Dr Paterson-Thank you for this opportunity. I will briefly run through the context and background of the events under discussion. On 5 May 2010 an ANSTO employee, Mr David Reid, appeared on Lateline and made a number of allegations about a safety incident that took place at ANSTO's radio pharmaceutical production facility in August 2008. This incident was also raised earlier at Senate estimates on 21 October 2009 and 10 February 2010. This incident has been the subject of two major investigations. One was undertaken by ANSTO's safety team and experts in radiation matters. This was concluded at the end of September last year. In a separate investigation of the same incident that began in October 2009, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency produced a report which was submitted to ANSTO in January 2010 and which has subsequently been widely discussed in the media.
What did these investigations find? The first finding is that management arrangements in place at the time were deficient in a number of respects. Firstly, the significance of the dropped vial was not understood by the worker. This meant that his colleagues working in the same environment as the event were not informed, although they were not directly exposed to the radiation from the vial. Secondly, the process of informing supervisors did not lead to immediate actions. Thirdly, the initial attempts to locate the source of the radio
activity did not immediately involve specialised health staff. The investigation also revealed that one of the workers had not completed his full in-depth training on working in a radiation environment. These management issues have all been addressed with completed and current actions. Importantly in this regard, ANSTO has a new management team in place at various levels in the organisation relating to the production of radio pharmaceuticals.
In addition, two other claims have been made by Mr Reid. One is that there was a massive dose to a worker who was exposed to radiation from the dropped vial. Both the ARPANSA report and ANSTO's internal investigation based on actual records have shown that this is not the case. This has been confirmed by calculations made independently by three specialists in the field. A second claim is that there has been a coverup. The investigations show that while there were management deficiencies at the time, there were no attempts to cover up this incident or not report it at any time.
What does this mean for ANSTO's employee Mr Reid? I have had a meeting with Mr Reid, which was facilitated by the AMWU, and I am very thankful for their help in this regard. In this meeting I gave Mr Reid the opportunity to share with me any and all concerns he has relating to safety incidents, management practices and the work environment in the radiopharmaceuticals production area. We used this opportunity to deal with both the issue of the alleged cover-up and the dose received by the worker. I am now working with
the union to close out any residual matters arising from Mr Reid's concerns and the matters he raised. Importantly, that discussion and the matters he raised during that discussion did not change ANSTO's view of its findings in its investigation.
ANSTO is open and on the record. Let me explain. The radiation safety records of ANSTO are the primary independent source of evidence on the effectiveness of radiation safety practices. They are independently reviewed and provided to our regulator, ARPANSA. They are also available to staff and management. These records show that the annual doses are well below the statutory limits and well below ANSTO's lower, selfimposed management limits. With the confidence provided by these records, a new management team in place
and the improved quality of incident reporting, we believe that the Australian public can continue to be confident that the 10,000 doses of radiopharmaceuticals used in medical procedures across Australia each week are produced in a facility in which worker safety is not compromised. Thank you for the opportunity to update the committee today.
Senator EGGLESTON-From a medical isotope point of view, what are the implications of this incident you have described for the availability of isotopes used in treatment and diagnosis around Australia?
Dr Paterson-Both with this incident and with all other incidents, we undertake incident reporting, which we then investigate. To date, all of our investigations have shown that incidents can lead to improved work practices, but there is no pattern of incidents that suggests in any way that the facility constitutes a danger to workers or that the radiopharmaceuticals produced in it are not produced safely and effectively for the Australian public.
Senator EGGLESTON-And you will maintain your production volume?
Dr Paterson-The production volumes are being maintained. We are currently in a process of refining our product mix in order to optimise the use of moly-99, which produces the main radioisotope, technetium-99m. That is so that we can ensure that we always have supply available for Australia and can assist as far as possible in the current global shortage.
Senator EGGLESTON-You have not needed to import more radioisotopes in view of this?
