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Economics Legislation Committee
Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation


CHAIR: Welcome, Dr Paterson. Do you have anything that you would like to say?

Dr Paterson : Thank you, Chair. I do have an opening statement.

CHAIR: Great. I would love to hear it.

Dr Paterson : Senators, I thank you for the opportunity to offer the committee an opening statement today. The National Innovation and Science Agenda has allowed ANSTO to begin 2016 with a sense of renewed optimism and excitement. But before I talk about the path ahead, I would like to note that 2015 was a very positive year for ANSTO as well. In 2015, ANSTO produced its four millionth dose of nuclear medicine at the OPAL reactor since it commenced operation in 2007.

Nuclear medicines used in diagnosis and therapy save lives. A key mission of Australia's OPAL reactor is to provide a reliable source of nuclear medicines to hospitals and patients across the nation. More broadly, this capability speaks to the importance of investing in landmark scientific infrastructure that offers real and ongoing benefits across our entire community.

Last December also saw the successful culmination of the return of waste to ANSTO for interim storage. I am proud to say, on behalf the staff and leadership of Australian agencies that took responsibility for this, that the project went smoothly and was without incident. Australia has been able to meet our international obligations and we have added to the growing list of countries that can safely transport intermediate level nuclear waste to interim storage with strong community and stakeholder support.

As I noted in opening, we are excited at what 2016 will bring. Over the next 12 months, ANSTO will be implementing a strategic agenda designed to highlight innovation and the many economic opportunities that scientific infrastructure dedicated to research and innovation can offer our nation. As part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, $520 million is being provided to ensure the long-term future of the Australian Synchrotron. This news has been celebrated by the user community, industry and medical research partners and the dedicated staff of the Australian Synchrotron itself. It provides a springboard to support the National Science and Innovation Agenda. As the operator of the Australian Synchrotron, ANSTO is committed to ensuring that the benefits of this multi-user landmark infrastructure—including world-leading cancer research and breakthroughs in lung function in newborns, for example—are able to provide, from its imaging and medical beamline and other facilities, research designed to assist Australian companies to compete more effectively on the world stage. We want to share these outcomes as widely as possible.

ANSTO is committed to innovative new technologies that will improve the health of Australians of all ages. One such technology is particle therapy. This is a cutting-edge treatment that destroys cancer non-invasively using carbon or other charged ions such as protons. ANSTO, along with other stakeholders in the health and science communities, is supporting strategic reflection on the right mix of these new therapies for our setting in Australia. I look forward to reporting back to the committee on this and indeed on the many other exciting things that ANSTO and our partners are undertaking in the months to come. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Dr Paterson. What an exciting time it is to be in nuclear medicine in Australia. I know that you have successfully repatriated, under our treaty obligations, this waste from France. Do you want to take us through how that operation—ultimately, from where I sat and watched it all going on—ran smoothly and effectively?

Dr Paterson : The operation was the subject of careful planning over a number of years. That has allowed all the agencies that were involved, which included a working group from the Commonwealth and the New South Wales government, to be coordinated over a period of time by ANSTO. The operation ran smoothly because of that planning and the understanding of how this has to be managed in a clear and systematic way as well as communicating with a wide range of stakeholders. There were extensive discussions with the community around Sutherland and the Illawarra. There were consultations with people who were concerned about the waste. We had people who had expressed those concerns come and visit ANSTO and look at our current waste management practices and so on.

Over time, it became clear that from the production of nuclear medicine and its benefits in our society comes the obligation that we need to manage that waste well and effectively. It was based on the spent fuel from the HIFAR reactor. It was reprocessed in France. The uranium and the plutonium was removed. The uranium and the plutonium went into the civilian nuclear fuel cycle to produce electricity in France, so it is repurposed in an appropriate way, and the balance of the waste is encapsulated in a glass and brought back in a container, which is currently in interim storage on the ANSTO site.

The consultation was effective. The groups who were concerned were able to voice their concerns. That discourse led to reporting on the return which was balanced and fair. From the public perception point of view, as well as from the effective development of the solution, the effective transport and the management of security around the transport allowed us to bring back this legacy waste from the HIFAR reactor to the store at ANSTO in a very successful way. There was a lot of local coverage; there was a lot of national coverage as well. Overall, it helped reinforce in people's minds that you can responsibly deal with nuclear waste and accept the benefits of nuclear medicine, because there is a disposition pathway for this waste.

CHAIR: I am at pains to point out that the government's agenda is looking for a permanent repository for what you currently have located 43 kilometres from the CBD of Sydney—is that right?

