Tag Archives: Australia nuclear waste disposal

Rusting and Leaking: radioactive waste in Australia

image from wikipedia

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is the federal government agency for scientific research in Australia.
CSIRO faces a $30 million clean up bill after barrels of radioactive waste at a major facility were found to be “deteriorating rapidly” and possibly leaking.

An inspection found “significant rusting” on many of the 9,725 drums, which are understood to contain radioactive waste and other toxic chemicals.  Much of the radioactive waste was trucked to Woomera from Sydney in the mid 1990s.  CSIRO flagged a $29.7 million budget provision for “remediation works” at a remote location in its latest annual report.

Almost 10,000 drums of radioactive waste are stored at a CSIRO facility in Woomera, South Australia.  The Woomera facility is currently one of Australia’s largest storage sites for low and intermediate-level radioactive waste.   A damning report of the Woomera facility was issued by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) after an inspection in April 2016.   “Evidence was sighted that indicates the drums are now beginning to deteriorate rapidly,” read the report, seen by Fairfax Media.   “Significant rust on a number of the drums, deterioration of the plastic drum-liners and crushing of some stacked drums was observed.

Tests confirmed the presence of radioactive isotopes at one location and inspectors said there was a possibility the drums were leaking.”Although unlikely, there is the possibility that the presence of deceased animals such as rodents and birds may indicate that some of the drums, which contain industrial chemicals, may be leaking into the environment.”  The mixture of water and concentrated radioactive material inside some of the drums also had the potential to produce explosive hydrogen gas, inspectors found.

They also noted CSIRO had little knowledge of what was inside many of the barrels, some of which are believed to date back more than 50 years.  “Without full knowledge [of] the contents of the drums, risks cannot be fully identified and risk controls cannot be appropriately implements to protect people and the environment,” inspectors noted in the report.

Many of the drums are understood to contain contaminated soil generated by government research into radioactive ores at Melbourne’s Fishermans Bend throughout the 1940s and 1950s.  The toxic soil was discovered by the Department of Defence in 1989, who sent it to Sydney’s Lucas Heights facility before it was palmed off to Woomera in 1994.

The country’s other major radioactive waste storage facility at Lucas Heights, Sydney, is rapidly approaching full capacity. 

Coupled with issues at the CSIRO site, the revelations highlighted the urgent need for a national radioactive waste storage solution, experts said.

Excerpts from Rusted barrels of radioactive waste cost CSIRO $30 million, Sydney Morning Herald, Mar. 13, 2017

Who Welcomes Foreign Nuclear Waste

Beverley Uranium Mine Plant, South Australia image from wikipedia

The storage and disposal of used nuclear fuel from other countries is likely to deliver substantial economic benefits for South Australia, a royal commission into the nuclear fuel cycle has found.  On Monday, the South Australian royal commission released its tentative findings, which backed nuclear fuel storage and left the door open to further uranium mining and processing but came down against the use of nuclear power for electricity generation.

The findings said a nuclear storage and disposal facility would be commercially viable and South Australia could store nuclear waste as early as the late 2020s. It suggested the state set up a sovereign wealth fund “to accumulate and equitably share the profits from the storage and disposal of waste”.  The royal commission noted the main hazard from developing an industry storing other countries’ used fuel rods was emission of radiation into the natural environment, including that particles emitting radiation could be inhaled or ingested by humans and other organisms.  But it said Finland and Sweden had both developed safe facilities for long-term disposal of nuclear waste. Risks could be mitigated by storing waste in solid form in geologically stable areas, and several layers of packaging and containers to prevent waste contaminating groundwater.  South Australia was suitable because of its low levels of seismic activity, arid environment in many parts of the state, stable political structure and frameworks for securing long-term agreement with landowners and the community.

The draft findings were that nuclear waste storage and disposal could generate $5bn a year for the first 30 years of operation and about $2bn a year until waste receipts conclude. This would result in $51bn profit over the life of the project, it said.  The report predicted nuclear storage would create approximately 1,500 full-time jobs during a construction period of about 25 years, peaking at 4,500, and leaving more than 600 jobs once operations begin.

The report also said expansion of uranium mining could be economically beneficial but “it is not the most significant opportunity”.  The royal commission said uranium processing could not be developed in the next decade as a standalone industry as the market was already oversupplied and uncertain, but uranium leasing, which links uranium processing with its eventual return for disposal, is more likely to be commercially attractive….

Federal minister for resources and energy Josh Frydenberg …the federal government’s proposed national nuclear waste facility would only store low and intermediate level waste. “It cannot and will not be built to store radioactive waste generated overseas or high level waste,” he said.

Excerpts Paul Karp,  Inquiry backs plan to store world’s nuclear waste in outback Australia, Guardian, Feb. 14, 2016