Nuclear Waste Storage Facility

10 Sep 2008 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make an explanation before asking the Minister for Mineral Resources Development a question about a low-level nuclear waste storage facility.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The issue of potentially contaminated waste has been highlighted, and the government has mentioned many times a low-level nuclear waste storage facility—in June 2004, February 2005, December 2005 and July 2007—yet we are still to find out where this facility will be located.

Given the potential for contaminated waste needing to be retained somewhere, with the expansion of the mining industry, can the minister advise, first, what scoping his department has done in relation to this issue and, secondly, what he would advise companies regarding the potential storage of waste that may come from their sites?

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY (Minister for Mineral Resources Development, Minister for Urban Development and Planning, Minister for Small Business) (14:59): I was distracted briefly, but I assume that the honourable member is talking about the story in this morning's paper regarding Marathon. Of course, what Marathon Resources had sought to dispose of at the dump at Hawker was just general rubbish; it was not rubbish that was in any way radioactive. Indeed, presumably, some of it would have been iced coffee cartons and other things which some of the workers would have disposed of but which were incorrectly buried in the pit at Mount Gee.

Significant information has been given to this parliament in relation to what the government has required in relation to the clean-up by Marathon Resources, and that process has been agreed. The incorrectly buried litter consisted of samples. As announced in this chamber earlier, the soil in the sample will be returned to the earth from where it was taken, but the government required that the calico and plastic bags, as well as the general rubbish that was inappropriately buried at that site by Marathon Resources, be removed and disposed of. Because that litter has been certified by the EPA as not having any radioactive contamination, it can be disposed of at any dump. As I understand it, the company approached the Flinders Ranges council and that request has been rejected, so I guess it will now be disposed of in another dump.

The important point is that I have been informed that that particular rubbish, which I think is the equivalent of about four wheelbarrows-full, is really no different from the rubbish that would be disposed of at any other dump, other than its origin and history; that is the only difference. So, I do not really see that there are any particular issues that arise except, of course, that this particular rubbish does not originate from within the council area.
Generally speaking, one would think that a council would, if the rubbish complied with the Environment Protection Act, as this apparently does, allow disposal at a waste disposal dump within its area. I think it would be an unfortunate precedent to set if a council started discriminating against which customers could dispose of rubbish within its area. However, I accept that there is a history to the source of this particular waste and that it did not originate from within the council concerned. So, I guess the council is entirely within its rights to refuse to receive it. But, in terms of any threat to the environment, on the advice I have been given, I can totally reject that proposition.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (15:03): I have a supplementary question. What contingencies does the government have in the case of a similar future event where there might be some nuclear waste contamination in rubbish?

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY (Minister for Mineral Resources Development, Minister for Urban Development and Planning, Minister for Small Business) (15:03): As I understand it, there are various repositories where radioactive waste has been placed, one of which is Radium Hill, which is under my control as the Minister for Mineral Resources Development. However, I repeat that in this particular case the issue does not arise. In relation to radioactive material and general radioactive storage, that is really a question for my colleague the minister in another place. I am sure the honourable member is aware that we have had a long debate in relation to that subject.

As I understand it, this state accepts its responsibilities to dispose of any radioactive waste, and that is a matter that is under investigation by the government at present. I think my former colleague answered a question on that matter not all that long ago within this parliament. However, that is a theoretical question; it is not a question that is related in any way to what was proposed to be buried at Hawker.