Dr Paterson : Yes, we are not far from the CBD. I think initially, in the fifties, we were considered to be a lab in the woods that seemed to be a long way from the centre of the city, but we are very much part of peri-urban Sydney now.

CHAIR: I come from South Australia, a community which is currently considering a royal commission, and the findings of that are due out on Monday. But that is a completely separate function of the South Australian government, who are looking at it, which I give them a great deal of credit for doing. In my community in South Australia, there are a number of sites that have put their hand up, mainly around the township of Kimba on the west coast. What is the difference between the town of Kimba and the suburbs of Lucas Heights?

Dr Paterson : In principle, there is no difference from the point of view of the absolute risk of managing nuclear waste. The difference from the perspective of the function of the site at Lucas Heights is that it is operating a research reactor. That research reactor attracts large numbers of people to utilise it every year. We are producing nuclear medicines, and I hope over time to expand that capacity. Consistent with international practice, the current legislation is national legislation that intends all intermediate-level waste to be stored at a national waste repository. I think, with the focus on the return of intermediate-level waste to ANSTO, there is an impression that that is the only intermediate-level waste in Australia. Of course, that is not the case. There are many hospitals around the country that have sources that are graded at that level from a waste perspective. There are also legacy issues associated with the late forties and the early fifties, where there are significant legacy wastes held by CSIRO, for example. Those legacy wastes in many cases still have to be finally categorised, but we believe a significant portion of that will fall into the category of intermediate-level waste.

The town and the region of Kimba would be in a position to demonstrate that, by receiving such waste, they could be able to safely store the intermediate-level waste and provide a repository for the low-level waste. This would be similar to many communities around the world that are doing the same thing. The reason that we make this differentiation is simply so that, where you assemble all the waste for a nation, it is done in a predictable way that supports that community through time in their mission to look after the waste. My view is that is a very special mission for any group of people to take on, and something that should be applauded and supported should the successful communities take this on.

We believe from an ANSTO perspective, for example, that, because we were in many cases responsible for part of that waste, we would have a special relationship with such communities. We would expect to provide the people of such a community, via our digital channels, with access to our educational offerings at school level. One could imagine that the nuclear medicine capabilities in regional hospitals would become a matter for partnership as well, to develop those and to strengthen the ability to utilise the benefits of nuclear medicine in those communities, as well as other communities across the country.

We do not see that the waste is, in any sense, going to be hidden away. It is something that we will look after and have custodianship of for a considerable period of time. Therefore, those communities need to be part of a respected nuclear fuel cycle based on research reactors in Australia. For us, we already have the privilege of providing the nuclear medicines and being the interim store. We would see ourselves in a long-term partnership with any community that succeeds in securing the rights to operate a national waste repository and store.

CHAIR: The elephant in the room, of course, is the fact that there is so much of this waste already within the community. It is stored in my home town at the Royal Adelaide Hospital on North Terrace, which is 100 metres from my electorate office. People walk past there every day. This is just a responsibility that Australians have to accept—that we need to be consistent with global standards of managing any of these wastes. The fact is people in South Australia should understand that we do have a nuclear industry in Australia and it saves—you can probably put a number on it—I suspect tens of thousands of lives every year.

Dr Paterson : We know that one in two Australians benefit from nuclear medicine in their lifetime, and that is a very large number of us who are benefiting. I think it is useful to think about how we deal with other forms of waste. We do tend to aggregate it and concentrate it in places where it is well managed. So, in a sense, nuclear waste is a subclass of all hazardous wastes, and you manage the hazard by having it stored well in an appropriate facility in a way that works. The actual risk increases if you do not do that. So, from our perspective, it makes a great deal of sense to develop such a facility. We think that the act is well crafted and fully able to support a national perspective on this and we are excited by the progress that will be made over the next period.

CHAIR: I hear around that it will affect branding of various products within the region. But the French have long been involved in nuclear science, and I would have thought that the French have been custodians of the aspirational brands for a long time. Is it true that, even in my industry, there is a nuclear repository being built in the iconic wine region of Champagne?

Dr Paterson : Yes, there is. There is a store in the Champagne region. It has been built and has been operating for a long period of time. I think communities need to become familiar with nuclear waste. Nuclear waste is really driven by physics, and physics is the easiest thing to measure. So when we think of waste we often think of landfills, large tips and big trucks going into those landfills. But, actually, these wastes, in many cases, are based on fairly small volumes and, in many cases, negligible volumes that are measured with devices that you can use 24 hours a day. There are no liquid wastes involved. These things will not get into the water table. These things will not be detectable. Even at the fence of the facility, you will not be able to detect that there is a radioactive waste store operating there. The laws of physics are highly predictable and the risks are absolutely calculable. The benefit of having such facilities is that it does have such a well-clarified profile. My view is that, in explaining this in an effective way to potential custodians of that waste on behalf of our community in Australia, we need to be fact based, we need to be driven by the evidence and we need to look for international best practice. I think all of those things are firmly in view.