Dr Paterson-The current import levels are lower than they were this time last year because of the coming on-stream of our own molybdenum-99 production facility. That is increasingly resilient and robust. We still have some work to do to absolutely ensure that, but we have significantly downgraded the level of imports now that the facility is in place and operating.
Senator LUDLAM-Thank you very much for the update. I have some follow-up questions. You said you have addressed the issues that were raised in the ARPANSA report and in your internal report. You said that some of those actions are completed and some are ongoing-‘current' was the word you used, I think. Can you describe for us briefly what is still ongoing?
Dr Paterson-The ongoing development is ensuring that the changes we have made in our training system are indeed embedded. It is no longer possible to work in the radiation facility without completing all of the radiation training. We are just ensuring that all of those procedures are indeed followed and that they are embedded in the practices of the organisation. Secondly, we are still evaluating a number of engineering controls that would further strengthen the protection of workers so that they would not have to rely on management controls, because engineering controls tend to be more robust. These evaluations are ongoing in the case of the area immediately around the door and will be finalised within the next six months.
Senator LUDLAM-The ARPANSA report, which is now a public document, noted that when the inspectors were there they noted that there are or have been frequent problems in handling tasks on the cell conveyer system and ‘no apparent attempts to introduce improved handling systems'. Is that covered by your comments just now? Is that what is being addressed?
Dr Paterson-The conveyor handling system is indeed being reviewed. Typically there are two aspects: there is the conveyor and the exact condition in which the vials are transferred. We have already changed the conditions in which the vials are transferred to make it much easier for the workers to handle them with a larger element rather than the picking up of individual vials. In the container area we have reviewed the comments of the regulator and we believe that the engineering ideas they have put forward are useful but may not be sufficient to deal with the concerns that they have and there are further engineering studies in that regard.
Senator LUDLAM-When ARPANSA went through there they noticed broken glass inside the cell and apparently it is quite frequent for vials to be dropped. Is that being addressed by that kind of changes you are describing now?
Dr Paterson-Certainly the arrangements with the transfer of vials between cells will reduce the number that are dropped. The frequency of dropping is in fact quite small. The particular vial that was noted by the inspectors on that day was an empty vial which had been crushed in the conveyor system. That is relatively unusual and it was cleaned up in the normal course of maintenance procedures.
Senator LUDLAM-The ARPANSA report was pretty strongly worded. One of the things that came through most strongly was that we are using a research grade facility for industrial production of radioisotopes and that it was never really intended for the kind of throughput that you are putting through that facility. Is there any consideration, in terms of looking after the workforce and the people who are in there, of revamping the facility and actually bringing it up to the standard that you would expect?
Dr Paterson-There has been considerable work in this regard. We have completed a review of 37 reports on the facility, all of an OH&S or manufacturing nature, since 1998. Those had more than 300 specific recommendations. Of those more than 300 specific recommendations 91 per cent have been implemented and the balance are either not practical at the moment or were of such a general nature that they could not be easily understood as implementable. Therefore there has been a process of continually improving the plant over the
years. We have been able to verify that by closing out all of those 37 reports in a proper management fashion and ensuring that we had in fact made the changes that were intended.
In July last year I begin a process of working with the team in the radiopharmaceuticals area to understand what other changes we could make. Working with the staff and the workers at the cell face, we were able to identify some 80 improvements which are from very small improvements, improved ergonomics in the place where they stand, right through to quite complex ones in changing the workflow, for instance, of the production of the generators for technetium-99m. Of those 80 proposed changes, 50 will be completed by the end of the current calendar year and the other 30 have all been planned and dispositioned and funds allocated to do that. In our last meeting of our capital investment committee we made two other significant decisions.
