Back to All News

ANSTO

Estimates & Committees
Scott Ludlam 2 Jun 2011

Economics Committee

Monday 30 May 2011

CHAIR: Thank you. Senator Ludlam.

Senator LUDLAM: Thanks for coming in. I would just like to add my comments as we farewell you, Mr Paterson, and wish you the best for your future endeavours on behalf of the Greens.

I note a recent statement issued by ANSTO which states that you have been closely monitoring the events unfolding in Japan, in conjunction with ARPANSA, and that you have been offering advice and support to the Australian government. Can you just described for the committee the nature of ANSTO's close monitoring activity?

Dr Paterson : Thank you very much, and good morning, Senator. Right from the initiating events following the earthquake and the tsunami, we put together a team inside ANSTO composed of people familiar with boiling water reactors and their application in the production of nuclear power. That team reviewed all of the information that became available publicly and by the specialist nuclear channels that are available to us so that we could provide regularly updated information for the government on how we saw this particular set of events unfolding. The range of inputs that we have made have been at the level of the understanding of how boiling water reactors work and what the risk and safety case associated with those reactors was. We have given input on the releases of radiation and the impact of the releases of radiation; the uptake of radioisotopes in food; the understanding of the different press reports that came out at different times; and the implications for how the likely outcome over the long term would come forward. We continue to monitor the current events, including the endeavours to bring the reactors into a state of cold shut down.

We also have had a strong record and tradition with our partners, the IAEA and our colleagues around the Asia-Pacific rim, in monitoring radiation levels in seawater. We will be continuing to strengthen that work following the releases of radioisotopes into the ocean. We are currently very active tracking the work of the IAEA delegation, which is in Japan at present, which will lead to a conference that is due to take place in the third week of June in Vienna. That will be the first senior level conference to review the factors that have led to the current crisis around the Daiichi plant. So we have been going beyond that as well. We have very strong research relationships with a number of nuclear science and technology organisations in Japan, including J-PARC, Spring-8 and others.

We provided the minister with a review of the damage to the J-PARC facility and the implications for nuclear science and technology research that arose from that. You may be a aware that we made a specific offer to our Japanese research colleagues that while their equipment is not functioning - their neutron beam instruments in particular -they could come and utilise some of the time available on our facilities. They have taken up that offer, and the first researchers will be coming to ANSTO within the next quarter. In addition to that we have continued to offer any help and assistance that we can. Very early on when the New South Wales rescue teams were going into Japan, we provided them with radiation monitoring equipment, for example. So right from the very early moments of the tsunami and earthquake, and the impact on those nuclear facilities, we have been deeply involved. We will continue to be involved in order to provide high quality information to government in support both of an understanding of the implications of this disaster and also to support our colleagues in Japan who are working to alleviate and mitigate the effects of that, and more broadly the nuclear science and technology community in Japan.

Senator LUDLAM: Will anybody from ANSTO be attending that meeting in Vienna?

Dr Paterson : It is our intention to be at the meeting in Vienna. At present it is likely to be myself and our counsellor in Vienna. That will probably be the intention.

Senator LUDLAM: I might ask you for a report on that next time.

Dr Paterson : We would certainly welcome the opportunity to share that information with you.

Senator Heffernan interjecting-

Senator LUDLAM: We can try and stay on topic, if that is possible. What is your prognosis, Dr Paterson? Do you believe that the Japanese authorities actually have those reactors under control? Do you think that they will in fact have the plant in a state of cold shut down within a couple of months or do you think it is more serious than that?

Dr Paterson : I certainly think that the events at the Daiichi plant are very serious. There is no doubt in my mind that we do not yet have a full assessment of the full impact of the events, and therefore the projected timelines for cold shut down I think are solid but perhaps slightly optimistic. I think that it may take longer than they currently expect to achieve that full shutdown. However, I think that the trajectory is all moving in the right direction. There is no evidence at present that there is any re-criticality of the cores, which clearly have suffered significant melting. That would be something to track really carefully.

Senator LUDLAM: What happens if there is a re-criticality of the reactors, effectively-if one of them starts itself back up again? What do they do then?

