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Estimates & Committees
Scott Ludlam 20 Oct 2011

Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency - Wedmesday 19 October - Economics Committee


CHAIR: Welcome.

Senator LUDLAM: Welcome back, Dr Larsson. FSANZ have taken the meat curry away, so we have at least saved you that trauma.

Ms Halton : I am sure they will share it later.

Senator LUDLAM: Yes, everyone will get a little sample. What part does ARPANSA play in the regulation of irradiated food products in Australia?

Dr Larsson : ARPANSA plays a role in advising the relevant bodies on radiation levels and the safety of radiation levels. As an example, in the wake of the Fukushima accidents we have had a very fruitful collaboration with both FSANZ and AQIS. We have also, at the request of AQIS, performed a number of food-monitoring roles for a variety of food imports from Japan.

Senator LUDLAM: That is at a tangent to the question I am asking, but it is interesting nonetheless. That is for food that has been irradiated incidentally to the disaster?

Dr Larsson : This is not food that has been irradiated; this is food that might have been contaminated.

Senator LUDLAM: Have you had to stop or advise on the stoppage of any shipments?

Dr Larsson : No.

Senator LUDLAM: That is good news. What about food that has been irradiated deliberately and then imported into the country?

Dr Larsson : Food that is irradiated does not become radioactive. Irradiation is for sterilisation purposes and for control of biological hazards, but it does not become radioactive.

Senator LUDLAM: I am aware of that. Do you not play any part at all in advising-

Dr Larsson : No.

Senator LUDLAM: So that is entirely at the whim of the health authorities. What about the regulation of irradiation plants here in Australia? I am aware of two or three at least. Does that come into your domain?

Dr Larsson : Sorry-can you repeat that question?

Senator LUDLAM: Food irradiation plants that use sealed sources to blast fruits-

Dr Larsson : If they were to be Commonwealth entities, they would be regulated by us.

Senator LUDLAM: I believe they are not.

Dr Larsson : If they are not Commonwealth entities they would be regulated by the states and territories.

Senator LUDLAM: Got it. It does not sound like it is much of a part of your mandate. Could you provide us with a quick update on the status of integrating Northern Territory uranium miners into your National Radiation Dose Register?

Dr Larsson : I do not have any information from the Northern Territory at this point in time which would indicate when we would have access to the worker doses of the Northern Territory.

Senator LUDLAM: That is a shame. Have you written or has your minister written to the Northern Territory government?

Dr Larsson : I am not aware that my minister has actually written to the Northern Territory government. There has been an exchange of letters between the minister for resources-

Senator LUDLAM: I should put those questions to DRET, I guess, a little bit later in the week. To what extent has historical data been incorporated into the register thus far? If this is complex, I would invite you to just to table any summary information you have.

Dr Larsson : A very short summary is that we have six years of dose history for the Olympic Dam and we have, if I remember correctly, 10 years of dose history for the Beverley mine.

Senator LUDLAM: And nothing yet for Ranger or any of the mines that previously existed?

Dr Larsson : That is correct.

Senator LUDLAM: Are you chasing dose records from mines that operated and closed down in Queensland, for example?

Dr Larsson : We are not doing that currently. I think that, with the 18,200 workers that we now have dose records for, we need to actually have a little bit of a control over the performance of the dose register. I see that it actually performs the services that we set out to deliver.

Senator LUDLAM: If somebody spent a couple of years working at Ranger and then worked down at Roxby Downs, you have only got that fraction of the record that relates to their employment in South Australia?

Dr Larsson : That is correct.

Senator LUDLAM: I want to come to the question of the proposed Commonwealth radioactive waste dump. At some stage in the future ARPANSA will receive, we understand-it is government policy-an application to site a facility at Muckaty. Can you just detail for us how ARPANSA will address that application and, in particular, for the parts of the regulatory framework that relate to your domain-radiation safety, rather than the EPBC approvals-what will the framework for community consultation look like?

Dr Larsson : I think that is actually something that we need to discuss in detail when I see the application because it is, of course, dependent on the nature of the application, where the site is actually going to be identified, as to what system of management of the radioactive waste we are talking about here. Certainly there will be a process for public consultation and also for seeking input from all interested parties. I would not go into details right now as to how that is going to be set up. I can only say that that is going to happen.

Senator LUDLAM: So you have come some way along designing some kind of process; is that just on hold for the time being?

Dr Larsson : That is on hold for the time being and there has been no reason to progress that, considering that the bill has actually not progressed. As you may also understand, probably since March this year we have been very busy with other issues.

Senator LUDLAM: Yes, I will come to those-in fact, I will come to those now. The recent UN multiagency system-wide review of nuclear power post Fukushima mostly had lessons and recommendations relating to the operation of civil nuclear power plants. The issue of local impacts of uranium mining was addressed. Has ARPANSA provided or been asked to provide or formulated advice on possible mechanisms where Australia might comply with the recommendations that arose relating to uranium mining?

Dr Larsson : As you will know, uranium mining is something that is under state and territory control. There is a mechanism by which we can also influence the control over uranium mining, and that is through the national uniformity process through the Radiation Health Committee. Also, in situations where there is a licensing application, or an application that falls under the EPBC Act, we will also advise the department of the environment on radiation related issues. So those are, mainly, the points in time or the issues where we become involved.

Senator LUDLAM: In the specific case of that UN review, have you had the opportunity to see that and to examine the parts that are relevant to Australia?

Dr Larsson : I am aware of the UN review, but I cannot comment in any detail on that.

Senator LUDLAM: Could I draw your attention to the section around the local impacts of mining, where it is noted that concerns exist regarding the impact of mining fissionable material on local communities and ecosystems, and maybe I will pick these issues up when you are next at the table.

Dr Larsson : Thank you.

Senator LUDLAM: I will leave it there.

CHAIR: Thanks very much to the officers of ARPANSA. On that basis, we finish Population health, despite ourselves. We will go to lunch now. When we come back we will go into Acute care.



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