From the formation of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission (AAEC) to the setting up of the Research Reactor Review (RRR) in 1992, nuclear activities in Australia had never been publicly and independently examined. When the McKinnon committee released its report into "the need for a new reactor" in August 1993 it could find no compelling scientific reasons to recommend to the Government to proceed with a new reactor. It did however leave the door slightly open on the matter of National Interest, surely the least explainable aspect of spending half a billion dollars of public money.
In the light of its negative findings, it aborted the second stage of its inquiry, and proposed that if, at some later stage a new reactor is envisaged, it should be assessed by a new panel, possibly operating under the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974. That option was available to the Minister for the Environment Senator Hill but in 1997 the Government had no stomach for another public rejection of a new reactor. It preferred to hide behind the screen of 'Cabinet-in Confidence', a ploy that makes a mockery of openness and one that is most certainly not in the National Interest.
Having observed ANSTO deny access to important documents at the 1998/9 Senate Inquiry, during the EIS and before the Joint Public Works Committee hearings into the contract, using the 'Commercial-in Confidence' excuse, one wonders at the powers of this organisation. There is also its conflicting role as proponent, supplicant and chief advisor to government(s) on nuclear issues. Its powers, influence and access to public money to advance its cause appear boundless. As was its ability in September 1997 to, overnight, turn the majority of those members of Federal, State and Local Government in the Sutherland Shire who were on record as opposing a new reactor, into avid supporters.
The Centre has supported the Sutherland Shire Council's call for an independent, public inquiry, preferably a Royal Commission, so that all the contentious issues could be presented and impartially reviewed. This has been rejected and we have to rely on this Committee to flesh out the many unanswered questions surrounding this costly project. Its outcome will depend on its ability to obtain full and honest answers from both ANSTO and Government Departments.
This submission will deal only lightly on many of the terms of reference due to constraints of time and manpower. There will be some suggested questions that should be put and answers insisted on. First I will list the recommendations that were included in our submission to the previous Senate Committee. Most are still outstanding.
Recommendations to Senate Committee
1.5 Recommendation: An Auditor is essential if only to balance slightly the outrageously partial nature of this shameful exercise. We ask that this Committee immediately call upon the Minister to make the appointment.
1.8 Recommendation: That the Committee obtain a fully detailed and costed report of the alleged study to find a site for a replacement nuclear reactor. That this report, if it exists, be made public.
1.9 Recommendation: That the Committee obtain from the Department of Primary Industry and Energy an estimate of the cost for a national waste repository and that the figure be made public.
1.11.3 Recommendation: That the Committee arrange for the public attitudes survey to be carried out again to determine what changes to attitudes, if any, have taken place during the past 12 months. The cost would be far less than the $40,000 for the original poll and should be taken from the $6 million ANSTO has been given for the EIS.
1.11.5 Recommendation: That the Committee persuade the NSW government to carry out a thorough health study of the communities around the reactor site, using, amongst other tools, hospital records. It should attempt to check death records of all people who have lived in the area since the reactor was commissioned in 1958. The Commonwealth government should fund this.
1.11.7 Recommendation: That the Commonwealth government provide insurance cover for personal injury and property loss (including loss of property values and social disruption) in the event of an accident at the reactor site which has off-site consequences. This would eliminate the need for individuals to take the government to court in civil proceedings. Remember the "Voyager" and "Agent Orange" cases.
2.2 Recommendation: That the Committee contact Professor Allen and get his informed opinion on the matter.
2.4 Recommendation: That the Committee urgently contact the authors of these papers as well as the persons mentioned in the acknowledgement to obtain their first hand views.
3.3 Recommendation: Now that an area for the national waste dump has been selected from the eight suggested by the NRIC - the Woomera option - an estimate of its cost be obtained from the Minister and that it be made public. It is beyond belief that such an undertaking be started without some idea of its cost.
3.4 Recommendation: That the Committee investigate the question of the "co-location" at this site, of the long lived Intermediate Waste which will return from Dounreay. Will it be yet another "interim measure"? If so, how long is it envisaged to stay at the site? How would it be stored? Above ground and retrievable or below ground? What are the estimated half lives of the contents of the concreted wastes? Note: some of these decay into 'daughter' isotopes with even longer half lives. Has deep underground permanent disposal been considered" If not why not?
3.5 Recommendation: That the Committee investigates the cuts in government funding to scientific, medical and industrial research and development over the past two budgets and compares these with the costs which are being and will continue to be incurred to run HIFAR and any replacement. That it makes an estimate of any job losses which have taken place due to funding costs.
3.6 Recommendation: That Professor Stocker be consulted and his opinion be asked about the cost/benefits of this proposal. (It could be the first time he has been asked.)
4.3 Recommendation: That your Committee consult Professor McKinnon and the other members of his team from the RRR and ask his opinion as to whether the conditions set out in his report have been met.
5.10 That the decision to proceed with the building of a new reactor at Lucas Heights was made before the Probability Safety Assessment report on the HIFAR reactor has been made public. Indeed the Minister has suggested that the full report might be kept away from the public (and Local Council) and only the Executive Summary released - some time. Can your committee have this essential report made public? If not, a public statement as to why it is so secret should be made.
Please note that the paragraph numbers refer to our 1998 submission.