Dr Paterson : I think it would be mitigated relatively easily by the introduction of boric acid. That is a neutron poison and it would rapidly shut down any re-criticality. I do not believe that that is a very strong possibility at this point, but it is important to indicate that we do not have enough ground truth at this point to fully understand the implications for plants 1 to 4. Secondly, we need to monitor the clean out. The clean out on site is challenging, because as a result of the hydrogen explosions there was a lot of radioactive contamination of the debris. That leads to different amounts of activity in different parts of the site, which makes access to the facility difficult in some cases. I am comfortable that the Japanese authorities are deploying sufficient resources to address these, but as more information becomes available there is a dynamic re-evaluation of the plants. I am fully confident that over the next period, as more information becomes available, the full extent of the future and forward looking risks will be better understood. For example, the plume to the North West and the release of caesium 137 is not deeply understood at this point. It is obviously one of the objectives of the IAEA mission to better characterise what the implications are for the community that lives in that area. Overall, however, the nuclear facility there has proven remarkably robust under a beyond-design-basis accident that is of a very serious nature.

Senator LUDLAM: Let's hope that you are right, because I think it is about to be hit by a storm. I want to turn to reactors here in Australia. In the 2011 budget, the government provided $9.7 million to ensure that Australia could comply with international best practice for decommissioning our facilities here. I wonder if you can give us an update on the decommissioning first of the small Moata reactor, which I understand is still underway, and secondly for the HIFAR reactor. Can you just give us an update on the status of both of those?

Dr Paterson : The Moata reactor has completed its decommissioning. On 17 May we received a letter from ARPANSA-the regulator-indicating that they had satisfied themselves that the decommissioning activities were indeed complete. Therefore, we have successfully completed the first decommissioning of our reactor in Australia. That was a very positive process for us. It was under the scrutiny of the IAEA, and it also won the New South Wales engineering project award from last year and the small project award at the national level. So it was a very controlled, carefully thought through, planned and executed exercise which has successfully decommissioned that reactor.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay. Where is the contaminated material currently being stored?

Dr Paterson : The contaminated material is currently stored in our stores on the site. The ultimate destination in international best practice would be to a national repository.

Senator LUDLAM: So that would be removed if and when a national repository is established. What is the volume of the material and in what form is it?

Dr Paterson : I will take that on notice, Senator.

Senator LUDLAM: Thanks, if you could. Also how you treat and condition that material-that would be appreciated. Can you give us an update on the status of the decommissioning work on the HIFAR plant?

Dr Paterson : In formal terms, no decommissioning is taking place at HIFAR at present. The HIFAR license is a possess and control licence. Under a possess and control licence we maintain the facility safely while the decommissioning plans are developed. As those plans are developed and put into action, we will be requesting from ARPANSA a decommissioning licence.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay. So that has not been issued yet. When do you anticipate applying to that licence?

Dr Paterson : There are two scenarios in place at present. One would be an early application and the other one would be a later application. I will provide the details of those two alternatives on notice.

Senator LUDLAM: Would you contract those works out or would they be undertaken by existing ANSTO staff?

Dr Paterson : The works take place under the direction of ANSTO. Given the nature of the work, we do not have the full scope of workforce required for that decommissioning and we intend to subcontract aspects of the work in order to perform it optimally.

Senator LUDLAM: You have given us an undertaking to take on notice when the dates are for an early and late start. Can you just give us a rough idea what a late commencement would look like? Is that months or years - and I will not hold you to this?

Dr Paterson : For a late approach, the decommissioning activities would be initiated in 2017.

Senator LUDLAM: By 'initiated' you mean that you would apply for a licence or you would actually start from-

Dr Paterson : That would be the year that that work would begin.

Senator LUDLAM: Work would begin by sometime in 2017. And an early commencement?

Dr Paterson : At present this would be of the order of two years earlier.

Senator LUDLAM: So 2015 or thereabouts. Over what time frame? How long does it take to pull apart a plant the size of HIFAR?

Dr Paterson : The total decommissioning program has not been worked out in detail, but we will provide on notice a set of time lines during which decommissioning could take place.

Senator LUDLAM: Are you able to give us a rough idea? Does it take a decade? Does it take a year?

Dr Paterson : I would prefer not to because, as we indicated, the decommissioning planning and the application for the licence will both interest the duration of the program. We do not want to anticipate the approach that the regulator might take to that decommissioning, which might well affect the time line. So it would be inappropriate to provide a time line in a broadly indicative sense.

Senator LUDLAM: Will that contaminated material, in particular, be moved for storage also into a future national radioactive waste repository?

Dr Paterson : That is the international best practice.

