Additional Estimates - Wednesday 15 February 2012 - Community Affairs Committee - Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency
CHAIR: Welcome. Senator Ludlam has questions.
Senator LUDLAM: Welcome back. Dr Larsson, can you please update the committee about any preparatory work that you or your office has done since the last time we spoke in anticipation of a centralised remote radioactive waste dump in Australia, either on transport issues or siting issues or anything else that is on your desk at the moment?
Dr Larsson: In the interim between the meetings and since we last had a discussion, we have developed and have for internal review now a regulatory guide which specifies the requirements and the specific requirements- CHAIR: Sorry, Dr Larsson, people cannot hear. There are troubles in this room with acoustics. We addressed that before. If we could just try, Dr Larsson; I understand it is difficult. We will go from there. Keep going.
Dr Larsson: Thank you, Senator. In the interim, from the last meeting and up to this meeting, we have developed a regulatory guidance which specifies the requirements that we would see fulfilled in the licence application. It also specifies a number of requirements that I can pose and I can set up in order to be in a position to issue a licence or not. That regulatory guidance is now for internal review. We expect that within a couple of months it would probably be possible to send it out for an external review.
Senator LUDLAM: Who are your internal reviewers? It comes from ARPANSA. Does it go to-
Dr Larsson: The internal review comes from the expertise at ARPANSA.
Senator LUDLAM: And where are you sending it to? When you say 'internal review', can you describe who your reviewers are?
Dr Larsson: That would be the senior staff at ARPANSA and the waste management people that we have-the waste management experts, including the legal people.
Senator LUDLAM: The legal people? All within ARPANSA at this stage?
Dr Larsson: All within ARPANSA at this stage.
Senator LUDLAM: And you said in a couple of months you would be ready for external review.
Dr Larsson: Obviously it is very difficult to forecast exactly when that is going to be happening, because that depends on the internal review and the result of that.
Senator LUDLAM: Who will your external reviewers be? What happens when you-
Dr Larsson: I understand it is going to go out very broadly.
Senator LUDLAM: Publicly?
Dr Larsson: Publicly and to stakeholders.
Senator LUDLAM: Great. That is interesting. The question, as I put it to you, was about a centralised remote dump somewhere in central Australia. But I am also aware, and we had confirmation earlier this morning from ANSTO, that in the interim, while the process unfolds around the remote dump, the material that is coming back from Europe will be taken and stored temporarily in Sydney. Is the work that you are doing-the process that you are undergoing at the moment-identical for those two proposals, or are there two different streams?
Dr Larsson: The work that we are doing actually covers storage and disposal. That is irrespective of whether it is at ANSTO or it is in a remote location in central Australia or any other place.
Senator LUDLAM: All right. That is handy. Thank you. Have you examined the report of President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future? That was a report issued on 26 January.
Dr Larsson: I have personally read it. I am not in a position right now to comment on it because I have not done the analysis of it.
Senator LUDLAM: Maybe I will come back to this in May when you have had time to read it. The reason I am bringing it up here is that the first pillar of that strategy is to adopt a consent based approach to siting future nuclear waste storage and disposal facilities. It notes that trying to force them on unwilling states, tribes and communities has not worked. Obviously in the United States they are dealing with a vastly larger volume of material than we are here.
Dr Larsson: Correct.
Senator LUDLAM: But I still feel it is worth bringing that to your attention. But maybe we will revisit this when you have had time to go through it in detail.
Dr Larsson: I would be happy to.
Senator LUDLAM: You were part of the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, the Fukushima Assessment Task Force. Can you please provide us with an update of what that task force is doing?
Dr Larsson: I am not part of a task force, but ARPANSA is. ARPANSA is coordinating through my colleague Dr Stephen Solomon. It is coordinating that activity. It is divided into a number of work packages, and ARPANSA coordinates one, which relates to the dose estimates to the public and the dose estimates to the environment and the environmental and health effects.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. When are you anticipating to have preliminary findings?
Dr Larsson: The UNSCEAR, or the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, will have a meeting in May. That will be the first update on where we are in this process. The project has been devised to take about two years. The final report will actually be around about May next year.
Senator LUDLAM: Do you anticipate that there will be a communique or anything else published at your first meeting?
Dr Larsson: The first meeting?
Senator LUDLAM: In May.
Dr Larsson: That I cannot tell you because that will be up to the executive, actually, to decide on whether there is enough information and material information to issue a communique. I would anticipate that a news item will come up on the UNSCEAR website. Certainly there will be a broad communication of the final report when it is finally issued, which is, as I said, probably about May next year.
Senator LUDLAM: For the record, I understood you were on one of the first visits for the first meeting of that team, or that task force?
Dr Larsson: No. ARPANSA was.
Senator LUDLAM: And that is Stephen Solomon?
Dr Larsson: Exactly.
Senator LUDLAM: How close would you say you are to the day-to-day workings of that task force? If I ask you a couple of other questions about the situation in Japan, do you feel in a position to take the questions?
Dr Larsson: If you ask the questions, I will take them.
Senator LUDLAM: A member of my staff was recently part of the first international delegation to Fukushima. They went up to the city reasonably close to the reactor site-certainly into some fairly dangerous areas. What is your overall assessment at this point of the impact on the health of the people and the environment from the accident there?
Dr Larsson: I do think that it would be dangerous and to some extent also speculative to be too precise on this issue. We do have a lot of information that relates to the ground contamination. We can do the calculations of the likely doses. We still need more data and we still need also confirmation and supply of data from the Japanese authorities with regard to the food pathways and other exposure pathways. So, from that point of view, I think it is very difficult at this point to be very precise in the estimates.