The need for a new research reactor, including:
a) The adequacy of supply and the cost of radioactive sources and nuclear medicines used in diagnosis and treatment.
In previous encounters with ANSTO questions have been raised about the importation of radioisotopes. Claims were made by ANSTO that up to 30% arrived late or unusable. Contrary evidence was given that the South African suppliers to Australia claimed over 98%+ on time. Senators have asked the obvious question of ANSTO, 'please supply details', only to be peremptorily dismissed because of "Commercial-in Confidence'. Which raises the point, how can this possibly be a commercial-in-confidence issue? Surely the foreign suppliers, if their excellent supply claim were correct, would be pleased that this detail was made public.
The Committee should demand proof from ANSTO that there is any validity to its story.
I will raise also the quality of ANSTO's radioisotopes. I understand from an employee that its quality is such that Australia can only supply to its home market and export to South East Asia including New Zealand. On the other hand their overseas competitors, again including South Africa, produce a quality that enables them to export to the more developed parts of the world.
Is the problem caused by the product from the reactor or its subsequent processing at Australian Radioisotopes (ARI)? Is this the high-tech research/production organisation that is being showered by public subsidies?
b) The opportunities for alternative sources of nuclear materials for medical applications, such as additional cyclotrons at appropriate locations.
This is a sad saga of missed opportunity and lack of interest by Commonwealth Governments over the past nine years. During the 1992/3 Research Reactor Review Dr, Lagunas-Solar of the University of California offered to collaborate with Dr Gary Egan of the Cyclotron Centre of the Austin Hospital in Melbourne to evaluate the cyclotron method of producing technetium99m. Funding of some $2 million was asked of the Government and it was duly refused.
In 1997, during the period of the EIS on the suitability of Lucas Heights for a new reactor, ANSTO produced what was purported to be a review of Dr Lagunas-Solar's work. Whether by an oversight or by design no approach was made to the Doctor and this resulted in a letter from him to Prime Minister Howard that pointed out that the review did not provide a balanced or objective view on the actual status of the research or the conclusions of the work. So much for the truth and beauty of the pure scientific mind. A copy of his letter is attached.
More recently there was an article in Nuclear Technology, April 1999, an industry magazine sent out under plain wrapper from an ANSTO employee. Its title was ' A System of 99m Tc Production based on Distributed Electron Accelerators and Thermal Separation' . A copy of this is attached. Its source is from the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory of Lockheed Martin Idaho Technologies Company. Whilst its detail is incomprehensible to me its introduction and conclusions reinforced our belief that alternative to reactors are or could be, available. All that was needed was the cutting of the umbilical cord between an entrenched nuclear industry and its political financial providers.
The advantages of the system were that the end product would not need government subsidy (as with reactor based materials) - its cost would be around 1 / 3 that made in reactors - there would not be the radioactive waste problem caused by reactors - the plant could not be used for weapons research - the capital costs would be a fraction of a new reactor. Fixed capital costs around $A5.7 million and three machines needed to produce all the technetium that Australia could use. Variable costs around $A2 million per year.
So where were the forward-looking scientists and the Government's economic rationalists? Deadly silent. Was this on ANSTO advice? It has always been the view of ANSTO that unless and until such a plant was built and proved somewhere else it would not take any notice of any on-going research. What progressive thinking!
But such obstacles to new science and technology are not unique to Australia. In a reply from Dr Ralph G Bennet, Director of the project, to a letter asking for an update we learnt that it had stalled due to lack of interest on the part of the US Department of Energy. He added " Despite the price advantage, I believe that there is considerable fear on the part of potential partners that the subsidised foreign supplies [sic] would act to cut their prices to preserve jobs and national pride."
I recommend that the Inquiry call for an investigation into the Lockheed Martin project with a view to an Australian investment programme into alternative technologies. Relying on subjective opinions from ANSTO is just not good enough.
c) The validity of nuclear expertise and national interest claims by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, ANSTO and the Commonwealth Government for the replacement reactor.
Some time ago at a meeting of the local community and ANSTO the guest speaker was Mr John Carlson, Director general of ASNO. He expressed the view that Australia needed a working reactor to keep up the expertise in non-proliferation matters. His reasons were rather vague. Please get to the bottom of exactly how the operation of a reactor provides assistance to Australia in furthering the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. How can the manufacture of radioisotopes, neutron scattering and training PhDs assist his office?
d) Consideration of alternative approaches and means through which Australia's national interests in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and nuclear safety can be supported and advanced.
(i) During the period 1969 to 1976 when the AAEC was in charge of nuclear activities it acquired equipment and had programmes in place for the enrichment of uranium, for the extraction of plutonium from reprocessed spent reactor fuel and for criticality testing. Those programmes, depending on government policy at the time, could be used for peaceful commercial purposes or for the production of fissile materials used in nuclear weapons. Thankfully governments did not fall in with the advocacy of (Sir) Phillip Baxter for an Australian nuclear deterrent and the programmes were scrapped.
The criticality plant was dismantled but remains in mothballs at Lucas Heights. If Australia wishes to send a positive message to its near neighbours it should detail what plant it holds that is capable of being used for weapons research and/or development and state whether it has been listed for examination by the IAEA. The Safeguards Office should give an opinion as to whether the retention of such plant is detrimental to our obligations under the NNP treaty. And if so, the plant should be publicly scrapped.