Senator LUDLAM: Is that because a large number of other countries have already cut up reactors and dumped them at national or centralised storage sites? When you say international best practice -

Dr Paterson : There is quite a lot of international experience in terms of reactor decommissioning, of both research reactors and power reactors. We could supply information about sites that have been returned to greenfield conditions and the appropriate waste management practices associated with that.

Senator LUDLAM: Yes, that would be helpful. I would appreciate that, in terms both of what happens at the site of origin and of what happens at the site of the final destination of the material.

Dr Paterson : I think it would be useful for us to provide that on notice.

Senator LUDLAM: Thank you. I recognise that without a licence being issued you are not going to be able to provide exact detail, but what are the expected volumes of the material once you have decommissioned that plant, and what form, and how will you categorise it? What is the status for the repatriation of reprocessed waste from the UK and France? I ask you about that every couple of months. Is there any update since the last time we spoke on that issue?

Dr Paterson : The situation continues to be a matter for more detailed planning. ANSTO has looked and reviewed the plan fairly recently. We had a meeting on that last week. I think the substantive information would be no different to that that has been presented to this committee before.

Senator LUDLAM: So from the UK and France it is still to be returned by 2016-that is your expectation?

Dr Paterson : Yes, that is the expectation.

Senator LUDLAM: In that meeting that occurred last week, can you tell us what the state of contingency plans are for the interim storage of that material in the event that there is not a national repository established by the time it returns?

Dr Paterson : In the event that a national store and repository is not available, we have indicated within our planning, as we briefed this committee before, that an interim store can be constructed on the Lucas Heights site. The scoping of that store is at a preliminary engineering phase.

Senator LUDLAM: Would that be considered a controlled action under the EPBC Act? I understand that it is just going to be a shed, basically, but that will require Commonwealth assessment?

Dr Paterson : It will indeed.

Senator LUDLAM: What is the nature of the discussions that you have with ARPANSA about licensing such a facility? I understand that they are doing early work on licensing of a remote site. Are they also doing parallel work if there is an interim site?

Dr Paterson : They have been briefed on the scope of our activities and they have been apprised of the general time lines with which we wish to apply. The status at the moment is that the process has been initiated by communication with ARPANSA, but there is not yet a formal application for a licence. But ARPANSA is familiar with the timescales and will resource appropriately to meet those timescales.

Senator LUDLAM: I will take those matters up with ARPANSA directly. I am just wondering what you have told them and if you have indicated that there is a real possibility that you might have to establish an interim store onsite.

Dr Paterson : We have indicated that to ARPANSA, and they are obviously aware of the engineering scope and the implications for an interim store being on our site.

Senator LUDLAM: Are there no technical reasons why the interim could not go there? At what point are you going to need to make a decision one way or another?

Dr Paterson : I think that we are planning on the basis that there will be an interim store at Lucas Heights.

Senator LUDLAM: Does that also relate to the core components in the other contaminated material from the decommissioned reactor, or is your deadline being driven more by the return of material from Europe?

Dr Paterson : The deadline for the interim store is being driven by the return of fuel. As you may be aware, you also get returned the materials that are used to process the fuel. So that includes other intermediate level waste. So we are planning for both of those in terms of the return.

Senator LUDLAM: The materials are very different, but the overall activity is the same as left our shores, isn't it?

Dr Paterson : Yes. The activity equivalence is one of the key principles.

Senator LUDLAM: Is it the case both for the very heavily contaminated core components from the reactor and for the reprocessing waste that is being returned from Europe, if it is, that the proposed national store is in itself only an interim solution?

Dr Paterson : In terms of intermediate level waste that has long-lived isotopes, we call it a store because it is a store. The ultimate repository then has to be developed.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay. Can you update us on proposals for the actual final store of that material, because we have concentrated mostly on the low level materials that will remain at one site or another in perpetuity for a couple of hundred years. But the plans for final disposal, if you will, of the very long-lived isotopes seems to have become extremely vague and we do not really hear very much about that anymore. So who is doing that thinking?

Dr Paterson : I believe that the policy department is DRET.

Senator CARR: I would encourage you to go and talk to DRET about this matter.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay, I will take that advice. All right, you have acknowledged that whether it is at Lucas Heights or it ends up in the Territory or wherever, this is indeed an interim matter. As far as ANSTO is concerned, there is no proposal yet afoot for a final disposal site.

