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Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management

National Report of the Commonwealth of Australia

14 October 2011


Section A – Introduction

Section B – Scope of Application

Article 3 Scope of Application

Section C – Policies and Practices

Article 32 Reporting (1)

Section D – Inventories and Lists

Article 32 Reporting (2)

Section E – Legislative and Regulatory System

Article 18 Implementing Measures

Article 19 Legislative and Regulatory Framework

Article 20 Regulatory Body

Section F – Other General Safety Provisions

Article 21 Responsibility of the Licence Holder

Article 22 Human and Financial Resources

Article 23 Quality Assurance

Article 24 Operational Radiation Protection

Article 25 Emergency Preparedness

Article 26 Decommissioning

Section G – Safety of Spent Fuel Management

Article 4 General Safety Requirements

Article 5 Existing Facilities

Article 6 Siting of Proposed Facilities

Article 7 Design and Construction of Facilities

Article 8 Assessment of Safety of Facilities

Article 9 Operation of Facilities

Article 10 Disposal of Spent Fuel

Section H – Safety of Radioactive Waste Management

Article 11 General Safety Requirements

Article 12 Existing Facilities and Past Practices

Article 13 Siting of Proposed Facilities

Article 14 Design and Construction of Facilities

Article 15 Assessment of Safety of Facilities

Article 16 Operation of Facilities

Article 17 Institutional Measures after Closure

Section I – Transboundary Movement

Article 27 Transboundary Movement

Section J – Disused Sealed Sources

Article 28 Disused Sealed Sources

Section K – Planned Activities to Improve Safety

Section L – Annexes

Annex A – Inventory of radioactive wastes

Annex C – References to reports on international review missions performed at the request of a Contracting Party

Section A – Introduction

Focus of this report

This is the fourth National Report by Australia.1 The 2008 National Report and Australia’s presentation to the Third Review Meeting in 2009 highlighted the following major issues:

  • progress on national uniformity;

  • progress with development of a national waste classification scheme;

  • radioactive waste management policy – achievements, consultation, strategy;

  • spent fuel management and management of reprocessing waste;

  • decommissioning;

  • uranium mining waste management; and

  • recruitment and skills management.

This fourth National Report provides an update on these and all other relevant issues under the terms of the Joint Convention. It also seeks to provide sufficient background where necessary to enable it to be read as a stand-alone document.

An ongoing challenge for Australia is ensuring a coherent approach to regulations and waste management practice in view of the complex nature of national and regional legislation. The goal is for harmonisation of legislation between the nine jurisdictions within Australia’s federal system as a way to enhance safety of radioactive waste management. Australia is continuing to address these challenges through the ongoing development and application of a National Directory for Radiation Protection (NDRP) (ARPANSA, July 2011).2 This fourth National Report includes information on the progress Australian jurisdictions within the Commonwealth have made in these areas including in the implementation of the NDRP in relation to radioactive waste management.

The 2008 National Report included detailed information relating to the management of radioactive wastes arising from uranium mining. It also discussed the application of the recommendations of ICRP Publication 103 to remediation of closed uranium mines and the development of environmental guidance (based on ICRP Publication 91: A Framework for Assessing the Impact of Ionising Radiation on Non-Human Species) to be applied in areas such as uranium exploration and other NORM situations.

With regard to the establishment of a national radioactive waste management facility comprising a co-located near-surface disposal facility and an above-ground store, the 2005 National Report outlined the proposal for a Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Facility for the management of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste produced by Commonwealth Government agencies. Under this proposal, with the exception of the Northern Territory in which the Commonwealth facility was to be sited, the states and Australian Capital Territory would be responsible for their own waste management. The 2005 National Report also included arrangements for reprocessing of spent fuel from Australia’s research reactors. Consequently, the Second Review Meeting noted the “establishment of facilities for disposal and longer term storage of radioactive waste” and the “establishment of a facility for storage of intermediate-level waste (ILW) returned from reprocessing” as significant challenges for Australia.

By the time of the 2008 National Report, Australia’s national government had changed following the November 2007 federal election and it was reviewing all aspects of its long-term radioactive waste management strategy. At the time of the third Review Meeting in May 2009, site assessments had been completed at four potential sites in the Northern Territory for an above-ground store and near-surface disposal facility. The preliminary assessment was that any of the four sites could host a near-surface repository subject to appropriate engineering. A program of community consultation had been conducted in conjunction with the site assessments.

