics at the radiation protection site, we took a number of people from outside of ANSTO who had no experience at all and, within three to six months of dedicated training, they've been able to satisfy me that they can either carry out waste technician functions or radiation protection surveyor functions. I would see no difference with the communities that I've seen quite a lot of over the last three years and that we would be able to source suitable people—

Senator BUSHBY: Suitable people who live locally and don't have specific qualifications but could be trained to do the job?

Mr Griffiths : Absolutely.

Senator BUSHBY: I'm not holding you to it, but are we talking about half or a quarter, roughly?

Mr Griffiths : I would say up to two-thirds. Also, in terms of the operational readiness model, which is something that we've learned through our experience of delivering nuclear projects at ANSTO, there has to be a significant focus on preparing the organisation to be able to operate the facility. My estimation would be that it might take up to five years. That gives us five years to allow people within the communities to get the specific qualifications that might be associated with the higher level jobs as well.

Senator BUSHBY: Thank you. Moving on to another issue, Senator Hanson-Young asked about what happens to the intermediate-level waste in the longer term. She said that the minister mentioned 100 years. What's the process for proceeding to determine a longer term storage site for the intermediate waste?

Dr Paterson : The first process is the research and technology process that looks at the intermediate-level waste forms and comes up with—

Senator BUSHBY: Sorry, I'm aware of the time constraints we've got. Are we looking at 100 years—

Dr Paterson : Yes.

Senator BUSHBY: or are you aware of any intention to do anything more quickly than that?

Dr Paterson : My view would be that the correct thing to do from an Australian perspective would be to have an active research and technology program, which we have already had in place for some period of time, including the Synroc program, which would give the public assurance. While the outer boundary of 100 years is well understood and is safe, it would make sense to come up with disposal options short of that time. I would say that, once we have the waste forms like Synroc and the vitrified waste well understood and characterised, 30 to 50 years would be well within Australian capabilities if we had a well organised program, funded it appropriately and looked at those pathways in a serious way.

Senator BUSHBY: Are you aware of any statements by anybody in the government that suggest we may be looking at getting things moving along that pathway?

Dr Paterson : I think that should be a matter for the department but I have had extensive informal discussions with the regulator about this. We need to look at all the scenarios but I think the ultimate actions would arise from the intent in government.

Senator BUSHBY: I will ask the department that one. You mentioned the social licence that you believe has developed around some of the proposals. You've been there over a number of years as part of the process. Have you seen any change in the nature of the conversation in the communities over that time?

Dr Paterson : The ANSTO teams have been extensively on the ground, and we have been digesting what has been coming out of that. ANSTO staff have made, since 2015, 32 visits to the communities and so there's been extensive time on the ground. To me, the most interesting thing has been the knowledge building, as people start off with obviously very little insight into what this could mean. When I visited earlier this year, I was impressed with the fact-based nature of the discussion. I had interactions with people who are very supportive and people who definitely didn't support it and I got the sense that people genuinely wanted to deeply understand this, no matter which position they took. ANSTO's role is to bring that factual basis. We have been privileged to invite around 200 community members to visit ANSTO over the same period. I've interacted with a number of those communities when they've come to visit, and the unique aspect of that is understanding that this waste is produced from massive social benefits that we have in our society—the availability of the opal reactor, nuclear medicine and so on. One can indeed, with a waste repository in store, become a proud part of that community. It's really been helpful as well to people to see that this is something that is part of a holistic management of the benefits of nuclear to our society and responsibly dealing with the waste that arises from that.

Senator BUSHBY: Do you think the understanding of that has improved over the last few years from when you first started to interact with the communities?

Dr Paterson : I think it has deepened a lot. In fact, when I was at Hawker, one of the people on the drills at the Hawker site stopped me as I was leaving to say that his father had had a nuclear medicine treatment and that it had extended his life by five years. He was really thankful that ANSTO was able to provide that nuclear medicine for his father.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Could I clarify for the record, does ANSTO have a particular position on where the site should be?

Dr Paterson : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Do you have any concerns for the sites that are being investigated and considered?

Dr Paterson : I'm very interested to see the engineering work-up when it's completed. We're not in a position to have the detailed information and so I don't have any particular concerns. I'm glad there are three sites being evaluated and I believe that the appropriate assessments and information will tell us whether we need to have concerns or not.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: At this point you don't have a position as to whether they're appropriate or not?

Dr Paterson : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What would be involved in transporting waste to a facility in either of those three sites?

