Senate inquiry recommends passing of Australian waste bill

17 September 2020

An Australian Senate committee has recommended that Parliament pass legislation that would make Napandee in South Australia the site for a low and medium-level nuclear waste facility. The Senate Standing Committee on Economics issued its final report on the provisions of the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020 on 14 September.

ARWA's concept design for the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (Image: ARWA)

The Senate in February referred the provisions of the bill to the committee for inquiry and report, to give Parliament and other interested stakeholders further opportunity to engage on the issue, Australia's Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, Keith Pitt, said. "We acknowledge the report handed down today by the Committee. We thank the Committee members for their work and acknowledge the recommendations that have been made. This report puts us one step closer to siting a facility to safely dispose of our low-level radioactive waste and temporarily store our intermediate-level waste, a process which has been ongoing for four decades," he added.

The bill would establish a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility to permanently dispose of low-level radioactive waste and temporarily store intermediate-level radioactive waste by amending the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012 to, amongst other things, specify the site selected and enable the acquisition of additional land for the facility.

The committee held four public hearings and received 105 submissions and over 3600 items of correspondence in response to the inquiry. In its final report, it recommends that the bill be passed without further amendment. It also recommends the Australian Radioactive Waste Agency (ARWA) "discuss the issues and find a way for ongoing consultation" with the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation.

Australia does not produce nuclear energy but has a long experience of operating research reactors and producing radioisotopes for use in medicine, research and industry. According to World Nuclear Association, the country produces about 45 cubic metres of mostly low-level radioactive waste per year from the manufacture and use of radioisotopes. This waste is currently stored at over a hundred sites around the country, including science facilities, hospitals and universities. Six volunteered sites were shortlisted for a national repository for both categories of waste, and after a process lasting some 28 years Napandee, near Kimba, was earlier this year identified by the government as the preferred site for the low-level waste facility.

ARWA was set up in July to manage all Australia's radioactive waste and to lead the process to deliver the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility. It will also lead a separate process to site a facility to permanently dispose of the country's intermediate-level waste. This will likely be a deep geological facility in a different location.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News