In this fourth National Report, the legislative and policy positions of Australia’s current government are outlined and progress on establishing a national radioactive waste management facility is presented. New legislation, the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010, which gives effect to the government's policy position, is currently before the Commonwealth Parliament. Its purpose is to establish a facility for managing, at a single site, radioactive waste currently stored at a number of locations across the country. The National Radioactive Waste Management Facility will comprise a long-term store and near-surface repository.

To assist with the regulatory process in establishing a national radioactive waste management facility, in December 2006 the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) published Regulatory Guidance for Radioactive Waste Management Facilities: Near Surface Disposal Facilities; and Storage Facilities. This document is currently being updated in accordance with evolving international best practice for ensuring safety in radioactive waste management.

Most Australian jurisdictions do not define radioactive waste in their legislation and most did not classify radioactive materials in long-term storage as waste as defined by the Joint Convention. Therefore, previous Australian reports could only assess compliance with the Joint Convention in relation to those facilities containing radioactive materials that had been characterised as waste for the purposes of the Joint Convention.

However, each jurisdiction has storage arrangements for radioactive materials as well as radioactive waste. In some cases, such as the State of Victoria, an interim store contains a variety of radioactive material surrendered to the regulator by the owner of the material or seized by the regulator for safe-keeping over the past 30 or so years. These materials can be considered as waste in that it is unlikely that there will be any further uses for them.

Recent advances such as:

  • Australia’s new national classification scheme for radioactive waste, consistent with the current International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) classification scheme, including a definition of radioactive waste;

  • progress in national policy and legislation aimed towards establishment of a national storage and disposal facility for radioactive waste; and

  • access to the IAEA database Net-Enabled Waste Management Database (NEWMDB) for maintaining waste inventories;

mean that the national radioactive waste inventory reported in this fourth National Report at Annex A is more complete than before.


Australia is a federation of nine jurisdictions – the Commonwealth of Australia,3 New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, and two territories - Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.

Until 1998, in the area of radiation protection, there were six state and two territory regulatory authorities operating within Australia. In 1998, the Commonwealth Government created a Commonwealth regulator, the CEO of ARPANSA, to regulate the radiation and nuclear safety activities of Commonwealth entities. These entities include the Department of Defence, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), regardless of the jurisdiction in which the operations are undertaken. In addition, the CEO of ARPANSA was given the charter to promote national uniformity in radiation protection across all jurisdictions.

With the establishment of the Commonwealth Government regulator, ARPANSA has developed a National Directory for Radiation Protection (ARPANSA, July 2011). The NDRP is the principal means for addressing the inconsistencies in radiation protection regulation across the various Australian jurisdictions. The NDRP provides an overall agreed framework for radiation safety, including both ionising and non-ionising radiation, together with clear regulatory statements to be adopted by the Commonwealth Government and the States and Territories. The NDRP is developed by all regulators though the processes of the Radiation Health Committee. This Committee, established under the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 (ARPANS Act), includes radiation regulators from each jurisdiction. Additions to the NDRP require final approval from health ministers from each of the jurisdictions before being adopted. In relation to radioactive waste management, codes of practice have been developed for inclusion under the NDRP framework, and there are associated safety guides.4

Australia has a few operational uranium mines and several mines that are non-operational, some of which are still under regulatory control because of the presence of potentially hazardous waste materials. All operating uranium mines are owned by non-Commonwealth entities and are therefore regulated by the jurisdictions in which they are located – the State of South Australia and the Northern Territory. The national standards developed through the NDRP process have been adopted by jurisdictions to regulate radiation safety for mining operations. In one other case, ARPANSA regulates abandoned mines located within a national park controlled by the Commonwealth Government.

Australia has operated three research reactors:

  • one newly commissioned - Open Pool Australian Light water reactor (OPAL);

  • one that has been permanently shut down – the High Flux Australian Reactor (HIFAR); and

  • one that has been fully decommissioned in late 2010 – MOATA, an Aboriginal word meaning 'fire-stick' or 'gentle-fire'.

Each of these facilities is or was located on the ANSTO site and is or was regulated by the Commonwealth Government regulator, the CEO of ARPANSA.

Radioactive waste held in state and territory stores is largely low-level and short-lived intermediate-level waste arising from industrial, medical and research practices and includes abandoned sources. Similarly, radioactive waste held by Commonwealth Government entities is mostly low-level and short-lived intermediate-level waste, including abandoned sources. Quantities of long-lived intermediate-level waste arise from activities including decommissioning and spent fuel reprocessing, and some legacy radium from medical uses.

Assessment of Australia’s compliance with the Joint Convention

The governments of Australia and the states and territories re-confirm that each has in place the framework of appropriate law, and the legislative, regulatory and administrative measures, including a system of authorisation, monitoring and inspections, necessary for implementing all obligations under this Joint Convention.