(ii) Other ways to improve our NNPT credentials are to support a number of important resolutions concerning nuclear weapons that are coming up in the United Nations General Assembly next month.
Recently, New Zealand, Ireland, Sweden, Brazil, South Africa, Egypt and Mexico, all countries very different from each other, combined to ask the nuclear weapons States to fulfil their obligations to get rid of nuclear weapons under the NNPT.
This is a wonderful initiative, and one in which Australia should take a leading role. Yet it seems that we are not even supporting this vital initiative. Why not?
It seems there are at least seven really good initiatives coming up in the United Nations General Assembly. That includes the New Agenda resolution put up by these seven countries, but it also includes a resolution to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons - a resolution for a nuclear weapons convention similar to the chemical weapons convention - a resolution to take nuclear weapons off 'hair-trigger' alert, as recommended by our own Canberra Commission, so that it will no longer be possible to start a nuclear war by accident - a resolution in support of the ABM treaty - a resolution for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Southern Hemisphere, - and a resolution to prevent space being used for military purposes.
So many ways that Australia can upgrade its NNPT credentials without merely falling in line with the major weapons holders.
The process leading up to the signing of a contract in June 2000 with INVAP of Argentina for the construction of a new nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, with particular reference to:
a) The probity of the tender arrangements and the accuracy of the cost assessments.
Amongst documents obtained under Freedom of Information (FOI) by Sutherland Shire Council, two were outstanding. The first was from a Mr Bloomfield for the Department of Finance to Mr Hogg of ANSTO 11.4.1997 suggesting that the whole project would need public funding of $527 million. "Merely a briefing paper', claimed ANSTO. It was only from the Department of Finance, how would it know more than ANSTO?
The other related to the cost of finding a different site. You will remember that this is one of the alternatives that the Cabinet claims to have examined but is unwilling or unable to provide details. We have all been told that the cost (of $286 million) would double for any such move. But what the FOI document included was an allowance for the cost of the purchase of housing for the entire workforce of the present Lucas Heights site. Are we to believe that this was taken seriously?
Doubtless this Committee will examine this very closely.
Another important question is what currency was the contract signed in? Most international contracts are agreed to in US$. The figures that have been quoted over the past three years are $A276.4 (1997) based on an estimate made several years earlier. If the contract was signed in US$ then the Australian figure would be much higher due to the fall in the value of the Aussie Dollar. Is this Commercial-in- Confidence or just embarrassing?
b) The checks made on the record of the preferred tenderer, INVAP, and its capability to undertake the project safely and economically and its record in matching international best practice in other projects.
When INVAP was given the tender we received many comments on its previous performance none of which we have the facility to verify. One was that the reactor built in Egypt three years ago had only worked for about ten days on scientific research work. No reasons were given. Is the Committee able to check this with the Egyptians?
What exactly is International Best Practice? The term is bandied about but is it ever quantified? Where is there an example? The International Atomic Energy Agency only provides guidelines. What such benchmarks is ARPANSA aiming for?
c) Public access to information about the proposal and the consideration of issues raised through the public consultation process.
Having survived the EIS, the Joint Public Works Committee and the ARPANSA process for giving ANSTO licences, our views on the public consultation process are about as low as can be conceived. This was covered in the previous submission to the Senate Inquiry but only included the EIS process. The JPWC was even worse! All the points raised by the public were referred back to ANSTO (presumably as advisor to the Government on nuclear issues) and then dismissed. Just check on the number of references to ANSTO evidence in its final report and approval of funding.
ARPANSA will be covered in more detail later in this submission but briefly here it should be noted that the CEO has the final word on all matters. He is obliged to 'take note of public comments' under the terms of the ARPANS Act. Duly he does so, and then dismisses them all. Why do we waste so much undervalued community time and effort?
The nature of the contractual agreements entered into and the degree to which they are binding on the Commonwealth, including in the event that not all approvals are obtained and all other pre-conditions met, or that a future Government decides not to proceed with the reactor.
a) The time frame for ARPANSA in considering the issue of a construction licence and an operating licence and the consequences under the contract if such licences are not issued.
The actual specification for the reactor for which ANSTO has signed a "binding contract" is not due in this country until the second quarter of next year. It then goes to ARPANSA which will test its safety qualities. In the event that it is found to be below the standards ( that ARPANSA is yet to set for the Australian nuclear industry ) and it is returned for upgrading, presumably at extra cost, who approves the additional funding? Would the JPWC sit again or would it merely call for the stroke of a Ministerial pen?
On the other hand it might be that the Government refuses to pay any extra but agrees to reduce either the technical capability of the reactor or its safety features. If the former, the scientific community would be up in arms; if the latter, it could be to the detriment of the local community. Could this be carried out behind closed doors or would a public process be necessary? How would this be handled?
b) Any other requirements for approvals from the Commonwealth, State or local Governments and the consequences if such approvals are not met.
It should be noted that the Commonwealth has all powers relating to what goes on at the Lucas Heights site. The ANSTO Amendment Act of 1992 removed any powers that State or Local Government had. To the eternal shame of the Government of the day.
c) The consequences if pre-conditions set in the EIS and other previous inquiries are not met at the time of granting of a construction licence.
Some comments on the conditions and recommendations from the EIS approval:
d)The nature of any provisions in the contract related to the ability of either party to terminate the contract prior to completion and the provisions in relation to compensation for termination.