Dr Paterson : From ANSTO's perspective, we have no specific knowledge in relation to a final disposal site for long-lived intermediate level waste.

Senator LUDLAM: Sounds like I had better go and talk to the other minister. Thank you for that. Has ANSTO taken a view of, or have you done anything in response to, the current call from a fairly diverse range of public health and medical organisations for an independent inquiry into the production, life cycle and management of medical radioactive isotopes in Australia-similar to some of the issues that Senator Eggleston was raising? First of all, are you familiar with the comments that I am referring to.

Dr Paterson : It is not absolutely clear to me, Senator. If you could elaborate, I might be able to be more helpful.

Senator LUDLAM: In particular the AMA and the Public Health Association of Australia made a call about a month ago to reduce our vulnerability to operational issues at the radioisotope plant at Lucas Heights-to do as the Canadians are doing and diversify our sources of supply

Dr Paterson : I am not aware of that, Senator.

Senator LUDLAM: What I might do then is provide you with some of that material. I am surprised that you have not heard of that. I will return to that issue in a moment. First, I want to pick you up on some comments that were reported in the press and you can tell me whether you were accurately reported or not. In the Australian on 25 May you were reported as saying that you believed that the safety culture in a key section of your facility is unacceptable and must change, and is firmly stuck in the 1970s. Were those comments correctly attributed?

Dr Paterson : I think the words are mine but I do not think that the attribution is absolutely correct.

Senator LUDLAM: Do you want to clarify the record for us?

Dr Paterson : Yes, I would like to clarify the record. In the interview with the journalist, I indicated that the vast majority of people in ANSTO adhere to a modern nuclear safety culture. I indicated that there is a very small number of people-if I were to think of the number of people I could count them on the fingers of one hand-who have taken an approach that is more reminiscent of the safety culture of nuclear organisations in the 1970s. By leaving out the earlier very positive comment about our staff and their very positive and effective safety culture, the impression was inadvertently created by the journalist that we have a very substantive problem. I do not believe that there is a very substantive problem; however it is always of concern if you have a small number of staff members who are not prepared to adopt a more modern safety culture. That would include a blame free culture, an approach to continuous improvement, a questioning attitude and an ability to take the wider implications of your actions into account, including the impact on your fellow staff members and so on. That characterises a modern safety culture. So I did indeed indicate that there were a small number of staff-four or five perhaps at the absolute maximum-who have decided, for reasons that are not absolutely clear to me, to continue with an older culture. That is something that we take very seriously.

Senator LUDLAM: Do you include in that number-and I am not going to ask you to name names-some of your staff who have blown the whistle on that same safety culture, or are they outside of your four or five?

Dr Paterson : I believe that there is no staff member who is a whistleblower who has been targeted in any way in relation to raising safety concerns.

Senator LUDLAM: Alright. So they are not included in your four or five?

Dr Paterson : Of the people we have presently at ANSTO, there is one ANSTO staff member on suspension. All other ANSTO staff members are working within ANSTO under our charter of ethics, which includes adherence to the type of safety culture that I am describing. As the article indicates, we are working with CoSolve to deal with some of these intractable issues on the ground.

Senator LUDLAM: Yes, I will come to them in a second. You have just had your second anniversary as CEO of ANSTO. You were engaged on 1 March 2009. When did you first notice these 1970s style intolerable attitudes towards safety?

Dr Paterson : As I indicated to you at an earlier estimates, it was during the course of the second month that I was at ANSTO when I was undertaking a series of facility reviews.

Senator LUDLAM: So tell us about the CoSolve contract. What cost is that to ANSTO?

Dr Paterson : The contract is still under negotiation and we will provide information on notice in relation to that.

Senator LUDLAM: When do you expect to have that finalised?

Senator CARR: Senator Ludlam, can I just intervene at this point. Mr Paterson has completed his report, a copy of which you have. Perhaps I could ask him to comment on these matters which he has just had an inquiry into.

Senator LUDLAM: There are four separate reviews under way that I am aware of, and I will go through each of them-

Senator CARR: We will deal with the safety issue question that you have just raised. I will ask Mr Paterson -

Senator LUDLAM: Given that that was tabled right before the session got up, I have not yet had the time to read it.

Senator CARR: I understand that, but you may want to hear from Mr Paterson, who can enlarge on his findings.