CHAIR: So we will not stop drinking champagne?

Dr Paterson : I think it is arguable that the types of communities that make champagne are not nervous about having nuclear waste management facilities in their region.

CHAIR: In fact, they probably benefit from it through low-cost energy supply.

Dr Paterson : I cannot comment on the French system because I have not studied that exact aspect of the Champagne valleys.

CHAIR: No? Well, we await another aspect, and I know you are interested, but it is not part of your portfolio. It will be very interesting to follow the findings at 11 o'clock central standard time in South Australia on Monday, when they get released. Dr Paterson, I applaud the work you do. I think that the tens of thousands of lives that you save—the one in two people who your nuclear medicine does touch in their lifetime—should be recognised when we are having this debate about how we approach this mature depositing of what is, largely, low-level residual waste.

Senator KETTER: I note that Senator Carr has a number of questions, Dr Paterson, but allow me the indulgence of placing on the record my appreciation for the fact that your organisation hosted me and a number of other politicians in a visit to your facilities at Lucas Heights late last year. Having seen what happens there, particularly at the Bragg Institute, I think every Australian should take the opportunity to have a look at the world-leading research that is being undertaken there. Would you be able to share with us the highlights of what is happening at the Bragg Institute. I recall being quite amazed at the number of countries that have come to Australia seeking to use those facilities for their own benefit.

Dr Paterson : It was a pleasure to welcome you to ANSTO. The Bragg Institute is a facility that is attached to the OPAL research reactor. It utilises the neutrons that are produced in the reactor to undertake scientific research with a range of instruments. Those instruments are each, in their own right, designed to do different types of understanding right from the atomic scale to even the nuclear scale. The nucleus of many atoms are little magnets, so we can study the magnetic characteristics of the nucleus using the facilities at the Bragg Institute.

If you take longer wavelength neutrons—we call them cold neutrons—you can study lipids, which are very important in our bodies and fundamental to understanding things like obesity, diabetes and so on, and even in being able to understand—and this was a first for Australia—how much energy goes into the mixing of dough. It sounds like a rather mundane thing, but if you think of the amount of bread and other forms of pastry that are made around the world, if we could find a way of mixing it more efficiently, we could significantly reduce energy costs. The first experiment where this was done in a neutron beam anywhere in the world was undertaken at ANSTO.

Whether it is new energy materials or protein crystallography using neutrons—we use the X-ray equivalent down at the synchrotron in Clayton in Melbourne—these are the fundamental tool kit of modern research. We were very fortunate that, when the OPAL reactor was considered, it was decided to build a world-class neutron scattering beam hall. That beam hall was recently visited by a group of international science officers from around the world. They came to see what Australia is doing in this regard because the Bragg Institute is one of the top four or five neutron scattering facilities in the world today.

We also operate the reactor 300 days a year in order to provide security of supply for nuclear medicines, so it is also the most available neutron factory for this type of research in the world. Most of the facilities—the other research reactors and spallation sources—that do this sort of work typically operate between 110 and about 240 days maximum. So we have found ourselves in the position now where we can work with some of the top research collaborators around the world on difficult and intractable problems in biology that go to human health, or develop new forms of materials to understand large structures, the welds and the quality of the welding in those structures. There has been a lot of work done on rail systems, both at the synchrotron and at the Bragg Institute. It is the complementarity of having neutron facilities and X-ray facilities that places Australia in a unique position, as a science-intensive country, to mobilise our own scientists with these resources.

ANSTO does not do all of the work itself. I think this is sometimes not understood, and it is something that we do want to emphasise. We have instrument scientists and beamline scientists who support literally hundreds—in fact, thousands—of other users who come to visit the facility to use the facility. We are not just doing research that is of interest to ANSTO; but, across all of the disciplines that utilise these techniques, you can get merit-based access to these facilities. Scientists from around the world compete to come to the Bragg Institute, and then it is our job to provide them with the facilities that allow their experiments to be very, very successful. They publish those results and secure the advance of knowledge in that way. If they want to privatise those results and keep them for themselves, we have a user-pays system so that nobody is getting a free ride here. If you want to keep those results confidential and secure the intellectual property, you are able to do that on a user-pays basis.

