Nuclear Waste

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation a question on the subject of nuclear waste.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: In asking my questions, I refer to the minister's reply in question time in November last year when he advised this place that he had not been approached by the federal government regarding a national waste repository. My questions to the minister are:

1.Given that Australia will have a significant volume of waste returned from overseas at the end of this calendar year and that the Northern Territory option for a repository at Muckaty Station won't proceed, has the commonwealth since contacted South Australia regarding a long-term facility?

2.Is it still the policy of this government to have a separate repository for South Australia's waste?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 16:34 :55 ): I thank the honourable member for her most important questions. I sense some sort of trap being set by her in terms of asking me about information that may have been received by the South Australian government. Of course, it may well be information received by the government, in which case it has not come to my portfolio of responsibility. However, there may be some things I can enlighten her on, but it will be fairly similar to what I have answered previously.

In terms of the government's position, as she knows and as she would have heard in the speech to parliament today at the opening of parliament by His Excellency, the Premier and the government will be calling a royal commission into all matters dealing with the South Australian nuclear fuel cycle with the caveat being that it will be to consider issues around the peaceful use of nuclear fuels and not to include any discussion about military or weaponised use.

In terms of a national approach to radioactive waste management, however, I can say that all jurisdictions are still currently managing their own radioactive waste under their own legislative frameworks. The commonwealth, of course, owns a large proportion of Australia's radioactive waste, and it is my understanding that South Australia owns a very small proportion of that.

I am advised that the commonwealth government has made progress with options for the long-term management of Australia's radioactive waste with the passing of the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012 which came into effect on 4 April 2012. The commonwealth legislation establishes a framework for a radioactive waste management facility on volunteered land either in the Northern Territory or elsewhere in Australia. To date, I am not aware of any land that has been volunteered to the commonwealth for that purpose. I understand that the Northern Territory land councils have the first option under the legislation to nominate a site; if that does not result in an agreed site, then other landowners are able to volunteer a site.

The commonwealth Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism (I think it is now called the Department of Industry) has engaged a consultant, I am told, to develop concept designs for a national facility that will consist of a co-located repository for disposal of low-level waste and a store for intermediate-level waste. It has been proposed that construction of a facility designed to accommodate waste for 100 years would commence in 2017.

To ensure that the concept designs reflect Australia's current inventory, the Australian government (the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism) wrote to the EPA and other regulators in Australia in September 2014 seeking advice on any radioactive waste holdings within the jurisdiction. The EPA, of course, requires owners of radioactive waste to provide annual updates of the waste being held so that an inventory of holdings can be maintained.

The EPA inspects significant waste holdings to ensure that waste is stored safely and securely. I am informed that the waste currently stored throughout South Australia is done in a safe and secure manner. I have no other information before me that I can bring to bear in answering the honourable member's questions.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK ( 16:38 :10 ): I have a supplementary question. Can the minister advise whether this repository or any form of repository is part of the terms of reference of the royal commission?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 16:38 :21 ): Again, had the honourable member listened appropriately. or indeed availed herself of some of the media interviews that have been taking place in a the last few days, she would know that the terms of reference are being consulted on this week with members of the public and stakeholders. The honourable member may wish to make a submission herself, and she is quite free to do so.