It is not clear whether each of the 29 points made by the Minister carry the same weight as conditions or recommendations. When negotiating point 25, the Community Right to Know Charter, the representatives of the Commonwealth's Legal Department, acting for ANSTO, were convinced that it was merely a recommendation. That is one reason why the process failed. More on this in a later section.
Point 7 said that radioactive emissions from the stacks associated with the isotope production plant must not increase above existing levels. Regardless of any future increase in production. And that ARPANSA should recognise this as part of its licensing of emissions for the whole site. As mentioned earlier, ARPANSA is in the lengthy process of setting emission levels and it is hoped that it takes into consideration community views. Until such levels are set it is impossible to comment sensibly on this subject.
Points 8 and 9 deal with gaseous emissions and a better method of producing molybdenum 99 so as to decrease the releases of radioactive wastes. It took ANSTO nine years to work out how to solidify its molybdenum liquid waste after being warned by the Safety Review Committee in 1988 that it was a potential hazard and they are still going through a three-year plan to finalise it. It remains to be seen whether a new method of producing molybdenum 99 can be worked out by the time of applying for a licence to construct. However the point is, will ARPANSA merely accept yet another piece of paper from ANSTO giving a 'commitment'?
Point 13. Who chooses the Independent Peer Reviewer of the Preliminary Safety Analysis (PSA)? Surely not ANSTO. This should be clarified by this Committee.
Points 15, 16 and 17. Seismic events. When ANSTO applied for its first site licence last year its optimistic estimate for horizontal ground accelerations associated with the 10.000-year return period was 0.17g with an uncertainty of 0.6g. ARPANSA accepted 0.23 as a conservative figure for the proposed new reactor but mentioned that another study, commissioned by the Department of Industry, Science and Resources, was being carried out. Doubtless you will be studying the results that now, optimistically, have chosen a figure of 0.41g.
The question of how the structure of HIFAR would stand up to such a hypothetical earthquake will need careful consideration. When was HIFAR last upgraded to withstand an earthquake? What g force was used for that upgrade and what was the engineering safety factor allowed for an event above 0.23g? ANSTO and ARPANSA should give full details.
In an article in the St George Leader 15 May 2000, Dr Ron Cameron of ANSTO, is reported as saying that the study was commissioned only to produce "seismic parameters which would be used in the study of the impact of highly unlikely but potentially severe seismic loads on HIFAR" and not to make recommendations about its safety. If it was not about the safety of HIFAR then why go to all that expense of the study?
The effects of such an earthquake, at ground accelerations around 0.23 could have serious effects on the above ground water reservoir at the site. This was pointed out to ANSTO in the Horoschun report in 1985 and it was recommended that the tower be reinforced. and the quality of its foundations examined. The alarming fact that, fifteen years later, this has not been done, displays an over optimistic attitude by ANSTO to possible events which could lead to accidents.
This is the result of having no real regulator until 1999. What power of persuasion has ARPANSA shown in this regard ? Condition g) on page 31 of the 1999 Safety Evaluation Report (SER) calls for the upgrading of the watertower be completed "as soon as is reasonably practicable". This is even weaker language than that used by the Safety Review Committee in 1988 regarding the potentially unsafe condition of the liquid waste from the molybdenum processing plant. It was a decade before ANSTO took that problem in hand.
Points 22 and 23. Emergency management plans. This will be covered in a later section but it should be noted that there are two aspects of emergency plans that are connected but different, having separate areas of responsibility - Commonwealth and State. This condition refers to plans covering a new reactor but the plans relating to the existing reactor remain unsatisfactory to the community.
Points 24 and 25. Community Consultation. The negotiations on a Community Right to Know Charter have disintegrated. Again this will be covered in more detail in a later section.
Points 26 and 27. Nuclear Wastes. Of all the issues surrounding the world's nuclear industry, the question of what to do with the waste is the most problematical. Both the Environmental Assessment Report for Environment Australia and the Safety Evaluation Report from ARPANSA refer to 'management" and 'eventual disposal' of long lived intermediate level waste. Their comments and the wording deserve close inspection by this Committee. So many of the conditions/recommendations are up in the air and some are unlikely to be settled at the time ANSTO applies for a licence to construct. The unknown factor is whether ARPANSA will accept ANSTO's 'assurances and commitments' for its future actions as well as the confusing messages that are coming from the Minister for Science on the question of waste.
This term of reference asks about the consequences if preconditions set in the EIS and other previous inquiries are not met at the time of granting of a construction licence. Perhaps this should read " at the time of application for a construction licence ". The simple answer is that ARPANSA should postpone the granting of such a licence until all are clearly and fully met. Anything less would be a grave dereliction of duty by ARPANSA
In a newspaper interview (St George Leader 3rd August 2000 - copy attached) Dr Loy, CEO of ARPANSA, is quoted as saying that the Federal Government must come up with a solution to Australia's nuclear waste problem before he will issue a licence to begin construction of a new reactor. The article continued, saying he had delivered this startling ultimatum to both the government and ANSTO that failure to address the nuclear waste issue will mean that Australia's biggest science project will not go ahead.
It seemed unambiguous until you read on. What he was talking about was the storage facility for the long-lived wastes that will be returned to Australia in the next ten years or so. But in fact this is a step back from the conditions of the licence approval given to ANSTO for the Lucas Heights site in September last year.