It should be noted that while Australian states and territories fully supported ratification of the Joint Convention, compliance of the states and territories of Australia is not subject to separate Commonwealth Government legislation.

The Commonwealth Government is committed to further development of a framework governing the long-term management of radioactive wastes arising from its activities, including, as appropriate and necessary, long-term storage and disposal.

Section B – Scope of Application

Article 3 Scope of Application

Spent fuel at reprocessing facilities

No reprocessing facilities exist in, or are proposed for, Australia. The discussion of management of spent fuel in this report does not include reprocessing activities. In addition, regulatory legislation (ARPANS Act) prohibits the Commonwealth Government regulator from licensing the construction or operation of reprocessing facilities.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act) requires that the Minister for the Environment must not approve the taking of an action involving the construction of a facility for the reprocessing of spent fuel (Part 10, Subdivision C, Section 146M).

Waste containing Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM)

The management of wastes arising from operating uranium mines is discussed under the relevant articles.

NORM wastes that are not part of the nuclear fuel cycle have not been included in this report.

Spent fuel and radioactive waste from military or defence programs

As previously reported, Australia has no spent fuel within military or defence programmes. Radioactive waste managed within military programmes has not been declared as radioactive waste for the purposes of this Joint Convention.

Section C – Policies and Practices

Article 32 Reporting (1)

Spent fuel management policy

Australia’s policy on spent fuel management is unchanged since the 2008 National Report. Spent fuel is transported overseas under the Foreign Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel (FRR-SNF) take-back program in the case of United States (US)-obligated fuel qualified for that program, or to another country for reprocessing. In the case of reprocessing, the fuel is transported with agreement that all resulting long-lived intermediate-level radioactive waste will be returned to Australia at a mutually agreed time for storage and in accordance with contractual obligations.

Spent fuel management practices

In Australia, the Commonwealth is the only jurisdiction in which the management of spent fuel occurs. The current and planned spent fuel management practices for the spent fuel arising from the MOATA, HIFAR and OPAL research reactors are described below.

Decommissioned Reactor (MOATA)

MOATA was an ARGONAUT type reactor operated by the ANSTO during the period April 1961 to May 1995, after which time the reactor was permanently shut down and the fuel dry-stored on site. The fuel was of US-origin and was returned to the US in December 2006 under the Foreign Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel (FRR-SNF) take-back program. Under the provisions of this program no waste will be returned to Australia.

An application to commence preliminary dismantling of the MOATA reactor was made by ANSTO to ARPANSA in March 2009 with approval granted in June of the same year. An application to undertake final dismantling was made in October 2009 with approval granted in January 2010. Following dismantling of the MOATA reactor, and demonstration that the site had been returned to background levels of radiation, approval was granted by ARPANSA for release of the site from regulatory control in May 2011.

Shut-down Reactor (HIFAR)

The High Flux Australian Reactor (HIFAR), a 10 MW research reactor, was shut down in January 2007. During its operation, the reactor produced approximately 37 spent fuel elements per year. Once discharged from the reactor, the spent fuel elements were then stored for several years under water to cool, during which time much of the short-lived activity decayed. The fuel elements were then transferred to a dry storage facility, consisting of holes drilled into the bedrock and lined with stainless steel tubes.

All spent fuel from HIFAR has been shipped to the US, to the UKAEA facility at Dounreay, United Kingdom, or to the AREVA facility at La Hague, France.

For spent fuel shipments, the spent fuel elements were loaded into licensed transport casks. These casks were drained, vacuum dried and hermetically sealed, tied down in specially strengthened steel ISO containers, and transported by road to a nearby port. Sea transportation was carried out in dedicated INF-2 classified ships. No waste from spent fuel elements shipped to the US under the FRR-SNF program will be returned to Australia. Under contractual requirements with UKAEA and AREVA, waste arising from reprocessing of spent fuel elements at their facilities will be returned to Australia as long-lived intermediate-level waste. The uranium extracted during the reprocessing of spent fuel at La Hague has been sold to AREVA. The uranium from the reprocessing of spent fuel at Dounreay was used in the fabrication of fresh fuel elements for HIFAR.

ANSTO shipped a total of 2281 HIFAR spent fuel elements to Dounreay, the US and La Hague from the operation of the HIFAR and MOATA reactors. The shipments of spent fuel were carried out in accordance with the requirements of the IAEA Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material (2005), TS-R-1, and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code (International Maritime Organisation).