One is to make a major change to the workflow to reduce the movement of generators from 116 metres net distance travelled to 16 metres. This will greatly diminish the movement of those materials through the facility. In addition to that we will put in an automated washing facility for the returned generators. That will be very significant improvement. We are also integrating the waste management of the facility and we have just approved a budget for the detailed design of a waste management facility under building 23A which will allow us to stratify the waste more effectively, will allow the decay and delay processes to minimise the total amount of material that ultimately goes to a waste repository and indeed will allow us to ensure that there is less dose to workers arising from waste materials in the facility as a whole.
Senator LUDLAM-Going back to the original incident, have you identified the person or persons who were directly involved in not being able to retrieve the vial? My understanding is that when it eventually came out it was brought out with a device, some kind of a mirror stuck to a tool with a bit of sticky tape, which sounds like something you would have wanted to look at. You acknowledged in your new opening comments that were people on the work floor who had not been trained to a suitable level. Were there any suspensions or
any consequences to those operators? Have they been retrained since then?
Dr Paterson-Yes. I think we have now identified all people who were involved in that incident, and there is ongoing operator training. In addition, based on our incident reporting and our management procedures, wherever there is a radiological incident or a failure to comply with a management arrangement, retraining is essential, and we undertake that before the workers return to the cell face.
Senator LUDLAM-Would you say that the disclosures were validated by ARPANSA's report? You have referred to them before as allegations, but would you say that they have been more or less completely validated by the subsequent reporting and all the action that you describe as having occurred since then?
Dr Paterson-I would say that it was valuable that Mr Reid, as a health and safety representative, re-raised these matters in April 2009, and I said that to him when I met with him. I feel that that was a very useful action on his part, and the fact that the investigation chain, which has subsequently followed, was initiated by that action I regard as very positive. I think that it was helpful both to management and to the workforce as a whole in the radiopharmaceuticals production area to go through a process of internalising what had happened,
working through it in some detail and coming to a solid set of conclusions about how we could improve management and how we could improve the interaction with the workforce in order to mitigate these effects. So I would say it was good.
Senator LUDLAM-It would appear to me, obviously not having been at any of these meetings and not having visited the radiopharmaceuticals plant, to be in pretty good example of the benefit of a whistleblower. This fellow has taken some risks, and you would hope, on the basis of all the reviews and all the changes that you are making, that conditions for the workforce in there are improving as a result of what he has done.
Dr Paterson-I think he was absolutely correct in his position of an HSR to raise it internally, which he did. I applaud that. I applaud the fact that he and a colleague also raised it at the central committee, which we use for all of the union representatives, in May 2009. I certainly believe that those actions were very solid. Where I have a concern is that, as the information came out of the investigation, he has not changed his view about the dose to his fellow worker. We had a very fruitful discussion of that when I met with him, and I think
we have achieved a difference of view but a respect for one another's views.
Senator LUDLAM-What are his circumstances or his conditions now? I understand that he has been on special leave and that there have been some quite serious consequences for him.
Dr Paterson-There were no consequences that arose for him as a result of his safety activities.
Senator LUDLAM-So when will he be back on normal duties?
Dr Paterson-He is currently working on an agreed return to work program, which was agreed with the union and with Fair Work Australia. He has not completed that return to work program, but in the spirit of advancing the matter he has been offered an assignment with our decommissioning team and I hope that when he completes his return to work program he will be able to make a major contribution to the decommissioning work of ANSTO.
Senator LUDLAM-If he was the safety officer whose report and whose ringing of the alarm bells led to all these improvements in your facilities, why is he on a return to work order? Has he been disciplined or stood down?
Senator Carr-Can I just indicate that if you wish to discuss individual cases at this level then it puts the officers in a difficult position, given the privacy questions that do arise. Dr Paterson has indicated to you that there has been no penalty whatsoever for him pursuing this question. They are working very closely with the union on these matters, and perhaps it is better for you to pursue these matters on a private basis rather than a public one.
Senator HEFFERNAN-Can I just seek clarification: are we talking about OPAL here?
Senator LUDLAM-It is a building adjacent to OPAL, not actually OPAL itself.