In the Safety Evaluation Report, page 12 it states that " A licence to operate the [new] reactor would not be issued by ARPANSA without there being clear and definite means available for the ultimate disposal of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel " The key words are 'ultimate disposal' and what exactly is meant by them.
The wastes returning from the UK and France following spent fuel reprocessing have very long lives spanning some thousands of years. The store, referred to by Dr Loy is merely an interim measure. For several years I have asked the Department of Resources, which is responsible for the waste store, how long the waste will remain radioactive and need protection and how long the proposed store will last. The department will not commit itself on the former and the best that I can get (verbally) about the store was "about 50 years".
Unless ARPANSA explains exactly what it means by 'ultimate disposal' and quantifies the life of the waste to be stored and what it expects from the store, the public will remain uncertain. If it sees 50 years being 'long-term' and meeting the conditions of its own SER then its so-called ultimatum to the Government is mere bluster.
e) Whether all or part of the contract and other documents created during its consideration and approval should now be made public.
Most certainly yes. In the National Interest.
Whether the preconditions set by previous inquiries and assessments into this proposal have been adequately met prior to the contract being entered into.
a) Accidents, Licensing and Emergency Procedures
Reasons Why The Lucas Heights Site Should Not Be Licensed for Nuclear Activities
Recent Events Involving Non-nuclear Accidents and Regulation. The accident (should we describe it as in incident?) at the fireworks factory in the Netherlands should have sent ARPANSA some kind of message. Two days after the explosion there was an interview on the ABC Parliamentary and News Network, PNN, with a local official. He said that "The factory was licensed, the storage facility inspected, the licence has recently been updated and, to help the process, the army bomb unit had been called in to endorse its safety. It was safe.........(pause)........But the accident happened."
It has not been established whether arson/sabotage was involved but the fact that a factory with the capability of causing such damage was even considered in such an area, not to say licensed, beggars the imagination. Whilst a worst-case accident with HIFAR may not result in such an obvious catastrophe as that in Holland the results could be far worse than the nuclear industry or the licenser works out from computer modelling.
A day or so after the Dutch explosion came the fatal Queensland school fireworks accident. The evening TV report had a heavily uniformed Chief of Police saying that the fireworks operator was licensed, all the equipment seemed to be in order and that there was nothing obviously wrong with the methods employed. But, once again, it happened.
There is no information about the other fireworks explosions in Europe and Mexico that happened within the same seven days. I would doubt that the South American operation was subject to the rigorous licensing procedure as that in Holland but regardless, a fatal accident occurred.
The point that it is intended to emphasise is that, regardless of the misinformation on radioactive emissions which led to HIFAR being built at Lucas Heights in the 1950's, there is no excuse to continue the pretence in the year 2000 that it is a suitable site for a nuclear reactor of any size.
In July there was an incident at Kingsford Smith airport in which the radar system failed as did back up system no.1 and back up system no.2 . This shows that even "defence in depth" safety plans, often mentioned by ANSTO and parroted by ARPANSA, are sometimes ineffective when most needed. The scientific community, even more than the rest of us, knows that Murphy's Law is the most consistent law in our tiny part of the universe, but it can't be factored into a computer model.
The radar incident led to the NSW minister concerned to appear on TV looking suitably serious. Predictably he said that there would be a full inquiry to ensure that it could not happen again. A fortnight later the same thing happened.
It is difficult to write on this subject to a Commonwealth Government Inquiry because, as we all know, any off-site emergency is the responsibility of the NSW State Emergency Services. However please refer to the Australian NH & MRC 49 page paper "Intervention in Emergency Situations Involving Radiation Exposure (1990)". Page 2 gives an example as suggested by international recommendations of a typical emergency situation as "uncontrolled releases of radioactive contaminants from a nuclear research reactor, with the dispersion of the contaminants over a region downwind from the reactor". That is to say the kind of event that we all hope will not happen.
It adds that, with the controls applied to activities involving radiation sources in Australia, the possibility of any of these scenarios arising from activities in Australia is extremely low. However, as we are aware, accidents occur in the most unlikely situations around the world. For example, the Dutch fireworks factory - licensed, checked by the army experts and which destroyed the local town. And, afterwards, everyone asks how and why could it happen.
Note: The NH & MRC document also includes in its scenarios an accidental explosion of a nuclear weapon in a ship or aeroplane. Such an "incident" does not appear to be considered in the ARPANSA (or NSB) annual reports. Whilst it takes up the possibility of a leakage of radiation from a visiting ship's reactor, the most serious accident possible remains under the sand.
The NH & MRC dose ranges for primary intervention levels for the public are between 5 and 50 mSv whole body dose. This would involve sheltering. Between 50 and 500 mSv evacuation would be considered. Huge doses indeed but we are told that such doses cannot occur from HIFAR or even from a new Argentinian reactor. Why then should they be included in the guidelines? If they are not possible then surely ARPANSA will be pushing to have realistic dose levels substituted. And enforced.
It is our understanding that ARPANSA is at present reconsidering 'allowable dose levels' to the public. Until these limits including those emanating from the whole site are published it is impossible to pass comment. The public is not party to the process.
