House debates

Thursday, 21 October 2010

National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010

Second Reading

9:01 am

Photo of Martin FergusonMartin Ferguson (Batman, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Resources and Energy) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.


The purpose of this bill is to establish a facility for managing, at a single site, radioactive waste currently stored at a host of locations across the country.

This will ensure the safe and responsible management of waste arising from medical, industrial and research uses of radioactive material in Australia.

The bill repeals and replaces the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005.

This new legislative framework is based on volunteerism.

Under the bill, no site can be considered as a potential location for a facility without a voluntary nomination and agreement from persons with the relevant rights and interests.

A facility will be conditional on comprehensive environmental and regulatory approval processes. These will be conducted independently of the bill and ensure Australia adheres to international best practice.

Decisions to select a site for a national facility will be guided by procedural fairness. The Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 will also ensure a higher level of accountability for decisions than is currently available.

Transparency in this process is important. For this reason, a regional consultative committee must be established under the bill. The committee will raise awareness and inform local communities through each stage of the process from site selection to construction and operation of the facility.

Radioactive waste

Australia produces low level and intermediate level waste through its use of radioactive materials.

Low level waste includes lightly contaminated light laboratory waste such as paper, plastic, glassware and protective clothing, contaminated soil, smoke detectors and emergency exit signs.

Intermediate level waste arises from the production of nuclear medicines, from overseas reprocessing of spent research reactor fuel and from disused medical and industrial sources such as radiotherapy sources and soil moisture meters.

During the last 50 years, about 4,000 cubic metres of low level and short-lived intermediate level radioactive waste has accumulated in Australia.

It is currently stored at interim facilities located in suburban and regional areas across Australia, in some cases under less than ideal management arrangements.

By comparison, Britain and France annually produce around 25,000 cubic metres of low and short-lived intermediate level waste. But unlike the current situation in Australia, Britain and France dispose of such waste in purpose-built repositories.

Beneficial uses of radioactive materials

Radioactive materials have a variety of important uses in medicine, industry, agriculture, environmental science, sterilisation, computers and mobile phones as well as in our homes.

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) is a public research organisation responsible for delivering specialised advice, scientific services and products to government, industry, universities and other research organisations.

ANSTO provides around 85 per cent of the nuclear medicines to Australian hospitals that help doctors diagnose and treat a range of diseases, including cancer.

Around 500,000 patients annually benefit from radioisotopes in medical procedures such as cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Accepting these benefits means also accepting the responsibility to safely manage the resulting radioactive waste. This benefit and responsibility go hand in hand.

Responsible management of radioactive waste

Australia needs to comply with its international obligations under the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management.

In addition to providing proper disposal of Australia’s low level and short-lived intermediate level radioactive waste, the facility will store approximately 32 cubic metres of long-lived intermediate level nuclear waste arising from reprocessing ANSTO’s spent research reactor fuel.

This material will return to Australia from France and the United Kingdom in 2015 and 2016.

We need a long-term solution to this unavoidable, but manageable, issue.

Senate Committee Report

The bill includes changes recommended by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee in May 2010.

In summary, the Senate report recommended:

  • The minister undertake consultations with all parties with an interest in, or who would be affected by a decision to select the Muckaty Station site as the location for a facility;
  • The bill be amended to make the establishment of a regional consultative committee mandatory, immediately following the selection of a site for a facility;
  • The bill be amended to require the minister to respond in writing to comments received in accordance with procedural fairness requirements;
  • The explanatory memorandum be amended to include a detailed rationale for the minister’s absolute discretion in relation to decision making under the bill;
  • The bill be amended to include an objects clause; and
  • Subject to consideration of the preceding recommendations, the Senate pass the bill.

The bill and explanatory memorandum have been amended to incorporate all of these recommendations, other than recommendation 3.

Given the possibility of a large number of submissions being received at various decision-making points, the intent of recommendation 3 will be met by posting, online, detailed reasons for key decisions as they are made, in line with requirements of the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977.

National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010

Schedule 1

Schedule 1 of the bill repeals the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005 (the current act) and amends the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977.

The repeal of the current act meets a 2007 ALP platform commitment.

Key decisions under the current act are not susceptible to review under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977.

Decisions under this bill will be reviewable.

Schedule 2

In 2007, the Lauder branch of the Ngapa clan volunteered a site on Muckaty Station as a potential location for a facility.

This community has a right to be heard and for their nomination to be considered under the bill.

This government will honour those commitments.

Accordingly, schedule 2 contains a saving provision to ensure that the nomination can continue to be considered as a potential site for a facility.

Procedural fairness requirements will apply if this site is selected under the bill.

Part 2—Nomination of sites

The current act allows a facility to be established only in the Northern Territory.

The bill will allow the minister to make a declaration allowing people to make voluntary, nation-wide nominations.

In deciding whether to make a declaration, the minister must first consider whether a facility can be constructed and operated on Aboriginal land that has been nominated by a land council in the Northern Territory.

Importantly, procedural fairness requirements will apply to any decision to approve any site and to open the nation-wide volunteer site nomination process.

In accordance with the 2007 Australian Labor Party platform, three sites on defence land in the Northern Territory identified by the former government have been removed from further consideration as potential sites.

A facility cannot be forced on a community.

Part 3—Selecting the site for a facility

A decision to select a site should not be taken lightly.

Comprehensive evaluations are necessary to verify whether a site is suitable.

Flora and fauna samples need to be collected, geological and hydrological conditions must be evaluated and heritage investigations must take place.

These activities have a minor impact on land but could lead to significant delays if they are not undertaken.

Part 3 of the bill authorises these activities for the purpose of selecting a site.

Certain state, territory and Commonwealth laws which attempt to regulate, hinder or prevent these activities, will have no affect.

A declaration selecting the site will not guarantee the final location of the facility.

This will be determined by separate environmental and regulatory approvals.

Part 4—Acquisition or extinguishment of rights and interests

Part 4 of the bill allows the minister to select a site and to identify land required for an access road to the site.

Procedural fairness requirements will apply to these decisions.

Part 4 of the bill authorises the acquisition or extinguishment of rights and interests in relation to the selected site and land required for an access road.

The minister must also establish a regional consultative committee once a site has been selected.

The government is committed to ensuring community input and an open dialogue with regional interests on this important project.

Part 5—Conducting activities in relation to selected site

Part 5 of the bill authorises certain persons to conduct activities on the selected site for the purposes of constructing a facility.

Australian government facilities are regulated through the Commonwealth.

In conducting these activities the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987 must be complied with in order to construct and operate a national radioactive waste management facility.

State and territory laws will not apply to the extent that these laws may regulate, hinder or prevent certain activities from taking place.

One effect of permitting state and territory laws to apply would be to permit legislation that has been enacted by most states and the Northern Territory and prohibits siting a facility and transporting waste.

Part 6—Granting of rights and interests in land to original owners

Part 6 of the bill preserves rules in the current act allowing the minister to grant certain acquired rights and interests back to the original owners.

This refers to land that was nominated by a land council, before the opening of the nation-wide volunteer site nomination process.

Part 7—Miscellaneous

Part 7 provides that affected parties must be compensated on just terms, where land is acquired for a facility.

Full details of the measures in the bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum that has been circulated to honourable members.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Chester) adjourned.


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