South Australian site to host national radwaste facility

29 November 2021

Napandee near Kimba in South Australia has been formally selected as the location of a national low and medium-level radioactive waste facility. Under the relevant legislation, the declaration today by Australia's Minister for Resources and Water Keith Pitt has the effect of the Commonwealth acquiring about 211 hectares of land for the purpose of hosting the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF).

The Napandee nominated site (Image: Australian Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources)

Following a call for site nominations in 2015, Napandee was voluntarily nominated in 2017 by its landowner as a possible site to host the facility.

In September 2020, an Australian Senate committee recommended that Parliament pass legislation that would make Napandee the preferred site for the facility. The bill would establish a national 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.

On 11 August, Pitt announced his decision to issue notices of an intention to declare Napandee as the proposed site for the facility. Following a period of further consultation, the Australian government today confirmed the site has been selected to host the NRWMF.

Construction of the facility will begin after detailed designs, technical and heritage studies are completed. The facility delivery and operation will be managed by the Australian Radioactive Waste Agency (ARWA) in Adelaide. The application and approval processes are expected to take a number of years to be completed.

ARWA noted today's announcement "is another step towards a AUD31 million (USD22 million) Community Development Package to support the local host community."

"I'm pleased to confirm we have reached a major milestone in our work to deliver this national facility, and a solution that has eluded consecutive governments for more than 40 years," Pitt said. "This new facility will create 45 new, permanent jobs in the local Kimba community, in fields as diverse as security, administration, environmental monitoring, scientific services, health and safety."

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 was last year identified by the government as the preferred site for the low-level waste facility.

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) said the development of a purpose-built, national facility is "crucial to ANSTO and its nuclear medicine and research activities, with more than 90% of the waste produced in Australia being linked to ANSTO's nuclear medicine production."

Pitt said: "Nuclear medicine is used in the diagnosis of a variety of heart, lung and muscular-skeletal conditions as well as the treatment of specific cancers, and a by-product of its production is low-level radioactive waste. Along with the benefits comes a responsibility to manage the by-products. Without a facility like this, we can't enjoy the benefits from vital nuclear medicines on an ongoing basis.

"This facility will underwrite Australia's nuclear medicine supplies, and support good, permanent, full-time jobs and a brand new industry in Kimba, for generations."

ARWA was set up in July 2020 to manage all Australia's radioactive waste and to lead the process to deliver the NRWMF. 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