The final page of the NH & MRC paper says that the success of all countermeasures depends on a clear understanding of their purpose. And, more importantly, public authorities should develop programmes to educate and prepare communities living in a potential near-field situation. The stress being on pre-event preparation. This has never been attempted and representations to the relevant authority have proved fruitless. In fact the only information ever supplied to the general public in the area was a poorly worded leaflet put out in 1996 and then re-issued two years later. Both laid stress on the unlikelihood of any accident and ANSTO's safety record - which negated any usefulness in the rest of the information.
After representations to the NSW Minister for Emergency Services a study of the existing plans relating to the ANSTO site was commissioned. The community has had some involvement but did not expect much. One of the specifics that was asked for is that the person conducting the review, Mr. Brian Carr, looks at international best practice -emergency plans where a reactor and an isotope production plant co-exist close to a residential area. This was suggested as the starting point of his inquiry.
But, as the NSW Government has no powers over ANSTO's activities, neither ANSTO nor ARPANSA has powers or influence in the NSW's area of government. Both are safely ensconced behind the safety of either their perimeter fence or the Terms of the ARPANS Act.
In the end the Brian Carr report managed to ignore all the recommendations of the NH & MRC relating to pre-event training and the education and preparation of people living potential near-field situations. In fact one of his conclusions was that "Planning for an unrealistic, worst-case scenario will only confuse people " (Emphasis added). As a former police member with several years in emergency planning he is convinced that the NSW emergency service ranks 'amongst the best in the world'. Perhaps this is typical of an almost internal investigation into a bureaucratic system.
Parents will still be uncertain about what to do in the event of a radiation leak at ANSTO. If there are any plans capable of efficiently sheltering children in local schools for perhaps several hours, they are not publicly available. The same applies to operators of child minding centres who have not even considered the prospect. Slight alterations will be made to local disaster plans and nothing much will change the potential situation.
A copy of his conclusions and recommendations are attached. The full report can be obtained from the office of the NSW Minister for Emergency Services, Bob Debus.
Liability and unavailability of commercial insurance
During the last Senate Inquiry this matter was raised at the hearings. A Senator, possibly Senator Chapman suggested that the exclusion of nuclear accidents and those involving radiation was merely a standard exclusion typical of the insurance industry. However it is apparent that, in the very short exclusion list, it is the only industry that is the subject of exclusion. Repeatedly the industry claims that it has no opinion whatsoever on the safety claims of ANSTO. It merely refuses to consider providing cover. And what is claimed by ANSTO?
"With a frequency of occurrence of the Reference Accident one in a million per year, the maximum risk from this accident of an individual developing a fatal cancer is calculated to be less than one in six thousand million (1 in 6,000,000,000) per year and the maximum risk of any harmful health effect is less than one in four thousand million.(1 in 4,000,000,000) per year"
So what does the international nuclear industry think of the situation regarding liability and where does Australia stand? Certainly not a world leader, merely a follower. Attached is a paper by Omer F Brown at the 24 th Annual International Symposium of the Uranium Institute held in 1999. An expert in the field of nuclear liability in the nuclear industry, Brown points out that the unwillingness of practically all countries to sign and ratify any of the conventions or agreements on third party liability produced since 1960, at monotonously regular intervals, is preventing investment in the nuclear industry.
Nothing could be further from our task than to make life easier for that awful industry. But we are dealing with the reality of living close to a "tiny, insignificant nuclear reactor that is about the size of a household washing machine and its fuel loading could fit into a teacup" and we can't take out insurance. Something smells. And it isn't radiation.
Since the recent spats between the Australian Government and the United Nations Committees, the lack of progress on our plans to limit greenhouse gases and the international Heritage Committee and its comment about the Jabiluka uranium mine, it has become apparent that the fact of signing on to an international convention is window dressing. A good photo opportunity, a flash of media interest and little else. Ratification is delayed indefinitely and the passing of enabling legislation put off for generations. All with little fanfare.
Brown points to the 1960 Paris Convention - 1963 Vienna Convention - 1963 Brussels Supplementary Convention - 1971 Maritime Carriage of Nuclear materials Convention - 1988 Joint Protocol - 1997 Protocol to amend the Vienna Convention and the 1997 Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear damage (CSC). But worse, there are sixteen possible combinations that include the Paris Convention alone! And similar combinations of each of the others.
Not surprisingly he also says that states with a majority of the 425-plus operating power reactors are not yet parties to any nuclear liability convention. Is it any wonder that the general public trusts neither the nuclear industry nor their respective governments as to the truth about the safety of the industry.
Community Right to Know Charter
ANSTO has stone-walled a Community Right to Know Charter for several years. More recently, Environment Minister Robert Hill has refused to become involved in the development of a Community Right to Know Charter. Thus the EIS approval conditions/recommendations 24 and 25 - accepted by the Ministers for the Environment and for Science - remain unfulfilled:
Condition 24. ANSTO must develop a specific program for ongoing community consultation and dissemination of information during the design, construction and commissioning phases of the reactor, to the satisfaction of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage.
Condition 25. A high priority must be given by ANSTO to finalising a Community Right to Know Charter between ANSTO and the community. This charter, as a minimum, must establish principles for information exchange, the obligations of parties in providing and using information, timely mechanisms for dispute resolution, and a process for periodic review and update. The use of a recognised mediator to facilitate completion of the charter should be considered. If a charter has not been agreed within 12 months of the date of these recommendations, the outstanding issues of dispute should be referred to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage for resolution, in consultation with the Minister for Industry, Science and Resources and the Minister for Health.