Senator HEFFERNAN-Because OPAL is only temporarily repaired.
Senator LUDLAM-Can you tell me about your production in there. You said that some of these actions are still ongoing. How many batches per week do you process through that facility?
Dr Paterson-There are a significant number of batches, and it would be difficult to answer that question in a precise way unless we unpacked the notion of a batch. But effectively about 10,000 doses per week reach Australian patients as a result of the production in that facility.
Senator LUDLAM-Just briefly, because I do not want to take up too much time with this, you do them in certain runs and can you just talk us through how it actually works once you have actually got a run on the go?
Dr Paterson-Within the total facility there are a number of workflows but in the particular environment that we are talking about-which produces, for example, the iodine 131 used to treat thyroid cancer-the radio isotope would enter at one side of the facility and would be reduced into the doses in the particular containers that then come out of the other end of the facility in a lead pot. Those lead pots are placed in boxes, subjected to quality control and then dispatched to the hospitals and clinics that apply them to the patients to deal with
their thyroid cancer.
Senator LUDLAM-There are roughly 10,000 doses per week through that process. Do you do them in certain kinds of runs? My understanding is that you do two runs per week.
Dr Paterson-In the case of the technetium-99m there are usually two runs a week, sometimes more.
Senator LUDLAM-What qualifies as a run? Can you just define what that means?
Dr Paterson-What will happen is the hospitals and clinics will make orders and that will lead into a production planning process. The production planning process is then stratified to meet the requirements of the customers and each of those would turn into a run. So there are two runs a week in our molybdenum-99 production facility, which then feeds into production of generators.
Senator LUDLAM-I am particularly interested in the moly-99 because that is also partly arising from the incident that we have been discussing. Is there a proposal within ANSTO to increase the amount of runs that you do per week?
Dr Paterson-There is a proposal to increase the number of runs of digesting fuel plates and producing the moly-99m but there is no proposal to increase the production in generators.
Senator LUDLAM-Do you want to just make clear what that distinction is there? So you are not intending to undertake more than two runs per week?
Dr Paterson-They are building 23 a process for the production of generators. Ultimately we are trying to reduce the number of generators that go into the market and get more efficient distribution because of that. But the increase in runs is intended to take place in a completely separate building called Building 54.
Senator LUDLAM-Okay, not through Building 23. Is that increased activity likely to require you to bring on more staff or expand the amount of work that goes on through that?
Dr Paterson-We have staff to undertake that number of runs per week.
Senator LUDLAM-And you do for the foreseen expansions?
Senator LUDLAM-ARPANSA's report was obviously extremely useful for us once we finally managed to get our hands on it, as far as that incident report goes. Can you just tell us the relationship between ARPANSA and ANSTO? Do they have access to your facilities on a spot inspection basis? Can they just turn up without any warning at all?
Dr Paterson-Absolutely correct.
Senator LUDLAM-How frequently does that happen?
Dr Paterson-It happens on a regular basis.
Senator LUDLAM-Is that days or weeks?
Dr Paterson-I cannot really notify you of that because they have access without notice and so I cannot always tell whether they are on our site or not.
Senator LUDLAM-Is that right? They could have visited and they do not even need to give you a call?
Senator LUDLAM-Which is, I think, how it probably should be. They do not have to get permission from anybody first?
Senator LUDLAM-Having been into OPAL, it is not easy to get into some of these areas. There is a lot of process and work to get onto the site. But ARPANSA just have access-all-areas passes, effectively?
Dr Paterson-They have their own swipe badges. If they went into the secure area of OPAL they would do it under escort. That is the normal process. Certainly, they have very wide and general access to our facilities.
Senator LUDLAM-Do they have access to your personnel unaccompanied or do they need to be under escort wherever they go?