I give a lot of credit to the staff of the Bragg Institute, our engineering staff, the operators of the OPAL reactor who have developed this internationally-respected capacity. It was really interesting to interact with these global officials who came and visited and to find out what their view was. They were, I think, pleasantly surprised to see that a country like Australia, which has a long-term strategic vision for science and innovation, is mobilising these sorts of facilities. We do not have everything. Some people come to us, and then we are allowed to have other Australian scientists go to other facilities around the world, because we are a genuine partner. We are not just the last flight; we are a genuine partner.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.

Senator LUDLAM: There was a bit of press last week or a week or two ago about your radioisotope production, which others have been discussing this morning, grinding to a halt unless you are able to expand your storage facilities. I want to take you through that a little bit. I think it was drawn from your public works submission rather than any statements that you might have made in the press. It said that you may have to cease production of medical isotopes by 2017—that is not far away—because of waste storage limitations. I want you to step through what is going on out there. It said:

"Without additional interim waste storage capacity, ANSTO's ability to operate within its regulatory framework will be compromised when its current waste storage capacity is exhausted in the first half of 2017,"…

That refers to on-site storage, doesn't it? That is not directly related to the site-selection process that Minister Frydenberg is engaged in?

Dr Paterson : I do believe you are drawing from our public works submission of a number of years ago. It is important that we are able to secure a national waste repository and store. My understanding, from discussions that I have had with the regulator, is that the regulator would be extremely uncomfortable—and I think that is a technical term for 'potentially concerned about the long-term viability of the facilities'—if there was not a national waste repository and store, or a process that was deterministic to achieve that.

When that submission was made our intermediate- and low-level waste storage facilities, under various scenarios of operation, were going to be challenged in 2017. That is the reason, as you will recall from some of the earlier discussions on new policy proposals, we made and secured new policy proposals to expand those facilities. That planning is now well advanced. We are in a position to offset the risk of 2017 probably into the early 2020s, but that will also be dependent on the scale of certain activities that we undertake. So you are absolutely correct to draw attention to that, but good planning and careful negotiation with our stakeholders and the department, who have supported us, has offset that risk, and it can no longer be framed in the way that you have put it to us.

Senator LUDLAM: You do not get to write TheAdvertiser's headlines for them, so I am not asking you to take responsibility for the way in which the articles ran, but Peter Jean, political reporter, in The Advertiser on 4 February had a pretty big, attention-grabbing headline: 'Australia’s nuclear reactor will stop making lifesaving medicines next year unless waste storage facilities are expanded'. That is not actually true, though, is it? It is not the case.

Dr Paterson : It is a very interesting article, but, as I have indicated, it is based on material that has been superseded.

CHAIR: It is not a very good indictment of The Advertiser, is it?

Senator LUDLAM: Like I said, it is not Dr Paterson's headline—

CHAIR: Your qualification is noted.

Senator LUDLAM: When you say 'offset risks until the early 2020s', could you flesh that out a little bit for us.

Dr Paterson : Yes. There are various forms of waste. Typically the low-level waste would be of limited regulatory concern over time, unless the volumes are such that the site itself would start to have challenges storing them. So the general approach that you take is to use a number of strategies that are well used around the world. The first one is called 'delay and decay', where you can hold very low-level waste for a period of time until the thresholds of radiation are essentially similar to the background. And in those cases they can be sent to a more standard waste repository.

The second thing that one can do is to store the waste for a period of time that allows the background to fall. And then for example with a lot of these wastes—things like gloves, gowns and goggles and so on that are used in pharmaceutical production—the 44 gallon drums can actually be compressed into what we call a puck. That is a very small drum which is a tiny fraction of the size. So the second strategy is volume reduction. Volume reduction will be applied as part of the solutions that we are intending to adopt on the site.

Senator LUDLAM: And both of those apply to low-level waste only?

Dr Paterson : They apply to the low-level waste. That is correct.

The third area that one can then undertake is to make sure that all of your waste solutions you are developing on the site are enveloped by the waste acceptance criteria that are likely to be applied in the waste repository that is eventually established. That is an important principle because that means there is no requirement to reprocess the waste prior to putting it into the low-level repository. So we develop all of our solutions that we utilise on the site at ANSTO and in consultation with our peers and partners overseas in order to meet the waste acceptance criteria which we think will be conservative relative to any requirements the regulator sets in the future.

Senator LUDLAM: Just for interest's sake, did any of your public affairs people contact News Corp to ask them to dial down the hysteria? I am not sure that kind of headline is particularly helpful to your cause or indeed to anybody's.

Dr Paterson : I will take that on notice. I think we would all like to avoid hysteria.

Senator LUDLAM: Indeed. These kind of headlines do not help.

Senator Sinodinos: What was the headline?