Dr Paterson : The transport of waste would depend on the classification of the waste. Low-level nuclear waste does not require massively secure transport arrangements. Nuclear medicines are transported every week in Australia. The low-level waste has less of a radiological profile than nuclear medicine transports. Because we're familiar with nuclear medicine transports, it would be relatively straightforward to make a good public case for transport arrangements to be well monitored but they wouldn't need any special arrangements. When we transport larger intermediate-level waste casks, for example, I would hope that we would get to something like the type of arrangements that are available in countries like the United States and Switzerland, where there's no public concern about these shipments and where they take place with the normal controls that you would apply to large loads on flatbed trucks. I'm not sure that we're quite there yet, given the attention that was paid to the spent fuel shipment this last weekend. But, in principle, if we can communicate effectively with the public, I think we can significantly downgrade the security profile that we currently have for these shipments, and I think if everybody sought to understand what the real risks are and that was suitably communicated with the appropriate communities, we could significantly downgrade the current practice in Australia.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have you been consulted about or has ANSTO paid any attention to suggestions that ports in South Australia would be used for receiving intermediate waste?

Mr Griffiths : I remember a question at one of the consultative committees as to whether that would be viable. The response that I gave was that the transport containers that are used for transporting radioactive material, including radioactive waste, are multimodal in nature. That means that they can be approved for transport on road or rail or by sea. So that would be technically feasible, but that was the only extent of the answer that I gave. There has been no involvement from ANSTO, certainly, in specifying any of the transport modes or the transport routes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has ANSTO been given a copy of the site characterisation technical report? Have you seen that?

Mr Griffiths : Not as yet. I saw the very large document that was being distributed at the consultative committee, but I certainly haven't had an opportunity. Maybe the team at ANSTO that's looking at the concept design may have that.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Paterson, are you aware of that report?

Dr Paterson : I'm not aware of that report in any detail. We are undertaking, on behalf of the department, technical work in relation to the non-site-specific engineering baseline design for the intermediate-level store and the low-level repository. That's based on our knowledge of this from an engineering and technical point of view. I'll take on notice whether we've formally received those in any way. If we had received them, they'd be operating under the confidentiality agreements that attend to us undertaking technical work for the department.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: My understanding is that it was finalised on 20 July, a matter of some days ago. Page 176 of this report clearly identifies that these sites in South Australia are considered to be beneficial because of their proximity to ports in Whyalla and Port Augusta. Have you had any conversations at all about what the communities in those areas—

Dr Paterson : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Obviously, it's one thing to consult with people in relation to the storage facility, but, if there is a port that is going to be receiving this waste, surely those communities deserve to have their say as well.

Dr Paterson : I think that's something I'd leave for the department. I think the general principle is that, when transports do take place, there is extensive consultation.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So, at this point, you haven't been asked to feed in any information, aside from this one reference from Mr Griffiths in a meeting.

Dr Paterson : No, we have not been asked for any other inputs in that matter.

CHAIR: Senator Hanson-Young, you have a document that you'd like to table that you are referring to.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I've just got a copy of it, but we can ask the department whether they can table it, I think. It's the characterisation report; I've only got two pages. I'd like it tabled by the department when they come. I think it's important for us as a committee to have it.

CHAIR: Do you have any further questions?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I do, thank you. We've talked a lot about the differences between low level and intermediate level. So we can understand the levels that we're talking about, do you have at your fingertips, and can you give the committee here, how much of Australia's radioactive waste is from nuclear medicine—the lower-level medical benefit?

Dr Paterson : Do you want to have the first go in terms of the stratification of intermediate and low?

Mr McIntosh : I'll just do open and then hand over to Hefin. There is some confusion when people talk about what waste is associated with nuclear medicine. Clearly, nuclear medicine interstate that goes into hospitals and clinics is short-lived and doesn't leave a long-term waste management challenge. But, the production of nuclear medicine involves the production of radioactive waste and therefore, when we talk about the percentages associated with nuclear medicine, we're talking about the percentages associated with the production of nuclear medicine.

Mr Griffiths : ANSTO produces annually around 30 to 40 metres cubed of low-level waste, of which 75 to 80 per cent would be directly related to nuclear medicine production, and around five metres cubed of intermediate-level waste, of which 98 per cent would be associated directly with the production of nuclear medicine.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I couldn't, Dr Paterson, let you go without saying that I think tourism in the Flinders Ranges is well-known. We don't need a nuclear waste dump there to make it an attractive place. I think, as a South Australian senator, I couldn't let that go. It's a beautiful spot, and I think that's one of the reasons why people are quite concerned that Hawker has been chosen. You talked about the issue in relation to the number of jobs, and there have been some questions about why it's grown; why it hasn't. Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding from what you're saying is: it is the expansion from being a low-level facility to storing the intermediate-level waste in some capacity—that is the difference in the job growth.