Dr Paterson-In general they have had access unaccompanied but that is not a global best practice and it will be something that I will take up with the new CEO over time. In general it is good to have a process by which the inspectors can engage with staff but where there is the ability to have independent verification of the discussions.
Senator LUDLAM-There is no proposal to change that access regime, is there?
Dr Paterson-There is no proposal to change the access regime unless there is a security requirement to do so.
Senator LUDLAM-I just want to bring us back to waste. Is there anything that you can update us on about your planned repatriation timetable for spent nuclear fuel of Australian origin that is currently in Europe?
Dr Paterson-The update at the moment is that we received funding in this year's budget in order to begin the planning work for the repatriation of the waste. That budget over the next number of years is $30.3 million and will allow us to initiate the planned process for the return of the residues.
Senator LUDLAM-Do you have dates of expected return from France and the UK yet?
Dr Paterson-We have final end dates available to us.
Senator LUDLAM-That is an envelope; it is not an arrival date.
Dr Paterson-It is not an arrival date.
Senator LUDLAM-You do not have any more detail?
Dr Paterson-No detail at this time.
Senator LUDLAM-Can you tell us, and maybe table it if we are little short of time, a decommissioning time line for the HIFAR facility?
Dr Paterson-I do not believe we can give a decommissioning time, because we do not yet have a decommissioning licence. We are in a possess-and-control phase. Therefore it would be premature to provide a decommissioning table for HIFAR.
Dr Paterson-Is one under development?
Dr Paterson-There is one under development.
Senator LUDLAM-And that will be provided to your minister at some stage, on applying for a licence. Does that have to go through EPBC approval? Is that considered a nuclear action?
Mr McIntosh-Yes. We will put it through an EPBC process and it will have to go through the licensing
process as well.
Senator COLBECK-I want to go back to the repatriation of waste-$30 million over four years including $25 million in capital funding. What is the proposal to apply the capital funding to?
Dr Paterson-The capital funding is applied to a number of elements. The major element is the containers for the waste. These containers are highly specialised in order to ensure the safe return of the waste, and they constitute the bulk of the capital requirement.
Senator COLBECK-What proportion of that money goes into the containers?
Dr Paterson-The total capital expenditure on the French and the UK return, depending on the exact configuration of the UK return-the numbers change a little bit-is of the order of $23 million to $25 million.
Senator COLBECK-You also say in Budget Paper No. 2 that this funding includes provisions for an interim storage facility. How does that fit into the costings and where?
Dr Paterson-The interim storage facility is part of a larger budget request but within the $30 million. Should it be prudent to provide for such a facility we can begin expenditure to plan it. Such a facility would of course not be an alternative to a long-term waste repository and therefore would have to serve the purpose of temporary storage at Lucas Heights.
Senator COLBECK-So you are proposing at this stage to store that material, when it comes back, in a temporary facility at Lucas Heights?
Dr Paterson-Our proposal would be to send it directly to the national waste storage facility, which I believe is currently before the Senate.
Senator COLBECK-So it is potentially going to the proposed site in the Northern Territory?
Dr Paterson-That would certainly be the most effective way to deal with the waste.
Senator COLBECK-My understanding of that facility is that it was a low-level waste facility. Is that not correct?
Mr McIntosh-The proposal is for two facilities co-located: a low-level waste repository and a store for intermediate-level waste, an above-ground store. So this waste would go into the above-ground store.
Senator COLBECK-So the figures that you have in your budget at this stage do not incorporate any of the costs associated with that proposal?
Senator COLBECK-That is part of a larger budget request?
Mr McIntosh-No, that project is being run by the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, so you would need to talk to them about their costing.
Senator COLBECK-I am happy to do that.
Senator LUDLAM-I would like to follow up some of the questions that Senator Colbeck was asking about the funding in the budget for an interim waste building or facility on site at Lucas Heights. Can you go through exactly what it is intended that that contain and for what interim period.