Note that ANSTO appeared to be far more willing to pursue this issue before the EIS was accepted. ANSTO's Draft EIS (p.18-16) says "ANSTO is in the process of developing a customer service charter which, among other things, will address provision of information. All members of the community would have access to a complaints handling and resolution procedure developed by ANSTO to ensure complaints are recorded and addressed. ... ANSTO, most likely involving a third party, would report publicly on issues relating to the number of complaints received, how these complaints were resolved and if they impacted on the project."
All fine sounding phrases that went down well with the assessors of the EIS Draft but with little real intent.
As the representative of the Nuclear Study Group of the Sutherland Shire Environment Centre I attended the meetings between community groups and ANSTO since their inception in November 1994. At either the first or second meeting the Community Right to Know Charter was raised and since then the subject has been discussed for countless person hours. Each draft edition was presented to ANSTO which, in turn returned it with its comments. In April 1998 it was believed that the group had come up with a simple two-page charter which, more than generously, allowed ANSTO to hold back certain information. All that was required was agreement with ANSTO management.
At that stage ANSTO brought in a member of the Commonwealth's legal department who threw up more obstacles which, if accepted, would have effectually made the document worthless. The community group members refused to accept further amendments and there the matter remained, unresolved until it was raised as a condition of the EIS approval.
Condition 25 called for 'urgent attention' to the completion of the Charter. The two sides had reached a stalemate and it was suggested by the community group that the Minister intervene at once rather than wait for the 12 months mentioned in the EIS approval. It was felt that further discussion would get us nowhere and that mediation would have no effect. That was the situation in September 1999.
To our surprise, in December 1999, at what turned out to be the last meeting of the discussion group, ANSTO announced that it had appointed a mediator, Mr John Woodward. After some gentle arm-twisting by Mr Woodward, several meetings were held with him and the community representatives who were prepared, somewhat reluctantly, to give the process a last try. Finally there were two meetings that included representatives of ANSTO and The Government Solicitor's Department. At that meeting it became evident that they were only willing to offer what was already in the public arena, Freedom of Information. FOI has been described by a former NSW Attorney General as not being in the public interest. It conveniently acts as a cover for any actions that a government, or a bureaucracy, wishes to conceal from the public.
At that stage all communications between ANSTO and the community groups that had been meeting for 5 years stopped. ANSTO's Public relations Manager, John Mulcair, who had attended the majority of those meetings, left ANSTO. His replacement is, apparently, quietly learning her job but without meeting any of the former players.
John Woodward sent his report to the Minister for the Environment. The Minister has remained silent on the matter. It seems that the 'High Priority' placed on a Community Right to Know Charter has diminished.
It has always been our opinion that the entire five year process was a stalling tactic by ANSTO who never intended any such charter. This has became more evident now that the new reactor has reached the design and construction stage. A similar situation applied during the EIS process when ANSTO covered up fuel handling accidents.
ARPANSA - The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency
Since ARPANSA was set up in February 1999 the Centre has attempted to keep abreast of what is happening in the new world of nuclear regulation in Australia. This has not been easy. Reading (often between the lines) the Act, its regulations, the processes for licensing applications, the belated reports coming from ARPANSA and, more recently, press comments from the agency is not a pleasant way of spending voluntary time.
ARPANSA's first year has been full of tumult and I am sure that they have tried hard to get forty years of below-par oversight (rather than regulation) into some form of actual regulation. As an active observer and participant in the various processes surrounding the operation of ANSTO the Centre provided Dr Loy with an 'end of term" report. The text of this in the form of a letter is provided below.
12 July 2000
Dear Dr Loy,
Our comments on the application for a facility licence at Lucas Heights will be with you by the 14th but I would like to provide you with a community view of ARPANSA's performance so far.
Historically, the push for an independent regulator for the Australian nuclear industry came from the environment movement. Because of the secrecy of the industry at its outset the AAEC (ANSTO) was quite relaxed in regulating itself as well as being the sole advisor to the government which provided its funding. That such an arrangement fell far short of international standards and lasted for 41 years does not say much for the constant reference to following the guidelines of the IAEA.
The Research Reactor Review of 1992 was the first and only occasion that the matter was raised publicly and credit must be given to the panel that recommended a proper regulatory regime be set up. In 1999 ARPANSA was born and, in spite of an Act that was less than perfect and regulations that should be much tighter, we looked forward to an improvement. What was expected was that ARPANSA prove its credibility as a regulator to the public. There have been many unfortunate indications over the past 18 months that have harmed that credibility.
Licence application process
Whilst allowing that the application for a licence for the suitability of Lucas Heights for a new reactor was the first that you had handled, it drew much criticism. The way that it was advertised, in two local newspapers and only one National. That local stakeholders were not individually notified. The time allowed for public comment was insufficient and that copies of the application were not available in hard copy format.
Individuals were told to access the copy of the application in Sutherland library or on Internet. Some were told to ask ANSTO. There was a perception that this was an attempt to restrict access or at the very least make it as difficult as possible. Another theory was that ARPANSA did not have the funds to do its job properly. The latter is difficult to understand as ARPANSA gets some of its income from the applicant as licence fees. If those fees are insufficient then it should ask the Department of Health for additional funds. Only after complaining of these serious shortcomings was the time for submissions extended and three extra copies of the application sent to the Centre.