Mr Paterson : I would like to come back, Madam Chair, to respond to Senator Carr's comments in opening the session today, but I do not want to do that in the middle of Senator Ludlam's questions. I did delay my departure to ensure that I would be able to attend estimates today. The report that the minister refers to was a report of a review that I was asked to undertake that was commissioned in February this year. We were able to provide our copy of the report to the minister at the weekend. That is the reason it came so late to the committee. It was in fact due to be provided to the government by 31 May. But I think that it is useful to draw to the committee's attention the covering letter that I conveyed to the minister on behalf of the panel.

In undertaking the review we considered a whole range of documentation. We undertook site visits, we examined ARPANSA, ANSTO and ANSTO Health, and many of the staff at all levels at ANSTO and ANSTO Health. It was our view that there was a considerable focus on improving the current culture of health and safety at ANSTO. It was apparent that the management of ANSTO and ANSTO Health have instituted an active and continuous improvement program to build all aspects of ANSTO Health, including health and safety. In reviewing the practices we found that there are systems in place to manage radiological safety. Further, we did not find any evidence that the practices of ANSTO Health breached legislative requirements under the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Act, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act or the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

There has been a process of change at ANSTO for a couple of years. We have made a number of recommendations which I can go to a little later. But I think that it is worth emphasising the point that in relation to both a culture of safety and the approach that has been undertaken, particularly the approach that has been undertaken over the time that Dr Paterson has been the chief executive, there is a clear focus of attention on health and safety issues. The panel was satisfied that there is no gap in the culture of health and safety at ANSTO and that they are meeting their statutory obligations. In the majority of cases, they are meeting the even more stringent standards that ANSTO imposes upon itself-that is, standards over and above those required by the regulators.

The panel comprised myself; a former chief scientist, Dr Jim Peacock; Mr Grahame Cook, who is no longer in the service but is a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Education, Science and Training and a former board member of ANSTO; and Mr Tim Ayres, the State Secretary of the AMWU.

Senator LUDLAM: There are a couple of questions that I would like to ask on the basis of a quick scan of that document. But before I do that can you, Dr Paterson, just fill out some of the details of what CoSolve is doing when you plan to have your negotiations concluded with them?

Dr Paterson : I would prefer not to describe the process in detail because it is being handled by the people in ANSTO Health, and I do not think that it is appropriate to deal in detail with staffing matters where there may be implications for different staff members. But what we will provide is background on the scope of the work and the cost.

Senator LUDLAM: What I am interested to know is precisely what their mandate is on your safety journey. how long they will be engaged for and at what cost to ANSTO.

Dr Paterson : We will take that on notice.

Senator LUDLAM: Thank you. Mr Paterson, on the basis of your report here, two things jump out. One of them is your acknowledgement that the ANSTO Health production facility is an ageing one that may not be optimal for the current levels of production. It is fairly guarded language there, but I think we know what you are saying. Your notes on maintenance says that there are maintenance plans in place; there does not appear to be sufficient capacity for more long-term and strategic maintenance work to be done. Staff have told you that maintenance is been undertaken for urgent matters, but, obviously, other issues are lagging. How does this fit with your understanding of ANSTO's plans to increase production at that facility?

Mr Paterson : Certainly ANSTO has continually increased production at that facility, and the observations, whilst I do not share your choice of language in describing them as being guarded-

Senator LUDLAM: I just read your words back to you.

Mr Paterson : You did, then you said 'guarded words'. They were not guarded; they were the views of the panel. They were quite a clear statement of the view of the panel that it is an ageing facility and that the nature of that facility and the pressures of production do mean that maintenance failure or equipment failures can impact on production. That is a tension that ANSTO needs to manage. There are many staff at ANSTO Health who are firmly committed to trying to ensure that they continue to deliver product for the treatment of cancer patients, and they feel that very strongly. They want to maintain production wherever they can, and they feel it personally when production is interrupted by maintenance challenges in relation to the facility. So we have made some recommendations that make reference to the nature of the existing facility and we have made some recommendations in relation to how an alternative approach to maintenance may be pursued. That is a matter for ANSTO to consider within its budget challenges.

Senator LUDLAM: Would an alternative approach be to close that facility and start up a new one that is fit for purpose?

Mr Paterson : I do not think that is a realistic option, nor is it within the purview of the review. We were looking at the occupational health and safety issues. To pick up Senator Eggleston's point earlier in relation to the treatment of cancer patients in Australia, to close the existing facility would have profound consequences for the treatment of cancer patients in Australia.