Dr Paterson-Basically, prudent planning would suggest that to meet the time scales that are currently embedded in the return of the spent fuel we have to envisage the possibility that the national above-ground storage facility for the intermediate-level waste will not be ready. In such a situation the logical place to return the spent fuel would be Lucas Heights, and a small storage facility that would be dedicated to that purpose would be required to be built.
Senator LUDLAM-When you say ‘small', what are you talking about? How large would it be?
Dr Paterson-It would be of the order of the size of this room.
Senator LUDLAM-I suppose that is similar in scope to what it is proposed be built in the Northern Territory.
Dr Paterson-We are not directly involved in the planning of that facility, so I cannot answer that question.
Senator LUDLAM-Okay, fine. The last time I spoke to the officers they told us that there was the potential to station a counterterrorism unit at the site in the Territory, but they were not sure whether the categories of waste that they would be receiving would require them to do that. I thought that was odd because you folk have had this waste well categorised for years and years. Can you shed some light on that?
Mr McIntosh-As part of the licence, whoever applies for the licence to operate the facility will have to put forward a security plan.
Senator LUDLAM-Do you have counterterrorism officers or troops stationed at ANSTO?
Mr McIntosh-We do not have counterterrorism troops stationed at ANSTO.
Senator LUDLAM-You do not, but I figure that in Sydney you have closer access to specialised folk like that than they would have up in the NT. Can we talk a bit more about the interim building. Presumably the government would prefer that this material come back through Darwin and be taken straight to the Territory, but are you working on interim contingency planning for the material to come back through Sydney and rest at Lucas Heights for a period of time?
Dr Paterson-We have not begun any detailed planning. The conceptual planning is under discussion with our board, and I regularly brief them on that.
Senator LUDLAM-Okay, but you have requested a budget for it, so there must have been some work that has been done or you would not know how much to ask for.
Dr Paterson-As I indicated, conceptual design work on the facility allowed us to make an estimate of what it would take to build it.
Senator LUDLAM-I am interested, obviously, that the government has been saying, ‘It can't go to Sydney; it has to go to the Territory.' Will it be safe in Sydney?
Dr Paterson-I think that nuclear waste is best stored in national facilities, and those national facilities need to be provided on a national basis to all users of nuclear materials. My belief is that it is not usually appropriate to return spent fuel to research reactor sites. It would be more appropriate to deploy it in a site that is properly located and run on a national basis. However, prudence suggests that if the timescales cannot be met, in order to meet our obligations to other countries we can envisage a temporary storage facility on the ANSTO site, and it would, indeed, be safe.
Senator LUDLAM-Can you describe to us, as much as you are able, in what form that pre-processed material will return to Australia. What does it look like? It is not in 44-gallon drums, is it? It would be something else.
Dr Paterson-Chair, with your indulgence I will invite our expert to speak on this.
Mr Dimitrovski-We have a specially designed cask. They weigh about 112 tonnes each. They are highly shielded casks. They follow the transport code. They will be shipped and stored in a facility as they are. So the waste is coming back from two places. That is, in France it will be in large 112-tonne shielded casks with the vitrified waste in there. There are canisters placed in baskets inside the casks. It is up to discussion now whether waste from Dounreay will be in cement or vitrified waste. That is still under negotiation.
Senator LUDLAM-I think we have just about run the clock down. Finally, my understanding-you mentioned the word ‘store' before-is that the reprocessed waste is not heading to the Northern Territory for final disposal but for interim storage while we think about what to do with the material. Is that correct?
Dr Paterson-That is correct.
Senator LUDLAM-As a follow-up to a question that Senator Heffernan raised before, my understanding is that your well testing was done using ultrasonics and that it was not X-rayed as all. I think we covered some of this terrain last year, or maybe the time before last. If you could confirm, for both of us, that they were not actually S-rayed, I would appreciate that.
Dr Paterson-We will take that on notice and provide the reasoning for the post-well inspection procedures and what they revealed.