Operational Reactor (OPAL)

The OPAL reactor commenced operation in 2006 and is Australia’s only operating reactor. OPAL is a 20 MW thermal, open pool, light water reactor designed for low-enriched uranium (LEU) aluminium-clad fuel. The reactor currently operates on uranium silicide fuel. It is planned that a transition will be made to uranium molybdenum fuel once that fuel is qualified.

Used uranium silicide fuel from the operation of OPAL that is discharged before 2016 will be returned to the US under the FRR-SNF program. After that period, the spent fuel will be sent to AREVA, France for reprocessing. If uranium molybdenum fuel has not been qualified by 2016, arrangements are in place with AREVA to process the silicide-type fuel.

As a further back-up option, INVAP (the Argentinian company that constructed the reactor) has guaranteed to provide an alternative solution consistent with Australia’s requirements, using proven technologies. Argentina has already developed and demonstrated a novel technology for conditioning aluminium-clad research reactor spent fuel and has plans to use that technology for managing its own research reactor spent fuel. This option has been made available for the OPAL spent fuel. An agreement with Argentina at inter-governmental level to support these arrangements has been ratified by both governments.

Spent fuel that is discharged from the reactor core is moved a short distance under water into storage racks (capacity of 336 spent fuel elements) in the reactor service pool, adjacent to and connected with the main pool. These racks have the capacity to store, under water, up to 10 years’ arisings of spent fuel discharged from the reactor, while retaining sufficient spare space to unload the complete operating reactor core (16 fuel elements) at any time, should this be required. The current usage is 30 fuel elements per year. This arrangement has the advantages of minimising handling of the spent fuel, with no movement required outside the immediate vicinity of the reactor for storage purposes and convenient, continuous monitoring of the spent fuel storage conditions. Under this process, the spent fuel is protected by the same structural features as the reactor itself, and is available at all times for visual inspection of its condition.

The reactor service pool has a purpose-built stand to take a spent fuel transport cask. For each fuel shipment, spent fuel rods will be moved the short distance from the storage racks underwater, by use of handling tools, and loaded into the transport cask for shipment.

The timing of spent fuel shipments overseas will be determined by a number of factors, including:

  • the time required to accumulate a practicable sized shipment;

  • the minimum cooling time required for the youngest elements in a shipment, to satisfy shipping cask regulatory criteria; and

  • the benefit for radiological safety of minimising the number of such shipment operations.

On the basis of around 30 spent fuel elements arising per year, it is anticipated that there will be one overseas shipment of spent fuel every five or six years. The first such shipment will be approximately eight years after the commencement of reactor operation which occurred in 2006, given a minimum cooling period of three years and the above-mentioned five or six years to accumulate a sufficient quantity for shipping.

Under contractual arrangements with the reprocessing companies, all waste generated by reprocessing must be capable of classification as less than high-level waste, as defined in Australia.5 Long-lived intermediate-level waste generated by reprocessing will be placed in long-term storage pending an appropriate disposal facility.

Radioactive waste management policy

As stated in the 2008 National Report, Australia’s radioactive waste management policy requires that all radioactive waste generated within Australia be stored or disposed of in Australia at suitably sited facilities after being categorised in accordance with the national classification scheme and consistent with agreed international practice. This policy included the establishment of the previously proposed Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Facility. Site investigations and community consultations were undertaken at four locations in the Northern Territory during 2006-08.

The site investigations report by consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff was released by the Commonwealth Government in March 2010 following peer review by an independent consultant. The report concluded that it is feasible to construct a radioactive waste management facility on any of the sites assessed but that construction costs vary according to site characteristics.

Australia’s national government changed following the November 2007 federal election. The incoming Commonwealth Government announced the outcome of a review of its long-term radioactive waste management strategy on 23 February 2010 through the introduction of the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 in Federal Parliament. Under the strategy, only land volunteered by its owners can be considered as a site for a potential facility. Two volunteer nomination processes have been proposed. The first allows an Aboriginal Land Council in the Northern Territory to volunteer Aboriginal land on behalf of Traditional Owners. The second provides for a nation-wide volunteer site selection process in the event that the government considers it unlikely that a facility will be able to be constructed and operated on a volunteered site on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory.

Under the Bill, the Commonwealth Government committed to no longer consider the three Department of Defence sites assessed by Parsons Brinckerhoff. However, the volunteered fourth site on Aboriginal land at Muckaty Station (Northern Territory), nominated under the previous policy, is preserved.

The Bill was passed by the Federal Parliament House of Representatives on 22 February 2011 and is currently under consideration in the Senate.

The Commonwealth Government has reviewed all aspects of its long-term radioactive waste management strategy. The government’s policy is that low-level radioactive waste generated by operation and eventual decommissioning of OPAL will be disposed of at a near-surface repository.