Dr Paterson : Moving from the operator level of the workforce to the technical support elements, understanding in relation to security and public access to the site were drivers. I think the first estimate was based on what I would call the hands-on jobs and the substantive what you could call institutional job profile, and was done in detail once the scope of the amount of low-level waste nationally had a stronger estimate and the intermediate-level waste was fully accounted for in terms of the Commonwealth inventory. Obviously, the managerial security and technical support jobs were the additional ones. So I think the scope change was the change from an operator perspective of the facility in the early days to a full management plan and org chart associated with that.

CHAIR: Senator Hanson-Young, we're over time and Senator Gallacher does have some questions.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Just one last question.

CHAIR: One last question.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Back onto the issue of transportation, how frequently would trucks or ships be coming to and going from South Australia with this waste?

Dr Paterson : Once the overall facility and the holdings of waste are understood, the appropriate rate to bring material to the facility and to look at that would be well understood, it could be characterised. As I indicated, the large volumes of low-level waste, if there is an appropriate conversation about that, would not constitute a transport risk different to normal transport on the roads. With the intermediate-level waste, we have a lot of experience now and, assuming that the casks that come back from France go directly to the facility for the life of the OPAL reactor, there would be probably two to three shipments, we think, for the 40 years of operations.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Just to be clear, for the low-level waste, how frequently would waste be deposited?

Dr Paterson : That hasn't been determined at this point, because it would be dependent on understanding where that inventory is, what the appropriate management of it is and what type of transport arrangements would need to be put in place. So I think it's too early to tell about the frequency.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But are we talking about a truck every week, every month or every year, or several trucks? I think it's important for the community to understand what we're talking about?

Mr McIntosh : Senator, as you're aware, there are current holdings of waste at ANSTO and elsewhere, so in the initial few years of operation clearly there will be a greater volume of transport movements than you'll expect once the legacy holdings at various sites around Australia have been dealt with. Once we're into normal operation, Hef, those volumes you were talking about seem to me to be a shipment a year.

Mr Griffiths : I think a lot of it is trying to work out both the operating model for the facility and also the operating model for the generators to try to move through the legacy waste with the resources that are available at the moment. It's also to try to maximise the number of jobs in the community for as long as possible. So I think it would be a variation between one or two a week and one or two a month. Then that would be decreasing, but, as that time evolves, you would have the transport of intermediate-level waste to the final disposal site as well.

Senator GALLACHER: Just on the transport, Dr Paterson, your submission states that a person within 10 metres of a containment vehicle, if you like, would receive radioactive exposure akin to eating a banana. Is that your evidence?

Dr Paterson : I think that's pretty accurate. The way that I'd characterise it is that we make shipments to 225 hospitals and clinics every week in Australia at the moment. Those are radioactive transport events. They take place safely and with public support and understanding. I think that these types of low-level waste shipments would be no different. I think that, if public understanding were strong, they could take place with that sort of frequency. The amount of radioactivity is small, and therefore I think understanding that and communicating that effectively over the next period of years would be part of ANSTO's responsibility and part of the department's responsibility and that of all responsible users of nuclear services. I think the low-level transport should not be contested on scientific, technical and engineering grounds as being anything different to moving fuel around our country in tankers.

Senator GALLACHER: Just restating it, the waste is of a low level of radioactivity?

Dr Paterson : A very low level of radioactivity.

Senator GALLACHER: I just want to address an issue that's been raised in the South Australian parliament. Given that you've stated you have 30 to 40 cubic metres of low-level waste and five cubic metres of intermediate waste annually, there's a statement there that says that Lucas Heights can deal with long-lived intermediate waste for decades to come. Is that your assessment—that you have no constraints at Lucas Heights and you can deal with low-level and intermediate-level waste for decades?

Dr Paterson : I think the constraint from an ANSTO perspective—and I don't want to speak on behalf of ARPANSA—is that, if the regulator became concerned that Australia as a nation did not want to progress an intermediate-level waste store that was available not just to ANSTO but also to the other intermediate-level waste holders around the country, the regulator might become concerned that Australia has no intention of dealing with its intermediate-level waste in a responsible way. That would not be a good thing. I believe that the responsible thing to do is to ensure that the intermediate-level waste which is returned from the United Kingdom and France and is currently held in interim storage on the ANSTO site goes to an intermediate-level waste store appropriately co-located with the low-level waste store. The reason for that is that the interim storage that the regulator has granted us is predicated on our government having a policy of having a storage solution available nationally. I would say that all things are possible—it could be stored in all sorts of places—but the ideal thing is to have a strategy to have, according to the National Radioactive Waste Management Act, a capacity in the country to do it. The responsible thing to do as a nuclear nation is to have this capability and to have it available. I don't want to speculate on behalf of anybody else except ANSTO, but it's not appropriate to return intermediate-level waste that is currently going to be held overseas to ANSTO, because we are not an intermediate-level waste storage facility.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, gentlemen, for appearing before us.