Senator LUDLAM: 'Australia's nuclear reactor will stop making lifesaving medicines next year unless waste storage facilities are expanded.' Dr Paterson has just explained that the situation is a little bit more complex than that.

CHAIR: Welcome to South Australian journalism! Sorry—subeditors probably put the headline in, and the journalist is probably not responsible for the headline.

Senator LUDLAM: Indeed. That is commonly the case. I am just wondering whether ANSTO or Dr Paterson or anybody else sought to have the record corrected. So that then would be consistent. I understand that community meetings that are not being held by ANSTO—although ANSTO staff may well be involved—around the current siting consultations with six sites have been told that there is not fewer than eight years of storage capacity at ANSTO. Is that reasonably consistent with what you have just told us?

Dr Paterson : I would say it is consistent.

Senator LUDLAM: Is ANSTO participating directly in those consultations that are happening at six sites around the country?

Dr Paterson : The ANSTO has a number of roles. First of all, we provide technical expertise to the department in relation to the factual basis and the material that is provided to make sure it is consistent with the understanding that we have of nuclear waste management in the global setting. We make sure that it is accurate from a scientific perspective and that it is accurate from the ability to sustain it in all types of discourse right through from social licence discourse to discourse with the regulator. We need a consistent, coherent and well-established basis on which to have these discussions, and that is what we are trying to achieve. So that is the first level.

The second level is that we invite communities to ANSTO with the support of the department so that they can see the current practice as established at ANSTO and see the sort of scale of activities. They can see the predictability of the activities. I was talking earlier about the laws of physics and how predictable they are, and they can see that there is a good risk-management framework with which you can operate these facilities. In fact, it is all in many ways rather dull and boring once you have got the established practices in place.

The third level we are involved in is that we support the department with technical expertise on the ground in the community consultations and the particular areas. And again, our role is to provide factual and evidential basis and to provide information. We seek to take note of what community concerns are so that information can be provided. That is generated by us, provided to the department, and the department takes ultimate accountability for the process of defining the outcome in relation to the national waste repository and store.

Senator LUDLAM: That is good segue to the recent return of intermediate level or reprocessing waste that was returned from France. The shipping company was quite heavily criticised around licensing and fitness for purpose of the vessel and so on. But once it passed into ANSTO's custody, what can you tell us about the transition of waste once it came onshore, and has that gone without incident?

Dr Paterson : Just to put it on the record very clearly, ANSTO never criticised any of the shipping arrangements.

Senator LUDLAM: No. You guys did not, but others did.

Dr Paterson : I just want to put that on the record for absolute clarity. We were comfortable with those and we believe that all the appropriate regulators and shipping authorities certified that that was a safe transport. We think that is the factual basis on which we were then able to take it off the ship. When it was received onshore it was transported safely to ANSTO and transhipped on to a secondary staging trailer. The secondary staging trailer was moved into the facility, and it was safely lifted with a crane using the appropriate approach that had been certified by a regulator and placed in the correct place in the store. There have been a significant number of visitors subsequently to see it in place. We are comfortable that at every stage that was conducted in a way that was absolutely consistent with the licence arrangement that we have with ARPANSA; the practices we have observed in other jurisdictions and settings; and the intentions of the actual conduct of the planned events. So I think the answer is that we saw no nonconformances to the plan, as planned.

Senator LUDLAM: How long do you believe then that waste can be stored there safely? How long before there would become a level of risk that that you would be uncomfortable managing? It sounds like you are pretty happy with the emplacement. How long can it remain there safely?

Dr Paterson : The licence basis of the cask is 60 years for storage. From an ANSTO perspective, we believe that it would be appropriate to store it into the latter part of this decade or the early part of the next decade. The waste return from the United Kingdom is on a slightly different basis to the waste return from France because there was a political agreement at the time that the return of waste from the UK would go to a final repository. From that point of view, there does need to be a national waste repository and store in order to meet the detailed outline of what was agreed with the UK government. So I would not like the fact that we have an interim store at ANSTO in any way to cloud the broader discussion, which is the intermediate level waste in hospitals and clinics around the country, the intermediate level waste held in industrial stores—

Senator LUDLAM: I think actually now you are distracting. I want to keep this discussion to the spent fuel and the reprocessing wastes. I am happy to engage in a discussion about other categories, but I think—

CHAIR: But it does go to the treaty.

Senator LUDLAM: I am very happy to discuss that, but it is actually quite difficult for people trying to follow this debate when suddenly we are conflating quite different categories of material at different sites. So if we could, for the moment, Dr Paterson, confine our discussion to the reprocessing wastes and the spent fuel.