Senator LUDLAM: I was not proposing that it be closed until an alternative facility has been built.

Mr Paterson : The facility continues to produce, and produce product reliably. Dr Paterson can comment on the extent to which it continues to meet its expectations of the variety of customers, both domestically and internationally, that it serves. The observation still stands: it is an ageing facility. It is a facility with which, with available additional capital, you would do different things. You make choices in relation to available capital and those choices are being made by the ANSTO board.

Senator LUDLAM: What does that mean for the workforce and for the people who are in here in a facility that is not fit for purpose--

Mr Paterson : No, we did not say it is not fit for purpose.

Senator LUDLAM: On the contrary, it is entirely fit for purpose, even though maintenance has been delayed.

Mr Paterson : It is fit for purpose. For the regulator, which looks at this on a regular basis, there is no evidence to suggest that this facility is not fit for purpose. In fact, they find that it is fit for purpose because, if it were not fit for purpose, it would not have the licence from ARPANSA to operate. We did not conclude it was not fit for purpose, and I reject the assertion, Senator.

Senator HEFFERNAN: It was-

Senator LUDLAM: Do not respond. It just encourages him.

CHAIR: Senator Heffernan, I will come to you shortly. Senator Ludlam.

Senator LUDLAM: Let us move on, sir. Dr Paterson what do you take from this review? Where to from here on the basis of having this work undertaken?

Dr Paterson : We will be studying the full set of recommendations of the review. As I think the Secretary indicated, we have to look to the guidance and advice that the review contains and then craft an appropriate course of action that takes those recommendations very seriously and also achieves a more positive outcome for the ongoing relevance and importance of this fit-for-purpose facility for Australia. If I can just go to the maintenance issue, I think it is a particularly important one. It does indeed relate to the age of the facility. We have been developing a more comprehensive approach to the maintenance, having recognised the same factors that have been identified by the panel. That is a focus of our activities. It is important that in any production process we eliminate any single points of failure and introduce redundancy into the plant. That certainly will be a focus for the period going forward. In addition, we have already initiated work on improving the work flows within the facility, particularly the generator production, so that we can make it much more effective, and reduce the flows of product through the facility to the minimum distance that we can possibly achieve. We certainly look forward to studying this report in detail, to giving consideration to the recommendations, and to taking those forward into the practice of ANSTO. It is certainly the case that we believe that this review, which was welcomed by ANSTO and was welcomed by our staff, who had the opportunity to engage and interact with the panelists over a period of time, gave us confidence that the review would be challenging and ask deep questions about what we were doing and then we would be able to respond in a considered way.

Senator LUDLAM: Thank you for that. I turn to the Comcare report, which is currently being investigated. Minister, during the last estimates session concerning the Comcare report into ANSTO you said:

The quote was leaked in draft form and used for blatant political purposes which I thought was frankly inappropriate.

Senator Carr: I still hold that view, yes.

Senator LUDLAM: I would like to correct that view, if I may. The report was not leaked. It was released under freedom of information as a finished report. Can you confirm that that is the case?

Senator Carr: It was not a finished report. I think you will find that it has been used for quite extensive political purposes. The issues that were around Mr Reid related to an allegation that he had been suspended for alleged safety concerns. On the advice that was provided to me, that is not correct. It was in that context that the report had been given considerable airing through the ABC.

Senator LUDLAM: You would qualify a document that was released under freedom of information as being leaked?

Senator Carr: I think you will find there have been a number of releases of documentation around these matters. It was subject to FOI action. It does not mean it was not necessarily leaked in other processes.

Senator LUDLAM: That is interesting. Dr Paterson, have the two union reps, Messrs Howe and Bourke, who were suspended around an incident in September last year, been vindicated of charges in relation to bringing up safety issues? Are they back at work on normal duties?

Dr Paterson : In our agreement that we reached with the union for their return to work we agreed that we would continue our investigation, but on a no-blame basis. That investigation is still in train. ANSTO management still retains the view that they were suspended in relation to inappropriate behaviour in respect of escalating an incident and potentially intimidating some of their colleagues in the workforce. We retain that position. We also recognised, in discussion with the union, that with proper assurances from staff members it was more appropriate to return them to work to give them the opportunity to be in the workplace. We have been encouraged in that process that we were able to find a resolution that returned them to work while we continued a no-blame investigation in order to discover the types of behaviours and the types of approaches that we might take in the future to these sorts of incidents.

