Senate Supplementary Estimates - Economics Committee - 17 October 2012
Senator LUDLAM: Sorry Dr Paterson, we are a bit short of time. I will try to keep the questions short.
Senator Chris Evans: Can I just say quickly that cabinet made the decision on this investment based on a very strong business case and was supported by the central financial agencies on the basis that we think a very strong business case for the plant exists.
Senator LUDLAM: Was a cost-benefit analysis done?
Dr Paterson : The business case was independently reviewed by KPMG and they did a top-down and a bottom-up review. They consulted international experts in the field and the economics of this investment is absolutely sustainable in a fully market-oriented fashion.
Senator LUDLAM: But a formal cost-benefit analysis was not done?
Dr Paterson : The cost-benefit analysis was but one element of that.
Senator LUDLAM: Are the business plan and peer review both public documents?
Dr Paterson : Typically one would not provide such a detailed business plan as a public document because there are commercial implications.
Senator LUDLAM: So none of it can be put into the public domain?
Dr Paterson : I think that the high level capacity of the plant is certainly something that we have been able to talk about.
Senator Chris Evans: Perhaps the best response to that, Senator, is that we will take it on notice and see what can be provided to the committee without that going against that commercial-in-confidence.
Senator LUDLAM: That is useful. I want to come to the KPMG assessment of the ARPANSA report into the yttrium incident that effectively vindicates what one of your whistleblowers, Mr David Reid, has been saying all along. Dr Paterson, are you aware of the KPMG report that I am referring to?
Dr Paterson : I am aware of the KPMG report that you are referring to.
Senator LUDLAM: Has ANSTO reviewed that report and do you accept its findings?
Dr Paterson : ANSTO has received a redacted copy of that report. We have read that report and we note the warranties and disclaimers that have been placed on record by KPMG. The report says:
We have prepared this report for the benefit of ARPANSA only. Whilst we have consented to the distribution of this report beyond ARPANSA. it should not be regarded as suitable for use by any party other than ARPANSA. If you are in possession of this report...
And it carries on from there. It is clear that the report was intended for ARPANSA, but in the spirit of advancing nuclear safety and attention to all aspects that we could continuously improve by achieving a deeper understanding of any events that have happened, we have read the report. We have decided on the basis of that statement by KPMG that there would be no benefit in pursuing any matters in relation to the report.
I think careful reading of the report suggests that, if there was any incident that morning, it was of low-radiological significance and therefore we are confident that there is nothing-
Senator LUDLAM: Dr Paterson, I will tell you what my careful reading of that report indicates. I take on-board your caveat that their disclaimer does, indeed, identify ARPANSA as the primary recipient of the report. I am glad you have at least reviewed it. The KPMG report finds that ANSTO technical and supervisory staff and the executive management covered up the fact that three staff were contaminated by the beta emitter yttrium on the relevant day and that Mr Reid witnessed an incident between two men at the contamination barrier on the day in question. He reported that one man had yttrium contamination, which is a beta radiation emitter, all down his clothes and in his mouth and that the other man's supervisor was trying to clean him up and was telling him not to report the contamination. So, has ANSTO made misleading statements about this incident, which I should also observe led to the suspension of the whistleblower in question?
Dr Paterson : Senator, you seem to have made a comment rather than a question and I am finding it difficult. There are a series of statements that you have made.
Senator LUDLAM: My question, then, is about whether or not ANSTO at any time has made misleading statements-either yourself or your staff-about this incident.
Dr Paterson : I do not believe that ANSTO has at any time made misleading statements in respect of the series of incidents that took place on that day in 2007. I do not believe that we have ever tried to suggest in any way that there were incidents on that day. It was submitted in our normal quarterly report. This particular investigation was for the purposes of ARPANSA I believe that the radiological significance of the purported event, if indeed it happened, was low. I think that this has been investigated 11 times.
Senator LUDLAM: Sorry, Mr Paterson, are you still contesting that these events even occurred at all? Were those your words?
Dr Paterson : We were not involved in this investigation in a way that would have allowed us to put all of the issues on the table. For example, you referred to executive management. No member of the executive was interviewed by the person who conducted this investigation. It just goes to show that this was a report that was, indeed, intended for ARPANSA. It was not intended to make any findings in relation to ANSTO, and I do not believe it has done.
Senator LUDLAM: It is your facility; it is your plant. It is a report about an accident involving your staff at your facility. I am not quite sure why we are creating this distance. It was created for the regulator because they were extremely unhappy-I will contest these contentions later on this morning with ANSTO-with ANSTO'S response to these incidents, which did indeed occur. These are not alleged incidents. These are a matter of public record.
Dr Paterson : I believe that we have been very clear on this matter. If indeed this incident did take place-
Senator LUDLAM: So you contest the existence?
Dr Paterson : I can contest whether there was an incident of this nature at the time that has been outlined in the report. I have never had the opportunity to meet or engage with the investigator. I understood this to be an ARPANSA investigation of whether they had properly conducted themselves in analysing these events at the time. We do not believe that any purpose would be served in terms of good use of public resources to continue this matter, because there is no radiological evidence. People used to, as they do all the time now, wear film badges. People who were involved in this incident were subjected to whole-body monitoring as a result of the reported incidents on the day.
There is just no evidence in the broader evidential record, which was not considered by this investigator, to suggest that anybody was internally contaminated on that day. I know that certain people have different time lines with which they believe certain incidents happened. We just cannot find a record of that happening. At the time, the staff members who were involved did not all have the same sense and memory of what happened. It happened a long time ago. In any event, we at the time, with the other two incidents that took place on that day that we know actually happened, because we have reports about them, took the necessary action to introduce the types of controls that would be consistent with the controls that you would introduce into any facility.
CHAIR: Dr Paterson, thank you. Time has now expired for this discussion.