Dr Paterson : I am happy to do that.

Senator LUDLAM: That would help. I am not averse to a conversation about the distributed material. I understand that is also very important. Senator Sinodinos, if you want to grab this, if it is a policy question, I am happy for you to take it. I am presuming that those license agreements with the government of the UK could be amended by mutual consent of both parties. They are not chipped into stone, I would presume. If the Australian government petitioned British authorities for return of that material for interim storage at Lucas Heights, is there any reason why that could not occur?

Dr Paterson : I think that is beyond my pay grade.

Senator Sinodinos: And it is beyond mine at the moment. I have got a specific briefing on that and I can follow it up.

Senator LUDLAM: These agreements have been amended before. That is my understanding, and I do not imagine they are set down in stone.

Senator Sinodinos: But how long ago would that have been? It would be going back a while, would it not?

Senator LUDLAM: Some of this material was meant to have been returned to Australia already. I do not want to deal in hypotheticals.

Dr Paterson : I can comment on that. I think we must make a distinction between the political agreements that underpin this and the contractual arrangements. The contractual arrangements have been changed, in many cases to the benefit of Australia because of careful negotiation, but I do not know of any instance where a waste agreement between two sovereign states has been unilaterally changed by a request from a receiving country. That would be very unusual.

Senator LUDLAM: If it were by request, it would not be unilateral, but maybe that is just semantics. There is the 60-year licence. You refer to the big containers, the casks, that waste is encapsulated in at the moment.

Dr Paterson : That is correct.

Senator LUDLAM: What is meant to happen to them in year 61?

Dr Paterson : Normally, after about 50 years you would, if it were not fully dispositioned with a long-term storage solution—let me take the three opportunities that might arise. The first opportunity is that a long-term store might have been developed over the 60-year period. You would then disposition the waste out of the cask into the long-term store.

Senator LUDLAM: You can actually retrieve the material?

Dr Paterson : Yes, that is a very plausible scenario. Secretary Moniz, for example, is talking about looking at new ways in the United States of doing this—potentially using drilling technologies and so on—so there will be a lot of innovation between now and 60 years time that might get very cost-effective and efficient disposition pathways for this.

Senator LUDLAM: One would certainly hope so.

Dr Paterson : It is, in fact, one of the more exciting developments in the last period, so we agree about that.

Senator LUDLAM: You said there were three.

Dr Paterson : The second one is that you would look at recertification of the storage cask. Typically, they are licensed on a very conservative basis and therefore you would look at what we call the accumulated operating experience of these casks. It is a pretty standard cask. It is used widely around the world. Nuclear specialists meet on a regular basis to assess what is going on with these casks.

Senator LUDLAM: So, case by case, you could roll the licence forward?

Dr Paterson : In principle, you could do a licence extension. If that licence extension, for whatever regulatory reason or local conditions reason, was not applicable, you could then look at redispositioning the waste to an alternative storage modality. That is probably the least favourable. I would imagine that, from the sort of long-range technology scanning that we do, the most likely is that there will be a disposition pathway of the first type that I described.

Senator LUDLAM: We will see. I presume that part of option 3 could be that you pull it out one of the casks and put it into another one and licence that for another 60 years.

Dr Paterson : Yes. In general, though, it would not be licensing a cask of the same sort, because the technology would have moved on and you would therefore take the improvement.

Senator LUDLAM: One would certainly hope so. Understood. Thank you, Dr Paterson. That is helpful. The material that has just been returned from France is containerised in that fashion. Again, if we can just contain this part of the discussion to the spent fuel or the reprocessing wastes that have been returned from overseas, how much of that category of material do you have currently on site that is not containerised in that way and is being stored in some other fashion?

Dr Paterson : We have no reprocessed spent fuel that is not containerised in that fashion.

Senator LUDLAM: So nothing, either of the spent fuel straight out of the back of the reactor or the material that has been returned under obligation from reprocessing plants, is outside such containers?

Dr Paterson : We have some holdings of spent fuel that will be returned for reprocessing still from the HIFAR era—a very small number of fuel assemblies—and from the OPAL reactor we are in negotiations in order to get a solution that would serve the entire life of the OPAL reactor.

Senator LUDLAM: That is with the United States government?

Dr Paterson : No, that is with the French.

Senator LUDLAM: Still with the French?

Dr Paterson : Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: So the fuel is fabricated in the United States, but the French would provide—

Dr Paterson : Yes. With the OPAL reactor, the uranium is very often sourced via the United States, but the fuel itself is fabricated in France.

