House debates

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010

Second Reading

9:24 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 the bill is to repeal the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005 and to put in place a proper process to establish a facility for managing, at a single site, radioactive waste arising from medical, industrial and research uses of radioactive material.

Australia has international obligations to properly manage its own radioactive waste.

This bill represents a responsible and long overdue approach for an issue that impacts on all Australian communities.

It provides procedural fairness—a right for people to be heard, as outlined in the bill—on decisions as to where a facility should be built.

At the same time the bill ensures that the Australian government has appropriate powers to make arrangements for the safe and secure management of radioactive waste generated, possessed or controlled by the Commonwealth.

The bill enables the Commonwealth to act in good faith and spirit with respect to the Site Nomination Deed entered into by the Northern Land Council, the Muckaty Aboriginal Land Trust and the Commonwealth in 2007.

Radioactive Waste

In terms of radioactive waste, Australia produces low-level and intermediate-level waste through its use of radioactive materials.

Low-level waste includes lightly contaminated 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.

As can be seen the generation of low-level and intermediate-level radioactive waste is an unavoidable result of many worthwhile activities.

During the past 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 including a multitude of small stores located in suburban and regional areas across Australia.

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

In addition to providing proper disposal of Australia’s low-level and short-lived intermediate-level radioactive waste, the facility to be established under this bill will also be suitable for storing the 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.

Beneficial Uses of Radioactive Materials

Radioactive materials have a variety of important uses in medicine, industry, agriculture, environment and sterilisation, 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, academia and other research organisations.

Nuclear medicine production is a core business of ANSTO, which provides around 85 per cent of the nuclear medicines to Australian hospitals to help doctors diagnose and treat a range of diseases including cancer.

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

Responsible management of radioactive waste

However, accepting these benefits means also accepting the responsibility to safely manage resulting radioactive waste. The two must go hand in hand.

Australia also needs to comply with its international obligations to manage radioactive waste.

As a party to the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, we need to promote the consistent, safe and responsible management of radioactive waste.

We need a long-term solution to this unavoidable, but not unmanageable issue.

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 ADJR Act).

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 ADJR Act.

Decisions under this bill will be reviewable.

Schedule 2

A site on Ngapa clan land at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory has already been nominated and approved as a site under the current act.

The government will honour the Commonwealth’s existing commitments to the Ngapa traditional owners made by the previous government in 2007.

Accordingly, schedule 2 contains a saving provision to ensure that the site will remain an approved site.

Procedural fairness requirements will apply to any decision to select the site, as the site for a facility.

Part 2 –Nomination of sites

The current act allows for the selection of a site for a facility only in the Northern Territory.

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

However, in deciding whether to make a declaration, the minister must have regard to whether it is unlikely that a facility will be able to be constructed and operated on Aboriginal land that has been land nominated as a potential site under the bill.

The bill provides that a land council in the Northern Territory may nominate land as a potential site. Under the existing site nomination deed, the Northern Land Council is entitled to nominate other sites on Ngapa land. This provision will enable that entitlement to continue.

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

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

Part 3-Selecting the site for a facility

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

Cautious and comprehensive evaluation is necessary to verify whether a site is suitable for a facility, to ensure the safe management of Australia’s radioactive waste and protection of people and the environment.

Flora and fauna samples need to be collected, meteorological and hydrological conditions must be evaluated and heritage investigations must take place, before selecting a site.

These activities have a minor impact on land but could lead to significant delays if they do not proceed as required.

Part 3 of the bill allows relevant persons to conduct activities for the purpose of selecting a site.

Certain state, territory and Commonwealth laws will not apply to activities under part 3 to the extent that they would regulate, hinder or prevent these activities.

Part 4-Acquisition or extinguishment of rights and interests.

Part 4 of the bill allows the minister to select a site, as the site for a facility, 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 allows for the acquisition or extinguishment of rights and interests in relation to the selected site and land required for an access road.

Part 4 of the bill provides that the minister may establish a regional consultative committee, once a site has been selected for a facility.

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.

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.

However certain other state, territory and Commonwealth laws will not apply to activities under part 5 to the extent that they would regulate, hinder or prevent these activities.

Part 6-Granting of rights and interest 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 nationwide volunteer site-nomination process.

Part 7-Miscellaneous

Under part 7 the bill provides for affected parties, if there are any, to 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 this bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Andrews) adjourned.