Senator LUDLAM: We are nearly out of time, so I might return to some of that stuff on notice. The final one is to end where I began on alternative sources of radioisotope production. I thank you for your answer to my question on notice, No. 567. Do you have a copy of that with you at the table?-because I am going to refer to it.

Dr Paterson : One will be provided to me.

Senator LUDLAM: While you are tracking that down, I would like to commend ANSTO on hosting the first meeting of cyclotron users from across Australia in a workshop on 15 December of last year. Can you supply the names of the institutions represented and whether or not there is a report available from that meeting that you are able to table?

Dr Paterson : We will be prepared to supply the names of the people who attended the meeting. We do indeed have a report of that meeting in an action plan.

Senator LUDLAM: That is something that you are able to table for the committee?

Dr Paterson : I believe it would be useful to table it.

Senator LUDLAM: I think it probably would, too. In question No. 567 I was asking ANSTO what research, what work you have done to identify alternative non-reactor sources of medical radioisotopes to reduce the vulnerability that we have to a very small handful of facilities around the world. In answer to that question, you provided a number of references to me, and I thank you for that. One of them was from the European Journal of Nuclear Medicine called ‘The options for the future production of the medical isotope 99Mo', which was written by the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group. Are you aware that that consultancy group is the operator of a nuclear reactor in the Netherlands?

Dr Paterson : Yes, I am.

Senator LUDLAM: You are aware that they are building another reactor for isotope production?

Dr Paterson : I am not aware that they are building another reactor for isotope production. My understanding is that the process of building that reactor has been put on hold, and the bidders in the process have been informed that their bids will not automatically go forward into the next round. My understanding is that a future round has not yet been announced.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay, thank you. You also provided me with a hyperlink to the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency. Are you aware that that report was prepared by the NEA Secretariat, at the request of the high level group, and that the high level group did not endorse the contents of that report?

Dr Paterson : The high level group is an inter-country negotiating forum around these issues. The reports they produce are made available to the public because they are regarded as having substantive information that is useful for debate and discussion, and not all reports of the NEA are necessarily endorsed by all of the political bodies.

Senator LUDLAM: By the whole group; okay. So that report-the reason that I am going to this in a bit of detail-was prepared by Dr Alexey Lokhov from the Nuclear Development Division. So both of the reports that you referred me to on the subject of alternatives to isotope production and nuclear reactors were written by people running nuclear reactors and, surprisingly enough, both of those documents suggest that the alternatives are not ready and will not be for a while. Did you at any time investigate any work by people who do not currently operate nuclear plants?

Dr Paterson : Senator, I want to correct a slight misunderstanding. The word 'nuclear' embraces both accelerators and reactors.

Senator LUDLAM: I stand corrected on that.

Dr Paterson : Therefore-and you will see this in our corporate plan-we pay equal attention to accelerator systems and reactor systems. ANSTO cannot be characterised as an organisation that is only interested in nuclear reactors. We are deeply involved in accelerator sciences around the world. We track them regularly and we are trying to build up the accelerator community in Australia, both the cyclotrons and, through the Australian collaboration on accelerator sciences, which includes the synchrotron, the Australian National University, the University of Melbourne and ourselves.

Senator LUDLAM: I accept your distinction, but the point I was making is that both of the papers you referred me to were written by institutions that are heavily invested in using nuclear reactors rather than alternative modes of production. Was that intentional? Was there no literature out there on alternatives?

Dr Paterson : There is literature on proposed alternatives. If one looks at the IAEA advice and the NEA advice, these are bodies that are much broader than nuclear reactor bodies. It would not be correct to say that those bodies have not looked at the alternatives that are available potentially in the future through accelerators. I think any responsible nuclear person would be very interested in any developments in the accelerator area because it is obviously useful to have a multiplicity of approaches to provide assurance of supply.

Senator LUDLAM: This is my final question: are you aware that Canada has specifically excluded any new reactor production after 2016? Through you, chair, I might table for Dr Paterson a very good report of the government of Canada's response to the Report of the Expert Review Panel on Medical Isotope Production-he may not have seen that-where they effectively say they are proposing to phase out nuclear sources because such a small number of plants and a very narrow supply chain is responsible for production. If you are not aware of that report, I am happy to provide it to you.

Dr Paterson : I am fully aware of the Canadian position.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay. Thanks very much, chair.

 

Back to All News