Senator LUDLAM: Could you explain for us—I do not think I have ever put this to you directly—why is it Australian government policy to reprocess spent fuel? Why not just put the spent fuel on ice without going through the additional reprocessing cycle?

Dr Paterson : There are a number of reasons. Reprocessing minimises the volumes that will be required for storage in the future. Secondly, it reduces the total activity of the waste that you are going to store relative to spent fuel. Thirdly, there is a supply chain in place, which is well understood, which is the French processes that allow that to happen. Fourthly, it makes sense to get a very limited volume back in a small number of casks than to hold spent fuel over long periods of time. In addition to that, you are avoiding various management issues with spent fuel, not least of which is the corrosion of spent fuel elements.

Senator LUDLAM: Where is ANSTO up to in your plans to increase medical isotope production? You have addressed this briefly, so just a quick summary if you could.

Dr Paterson : We are upgrading the production capacity of our building 54 plant at present. We are in the construction phase for the nuclear medicine facility, which will expand our production to about 20 per cent of world supply.

Senator LUDLAM: By when are you hoping to hit that benchmark?

Dr Paterson : That will be operating during the course of the 2017 calendar year, but we are not in a position to make full predictions because there are regulatory processes that we do not control.

Senator LUDLAM: That is fine, to within the nearest year is useful. That is before your new synroc plant is due to be commissioned in 2019, so how is ANSTO going to manage the build-up of liquid wastes?

Dr Paterson : The scale and scope of the synroc plant is designed to process the legacy liquid wastes from alkaline production as well as the ongoing production that will come out of that plant. As I indicated to you earlier, we have a delay period before we do that. So from the new plant there will be no impact at all from that construction period because we will really only operate on the wastes that come out of the new plant from about 2021 or 2022. The whole synroc plant development, as a first-of-a-kind nuclear plant, is not pinned to waste holdings; it is pinned to getting the engineering right and building a plant that will be the first of its kind in the world and potentially become one of many around the world in the future.

Senator LUDLAM: First in the world is ambitious. What if it is further delayed or you come up against insurmountable obstacles? It is not as if you are walking in a well-trodden path. What happens to those inventories of liquid wastes as you ramp up medical isotope production?

Dr Paterson : We use technology maturity analysis to evaluate that risk. Our current technology maturity analysis suggest that the risk is very, very low. We will use all of the typical tools that first-of-a-kind engineers use to assess that risk. If that risk increases, we will have to reflect on that and determine what the best way forward is. But, at the moment, that is not a risk that is right at the top of the risk register.

Senator LUDLAM: It does not really sound like there is a plan B if your synroc plant is not online in time.

Dr Paterson : It is important that there are always plan Bs. But, with respect to the synroc plant, there is no requirement to advance plan Bs at this stage.

Senator LUDLAM: In 2017, when you are at full production, you will be meeting 20 per cent of the world market. What will be the balance of production for domestic use and export?

Dr Paterson : It is difficult to determine in detail. The domestic market includes our current regional customers. That includes New Zealand, which has benefited from Australia's research reactors over many years, and Thailand, South Korea and so on. The current supply has expanded over the last few years. The expansion of supply with the new plant would take us to about three times the capacity we currently have today. But remember there is the problem of decay: if you do not move it efficiently to where it is meant to be, you have less than you think you have.

Senator LUDLAM: You lose it. But, if you draw a pie chart in the air, how big is the wedge for domestic consumption—include the Kiwis in that if you like—and how much of it is for international markets?

Dr Paterson : As I said, until you know the full logistics and how that market develops, that changes. Initially Australia will be a bigger proportion of that, and as the supply chains develop into the rest of the world, it will become smaller and smaller. But it becomes smaller faster than you expect because of the logistic effect.

CHAIR: But it is a substantial opportunity.

Dr Paterson : It is a substantial opportunity. The security of supply for Australia is a primary driver. The international supply to provide a stable baseline for nuclear medicine globally is a strong secondary driver. To put it in context, internationally ANSTO will become responsible for about 11½ million doses a year.

Senator LUDLAM: I still find it a bit difficult to understand how you could be spending this much money on a new plant and still—presumably the Australian market is not changing radically, so you know how much your domestic demand is. So I find it a bit curious that there is not even a rough estimate of the balance between domestic and overseas.

Dr Paterson : As I said, we do not believe the local markets will change very much for Australia and New Zealand in the short term.

Senator LUDLAM: So you should be able to say on the back of an envelope what your surplus production is—and presumably that will all be heading overseas.

Dr Paterson : As I said, the regional markets are existing markets. The expansion of those markets is something that we would have envisaged doing with building 54. The major new markets are North America and also potentially China.

Senator LUDLAM: To be continued. Thank you.