A proportion of Australia's radioactive waste currently generated can be attributed to the production of medical isotopes by ANSTO.

The majority of medical waste from hospitals is short-lived and managed via delay and decay facilities at the point of generation until it can be legally disposed of or discharged as being below regulatory concern. It is then managed with other non-radioactive medical wastes.

The majority of disused sealed sources in Australia are stored by the owner of the source. Most jurisdictions do not provide for collection or storage of sources and therefore do not charge for the cost of storage. The priority practice is to return the source to manufacturer where this is available and these costs are borne by the owner of the source.

In Queensland, certain sources may be stored in the State’s dedicated radioactive waste store and while there is no direct storage cost imposed on the owner of the source, the owner is required to ensure that standards in relation to predisposal management of radioactive waste and transport of radioactive materials are met as well as the waste acceptance criteria for the waste store.

In Western Australia (WA), disposal of sources is available at the State’s Mt Walton East Intractable Waste Disposal Facility (see Article 32(2)). Just prior to disposal, wastes are transferred to Radiation Health’s waste store at the facility for pre-disposal packaging, but no storage costs are charged (WA does have the provision to charge for storage over a longer time period but to date have had no reason to do so). Disposal costs are based on cost recovery and are shared amongst waste owners on a pro-rata basis calculated on total packaged volume for the source.

National requirements and guidance

Since the 2008 National Report, Australia has continued to develop national guidance relating to radioactive waste management as part of the national uniformity process, in which standards are developed, referenced in the NDRP and adopted by Australian regulators. The goal is for radioactive wastes to be subject to the same legislative and regulatory requirements across the nation.

In addition, all jurisdictions apply the provisions of the ARPANSA document Recommendations for Limiting Exposure to Ionizing Radiation (1995) and National Standard for Limiting Occupational Exposure to Ionizing Radiation (republished 2002) (RPS1), which is consistent with ICRP Publication 60. RPS1 is referenced in the NDRP for national adoption and is currently being revised to take into account the most recent ICRP recommendations (Publication 103) and the new International Basic Safety Standards (IAEA). Amongst other requirements, RPS1 requires organisations and employers to have and maintain a radiation management plan.

The document, Regulatory Guideline on Review of Plans and Arrangements (ARPANSA, 2003), sets out the regulatory expectation in the Commonwealth jurisdiction and therefore the criteria by which the adequacy of the radiation management plan is judged. This document is currently being updated. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Regulations 1999 (ARPANS Regulations) require that a Commonwealth licence holder must review its plans and arrangements for managing safety (including the radiation management plan) every 12 months and any changes to those plans must be communicated to the CEO of ARPANSA. If a proposed change to those plans has “significant implications for safety” then the proposed change requires the prior approval of the CEO of ARPANSA.

ARPANSA’s Regulatory Guidance for Radioactive Waste Management Facilities was issued in December 2006. This document is currently being updated and will be reissued during 2012.

The contents of radiation management plans in relation to waste are stipulated in the Code of Practice for the Near-Surface Disposal of Radioactive Waste in Australia (National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), 1992) (the Near-Surface Disposal Code), currently under review, and in the Code of Practice and Safety Guide on Radiation Protection and Radioactive Waste Management in Mining and Mineral Processing (ARPANSA, 2005) (the Mining Code). Guidance on the content of radioactive waste management plans for predisposal management is also provided in the Safety Guide for the Predisposal Management of Radioactive Waste (ARPANSA, 2008) (the Predisposal Management Safety Guide).

The Near-Surface Disposal Code requires that an operator establish a radiation management plan before the commencement of disposal operations. This must meet the requirements of, and be approved by, the regulator. The purpose of this plan is to establish management practices and procedures to ensure no unacceptable risk to employees or members of the public during waste handling, packaging and disposal operations. The radiation management plan must address operational aspects of radiation safety. The plan must also address personnel training, personnel monitoring, maintenance of records, monitoring within the operational area of the facility, designation of areas of potential radiation exposure, emergency preparedness, contamination control and protective clothing and apparatus. The radiation management plan must be reviewed by the operator at approximately three-yearly intervals during the period of operation, and the operator shall submit a publicly available report detailing this review to the regulator.

Some waste at abandoned mine sites has also been regulated according to the Near-Surface Disposal Code. A technical report describing the methodology used to calculate the activity concentrations in the Code has been published (Classification and Disposal of Radioactive Waste in Australia - Consideration of Criteria for Near Surface Burial in an Arid Area, ARPANSA, TR152, 2010).

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