Radioactive Waste

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation regarding nuclear waste.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Earlier this year, the push to locate a national nuclear waste dump at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory was abandoned. I understand that some 28 containers of nuclear waste, which are being returned back to Australia for storage, are due to arrive at the end of 2015, reigniting the search for a national storage facility. At the same time, South Australia has nuclear waste stored across a number of sites. My questions for the minister are:

1.Has the state government received any representations from the federal government regarding a national nuclear storage facility?

2.Has the state government made any advance on management of our own nuclear waste for South Australia?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) ( 14:27 :42 ): I thank the honourable member for her most important question. In regard to the first part of her question, I can only advise from my own knowledge. I am not quite sure if there has been an across-government approach from the federal government, but I am pretty sure in stating that no federal government representative has raised that with me, directly at least. That is all I can advise her on that part of her question.

In regard to the more general question she asks, I can make a few comments that may give her some comfort. Of course, we all know that radioactive waste resulting from medical, industrial and scientific use of radioactive material is currently stored at multiple locations throughout the state, and indeed across the nation. All jurisdictions, I am advised, currently manage their radioactive waste under their own legislative frameworks. I can recall, when I used to work with radioactive materials myself in another life at a certain hospital in this state, that we were charged with the responsibility of upholding all the requirements of the federal and state governments in terms of the handling of that radioactive material, and indeed storage.

The commonwealth government owns a large proportion of Australia's radioactive waste, while South Australia owns a very small proportion. 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. The commonwealth legislation establishes a framework for a radioactive waste management facility on volunteered land, to be found somewhere in the country. The Northern Territory Land Council, I think, have the first option under the legislation to nominate a site, but if that does not result in an agreed site then other landholders are able to volunteer a site, I understand.

The commonwealth department of resources, energy and tourism, now under the Department of Industry, has engaged a consultant on it, I am told, to develop concept designs for a national facility that will consist of a co-located repository for the disposal of low-level waste and a store for intermediate-level waste. It has been proposed that the construction of a facility designed to accommodate waste for 100 years would commence sometime this decade.

To ensure that the concept designs reflect Australia's current inventory, the Australian government wrote to the EPA and other regulators in Australia seeking advice on any radioactive waste holdings within our jurisdiction. The EPA requires owners of radioactive waste to provide annual updates of the waste being held so that the inventory of holdings can be maintained. The EPA, I understand, inspects significant waste holdings to ensure waste is stored safely and securely. I am informed that the waste currently stored throughout the state is done so in a very safe and secure manner indeed.