Senator LUDLAM: That is all right. It was a fairly general question. Is the task force being briefed on efforts being undertaken to ‘clean' areas of radiation-roofs, car parks, buildings and so on-in the evacuation area?
Dr Larsson: Part of the UNSCEAR assessment is also related to providing recommendations on the clean-up.
Senator LUDLAM: I am presuming you are not telling me you have to wait for two years before you can start making recommendations and giving advice?
Dr Larsson: No. I would say that there is already a substantial activity going on in Japan and internationally. The Japanese authorities have established a number of international advisory groups that provide them with advice on the clean-up and on the different measures that need to be taken in order to protect the public and the environment.
Senator LUDLAM: I am not clear on what your answer is, though. Are you providing advice now in the interim during the work, or will the Japanese government and people get your recommendations in May 2013?
Dr Larsson: If you are talking about UNSCEAR and if you are talking about ARPANSA, we are currently not providing any advice directly to the Japanese authorities. But there are international working groups and international advisory groups that are working on it currently.
Senator LUDLAM: My question referred specifically to the UNSCEAR task force.
Dr Larsson: The UNSCEAR task force is collaborating very closely with the Japanese authorities, and the Japanese authorities are obviously a very important part of this taskforce. So any information or any knowledge that it generated within the task force would automatically also be available to the Japanese authorities.
Senator LUDLAM: Has the task force made recommendations to the Japanese government about things that they should have done?
Dr Larsson: No.
Senator LUDLAM: Thank you. I would like to acknowledge your decision to ask the department of health to review some of the investigations into practices at ANSTO. We heard their side of the story a little earlier in the day. I am informed of a vastly improved safety culture at ANSTO. That shows, I suppose, that there was enormous room for improvement from when we started this a couple of years ago. I asked ANSTO this morning about an investigation that was being reopened as an outcome of that department of health investigation held five years ago into an incident involving Yttrium-90. They said that that is being reopened because what has been revealed is the possibility that a relationship between ANSTO staff and someone at ARPANSA might have influenced a report. We had some of the story described very briefly from ANSTO this morning, but they have handballed it to your desk. So can you just tell us what is occurring there?
Dr Larsson: I will recap. You might remember that I actually called for a review of two of the previous inspections that we had done at ANSTO-one that related to an incident in 2008 and the other that related to an incident in 2007; the one that you mention about the protection of Yttrium-90. I asked for assistance from the department of health and I got a report from the department of health which said that the incident in 2008 relating to the production of molybdenum could be a closed case. There was still a possibility of questions that needed to be asked in relation to the Yttrium-90 incident, which was back in 2007, 4½ years ago. As a result of that review that I got from the audit and fraud unit of the department of health, I contracted KPMG to look further into this. The report is likely to be delivered to me by the end of March. Before that, I do not have any more information to provide to you.
Senator LUDLAM: Apparently you had inspectors on site today.
Dr Larsson: That is possible. I have not been-
Senator LUDLAM: It is on the Hansard from early this morning. If I ask you how it went, you will not be able to give me much more detail than that?
Dr Larsson: No.
Senator LUDLAM: And was the time line report published in May-maybe I am using the term ‘published' too loosely-delivered to you in May or put into the public domain?
Dr Larsson: March.
Senator LUDLAM: What will the status of that be? Will it be a public document or will it be an internal document?
Dr Larsson: I will have to review that before I actually take a decision on that. But, certainly, there would be some information that would be made public on our website.
Senator LUDLAM: What criteria do you apply when you are determining whether or not to make a document like that public?
Dr Larsson: I think that is a question that I will have to take on notice because that is something that I would like to review together with my legal staff or, potentially, also within the departments.
Senator LUDLAM: I would be really interested to get a response to that, so I will await that one. My last question is a follow-up on something that has been running for a while around the radiation dose register and the status of workers at Ranger in the Northern Territory. We have spoken before that in fact it is an inconsistency between territory and Commonwealth law-
Dr Larsson: That is correct.
Senator LUDLAM: It was handballed back into the department of health's lap, I am afraid. I got correspondence from the NT government saying it is not a problem with the NT legislation; it is a problem with Canberra.
Dr Larsson: The only information that I have on that is that we still have not seen the changes in the NT legislation that, according to the legal people, would be required in order for them to release or in order for the Ranger mine to release the worker doses data to the register.
Senator LUDLAM: We have a problem, in that case. I do not have the letter with me or I would table it for you. But I might get it to your office after this hearing is concluded.
Dr Larsson: Thank you.
Senator LUDLAM: You have told me, I think a couple of times-I have no reason to disbelieve you-that it is a problem with the NT legislation. I have a letter from the Chief Minister saying that is not the case. They are waiting for amendments down here in Canberra. In the meantime, a big cohort of radiation workers have been left off the register.
Ms Halton: I am sorry, Senator. Senator McLucas and I were discussing another issue in Senate estimates. Can you repeat the beginning of that? This is in terms of the register?
Senator LUDLAM: Yes. You would be aware that the large cohort of workers at the Ranger mine in the NT have not yet been brought on to the register. I have been told here a couple of times that there is inconsistency between the NT legislation and Commonwealth privacy law. I think that is the case.
Ms Halton: Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: You were waiting for Darwin to make changes to their laws. I have correspondence from the Chief Minister that they are waiting for the situation to be fixed down here. So we appear to be stuck.
Ms Halton: If it is possible for you to share that correspondence-
Senator LUDLAM: It will be, yes.
Ms Halton: that would be good. That would actually help me. We will have a look at it.
Senator LUDLAM: I will leave it there. Thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: Thank you very much, Senator. I thank the officers from ARPANSA.