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Media Release
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

9 May 2003

Two Sites Approved for Low Level Waste Repository


Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, has given environmental approval, subject to conditions, to two possible sites for the construction of the proposed national low-level radioactive waste repository in accordance with the provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. It is now up to the Minister for Science, Peter McGauran, to select a final site for this project.

"There are no environmental reasons to prevent approval of these sites for the proposed repository within the central-north region of South Australia," Dr Kemp said.

"My decision follows a rigorous and transparent assessment process with full public involvement. The establishment of a purpose built permanent repository will ensure Australia's low level and short lived intermediate level radioactive waste is managed according to world's best practice - a goal which cannot be achieved if the waste remains scattered around the country in over 100 temporary radioactive waste storage sites.

"Whilst those storage sites are, on the whole, adequate in the short term, they cannot provide the same level of protection for the environment and people in the long term as this world class facility.

"I have concluded that Sites 45a and 40a are equally suitable locations for the repository provided all the measures in the Environmental Impact Statement, the recommendations of the Assessment Report, and approval conditions are fully implemented.

"I have decided, however, to rule out locating the facility at site 52a because of the risk associated with its close proximity to a proposed commercial satellite launch facility and an existing weapons testing facility."

The three sites referred under the terms of the EPBC Act represent only the most recent stage in a site selection process that has been underway with public involvement at key stages, and pursued by both Coalition and Labor Governments, for almost 20 years.

There has been extensive consultation with all stakeholders, including Aboriginal groups, during the initial site selection process and during the EIS process. A Regional Consultative Committee was established prior to the development of the EIS to facilitate the exchange of information and included representatives from several local Land Council Associations and Native Title Claimants.

The Draft EIS was subsequently on public exhibition for 12 weeks and attracted over 600 submissions. All submissions have been considered very seriously in making this approval decision, including those from Dr Kemp's own Indigenous Advisory Committee. Once the Minister for Science has selected the final site, this consultation will continue regarding land access issues.

The proposed repository will only accept 'low-level' and 'short-lived intermediate level' waste that meets criteria approved by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA). Low- level radioactive waste includes such things as lightly contaminated clothing and rags from hospitals and domestic smoke detectors. It does not require shielding during handling and transport, presents a very low radiation hazard, and is suitable for shallow land burial. It contains very low levels of radioactivity - for instance, a smoke detector contains about 40 kBq (kilo Becquerels) of radioactivity, which is a very small amount.

Intermediate level radioactive waste may include disused radiation sources from industry or hospitals, resins, chemical sludges and metal fuel cladding. Such waste may require radiation shielding to allow safe handling. An industrial radiation source containing about 20 million kBq of radioactivity would be classified as intermediate level radioactive waste. If it has a short half-life, about 30 years or less, it is called short lived intermediate level radioactive waste and may be accepted by the repository.

The repository will not accept high level radioactive waste such as waste arising from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods that has not had time to decay. This waste may contain 10 billion kBq or more of radioactivity in one gram.

"The technology for near-surface low-level repositories is well proven and all aspects of the proposal would be subject to regulation by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), according to internationally accepted best practice," Dr Kemp said.

"Conditions imposed on my approval are to ensure ongoing monitoring is undertaken and any impacts are identified and minimised. These conditions include:

Dr Kemp stressed his consideration of the environmental impact was only one stage in the process.

"More detailed scrutiny will be applied to design and construction when the final site is selected by the Minister for Science. The facility cannot be built or operate until it gets a license to do so from ARPANSA," he said.

Media Contact:
Catherine Job (02) 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400

Commonwealth of Australia