Senator KIM CARR: I would like to congratulate you, Dr Paterson, on the funding you received for the synchrotron. I presume you are quite pleased with that outcome.

Dr Paterson : I think it is a fabulous outcome for all of the users and the communities who benefit from the synchrotron. I think the staff are also pretty happy about it.

Senator KIM CARR: I am pleased to hear that too. I understand that the funding is now locked into 2025-26.

Dr Paterson : Yes, it is a 10-year envelope.

Senator KIM CARR: Are you able to break down for me the cost of the operation per annum and the extent to which there is capital funding involved in that expenditure?

Dr Paterson : The breakdown at a summary level is that embedded in that money is the operating cost for new beam lines; it envisages that the facility will expand. For the beam lines that I built, and the future beam lines, there is a category of funding called depreciation capital, which keeps them in operating condition. In fact, one of the great strengths of this funding envelope is that, for the first time, we will be able to get into a predictable asset maintenance framework for the current synchrotron and for the future build.

Senator KIM CARR: That is very good.

Dr Paterson : At present there is no formal envelope for that capital expansion because the intention is to seek partnerships for aspects of that.

Senator KIM CARR: So you are relying on an external source to actually establish the extra beam lines?

Dr Paterson : I think we are relying on two sources. The first would be to gain operational experience in the facility to develop the current beam lines to make them more effective. That would have an increased user throughput. The second one is to start to develop a case—which has in fact already happened and was launched in January—to seek partners for a range of beam lines that have been identified by the community. This is done around the world. In general, the central facility provides relatively focused capital inputs and that attracts other capital so that it fits together effectively.

Senator KIM CARR: You have identified an additional eight beam lines as your priority.

Dr Paterson : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: Has any money been put aside for any of those eight?

Dr Paterson : In the envelope we have at the moment it has not been shaken down in detail, but there is no provision for the full scale of those beam lines in the funding envelope.

Senator KIM CARR: So how long will it be before we can expect some development on the new beam lines?

Dr Paterson : I believe this is the first step that we have taken to engage the interest of our communities in the beam lines. In a sense, we have started at the conceptual stage. We have a certain amount of maturity and pre-conceptual engineering as well. From that point of view, whatever the detailed timing is, we have got a running start.

Senator KIM CARR: What is the cost per beam line?

Dr Paterson : The cost is between about $7 million and $13 million a beam line. Some of the beam lines are simpler in their nature. Some of them are more complex and require more expensive detectors and so on. This document called 'BR-GHT', which came out in January and is based on a number of years of consultation with the user community, does indeed have a series of beam line options embedded in it. Following the announcement of the funding, we felt that it was propitious to start a discussion about the next phase of capital.

Senator KIM CARR: Will we find this document on your website?

Dr Paterson : It is indeed on the website. I have been told that it is important that documents are now produced in this framework in order to grab attention. It is called BR-GHT. It is something we are very proud of because it is a great moment for the synchrotron to think about capital expansion again.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you very much, Dr Paterson.

CHAIR: I have one last question before we let you go. In international terms, how are you rated in governance and regulation against the best-performing nuclear countries? If you are rated, how do you stack up?

Dr Paterson : There are a number of measures that are applied. One of the interesting ones, from a nuclear security point of view, is the National Threat Initiative, which looks at individual countries around the world from the point of view of nuclear security. Australia has been placed first in that for the last three surveys, which is pretty good because we are heading into a nuclear security summit in Washington in March. For us to—

CHAIR: For the last three surveys? What period would that have covered?

Dr Paterson : It is a six-year period.

CHAIR: We have been first in the world for what?

Dr Paterson : For nuclear security.

CHAIR: Keep going.

Dr Paterson : It is the ability to control our nuclear materials and to make sure that it is understood where they are and they are looked after properly.

CHAIR: Does that cover regulation, governance, oversight and all those things?

Dr Paterson : It covers all of those things: regulatory competence, the underlying support of government for the appropriate use of materials, non-proliferation policies and so on.

CHAIR: Is that in your 'BR-GHT' document?

Dr Paterson : It is not yet, but—

CHAIR: You probably should put it in there. We are number 1 in the world!

Dr Paterson : We are very proud of the practice that our regulators help us maintain.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Dr Paterson and the officers from ANSTO. We thank you very much for your attendance. We wish you well. I think it is going to be a very big year in your sector, so let's look forward to that with a great deal of anticipation. Dr Paterson, you will have one of those signs for me too at some stage, won't you?

Dr Paterson : It is widely distributed.

CHAIR: Thank you. I now call on the officers of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, affectionately known as CSIRO.