However little was learnt from this exercise and the same difficulties occurred when ANSTO applied for its second licence. Even though ARPANSA was not satisfied by the quality and detail of ANSTO's second application it advised the community in exactly the same way. Pointing to the Internet for access to the inadequate details and arrogantly assuming that all members of the general population have such access; and then expecting them to print over a hundred pages of un-numbered charts. What a great way to discourage participation.
Conflict of Interest
During an ABC documentary ARPANSA came under fire over potential conflict of interest of a member of the ARPANSA Council. As there are several members of the Council and the two Committees I feel that it would be good, in the interests of all concerned, that you publish, perhaps on the Internet, copies of the C.V. of each member of those bodies. In this way your credibility would not be threatened.
The missing Council member
There is still no news on the final member of the Council. I have written to the Minister (who turned down previous candidates without giving reasons) who advised that the person would be appointed in the near future. What on earth is the hold-up? Is the Minister searching for an environmentally suitable member of the nuclear industry? Could you put pressure on the Minister and get the position filled?
Community submissions and privilege
All the submissions that have been made by the Centre on nuclear matters have been under parliamentary privilege. Following the first licence application last year most people in this community received letters from ARPANSA following an application under FOI legislation. Several contacted me because they were worried about the tone of the content. Even though I was able to explain the reasons and the way FOI worked - in a limited way - I have found that, since then I am self censoring as I write.
I must add that there have been instances where local officials have threatened members of this community with legal action for merely expressing their views. This has become one of the darker sides of the one sided disputes between powerful organizations and the general public.
Again I ask that you approach the Minister with the view to having public submissions protected by privilege. After all, ARPANSA works under the Commonwealth Department of Health.
In the past I have referred to the quarterly reports of the former Safety Review Committee. I urge you to show these to members of the Council and the Committees and ask them to use them as a benchmark of excellence.
As well, the reports of these bodies should be made public as quickly as possible. Late release makes them of little value. This applies also to the quarterly reports from the CEO. During a visit to your office in February I asked when the third and fourth would be available. I was told that the third would be out in about a week. This did not happen. When they did recently emerge they were tantalisingly short of detail.
Of particular concern were the brief references to the accidents (incidents) relating to fuel handling in 1998 and February 1999. To say that the report on the root causes was completed by ANSTO and that ARPANSA agreed with its recommendations is skirting the issue. How can the public know what the root causes were if the regulator if not through the reports of the CEO? (The root causes were that the dry storage of the spent fuel was not inspected for moisture over a period of over ten years and that the "rainwater" which had entered some of the tubes remained unnoticed.) Was this information too distressing to be disclosed to the Minister?
There was also mention of "a number of safety-related modifications to be carried out during the February shutdown of HIFAR". Again no detail. As the organization set up to protect the health and safety of the public from the effects of radiation surely that public deserves prompt and accurate information. This would enable it to assess the performance of the regulator.
On the national scene ARPANSA drew some hefty criticism in an ABC radio programme over its handling of the Maralinga nuclear weapons test site clean up. There were claims of a low quality clean up which was far short of the international best practice that was claimed for the operation by ARPANSA. I am unable to comment on this but once more, the public perception of ARPANSA's role was not good.
You will see that I believe that there is room for much improvement in ARPANSA's overall performance based on what sparse detail is available to me. Most of the decisions that you make over the next 18 months will have a great effect on this community. I sincerely hope that you will make them wisely and impartially, even if this involves you crossing the lines of the Act.
Nuclear Study Group
Sutherland Shire Environment Centre
To his credit Dr Loy replied promptly and a copy of his reply is attached. Not surprisingly he did not agree with our point of view and in some areas he missed the point of our criticism. Particularly on the matter of submissions to ARPANSA being made under privilege. He appeared to see our request as a way of hiding things from the public. Quite the reverse, but if it comes to self-censorship to avoid being threatened with legal action then this becomes operating in the shadows, not 'in the sunlight' as Dr Loy prefers.
ARPANSA and Commercial-in Confidence
During the last Senate Inquiry and the Joint Public Works Committee hearings, requests were made of ANSTO to examine the contract with COGEMA for reprocessing our spent fuel. ANSTO refused, quoting C-in-C. End of argument. However during the very first application for a licence to prepare a site for the replacement reactor, ARPANSA did get access to it.
At last year's conference of the Australian Nuclear Association in Canberra optimistically titled 'Nuclear Renaissance' Dr Loy gave a presentation on the activities of ARPANSA. During question time I was able to ask him what powers of persuasion did he have that our elected representatives did not, which allowed him access to a commercial-in-confidence contract. He replied that 'It was up to ANSTO. If it wanted a licence they had to show it.'
The question is, was this a breach of the contract on the part of ANSTO? Did it confirm with COGEMA that it was going to do this? Does the action negate the commercial-in confidence aspect of the contract? And, if so, will the Senate be able to examine it now?
Plus, of course, exactly how much power does ARPANSA have and will it use it wisely to the advantage of the public?
So many things for this Committee to flesh out.
Prepared by Michael Priceman
Nuclear Study Group