Updated | Council calls on Hughes MP to take stand against ANSTO nuclear waste expansion plan

Entrance to the ANSTO facility at Lucas Heights. Picture: Chris Lane
Entrance to the ANSTO facility at Lucas Heights. Picture: Chris Lane


Sutherland Shire Council is calling "in the strongest terms" for Hughes MP Craig Kelly to take a stand against a proposed new nuclear waste facility at ANSTO, Lucas Heights.

Mayor Steve Simpson told this week's council meeting, "I would like to see less of his medical skills [COVID comments] and much more of an assertion that the [nuclear] waste should not be kept in his electorate".

Mr Kelly hit back, accusing councillors of "scaremongering" - a claim described as "a lame response" by Cr Simpson.

The council unanimously resolved that, while continuing to support research and innovation at ANSTO and its benefits for treatments for cancer and in nuclear medicine, a submission be made to the independent regulator ARPANSA opposing the construction of an Intermediate Level Waste Capacity Increase (ILWCI) facility at the Lucas Heights campus.

A letter will also be written to the federal Minister for Resources and Water Keith Pitt, requesting the matter of the establishment of a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility be given urgent priority.

The final part of the motion stated: "Council puts in the strongest terms that the Member of Hughes, Mr Craig Kelly MP, should make opposing the granting of the facility licence at Lucas Heights his highest priority and take all measures to ensure that a suitable, alternate location is found".

Cr Michael Forshaw, a former senator, said previous MPs for Hughes, Robert Tickner and Danna Vale, "were strong on this issue in pushing the need for a permanent repository, or store, for our nuclear waste".

"I haven't heard a word from Craig Kelly on this and he needs to get active in the short time he has got available," Cr Forshaw said.

Cr Forshaw said governments of both persuasions had over many years promised to build a national nuclear waste repository, but had never delivered.

"They have been hamstrung at times because every state government says 'it's a great idea but we are not having it ion our state, in our backyard'," he said.

Cr Forshaw said, in 1993, a parliamentary committee made a very strong recommendation that before any determination on the building of a second reactor to replace the old HIFAR reactor there should be a solution to the problem of nuclear waste.

Another inquiry in 1996 was "very appropriately" named No Time to Waste, he said.

Mr Kelly told the Leader, "I'd call on Cr Simpson and the Labor and Liberal councillors to follow the science, listen to the experts, and stop scaremongering over Lucas Heights".

"They might get a cheap headline, but such political scaremongering does a disservice to the residents of Sutherland Shire and is an insult to hundreds of highly skilled professionals that work at Lucas Heights daily, producing life saving nuclear medicine, that we all rely upon," he said.

"Everyone would agree that new national storage facility currently proposed at Napandee, near Kimba, on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula has taken far too long, and this has been a failure of both Liberal and Labor Governments over four decades.

"However, the process of the final approval for the facility at Napandee is not assisted by the council's scaremongering - it's to its detriment.

"And finally, if the council is really concerned, why aren't they criticising the Prime Minister, given he's both ultimately in charge and his seat is based in the Sutherland Shire?"

Cr Simpson said it was a "lame response" and Mr Kelly should offer to work with the council in advocating on behalf of the community for a national repository.

Earlier - September 18

The first shipment of reprocessed nuclear waste is returned to ANSTO at Lucas Heights for storage in 2015. Picture: Adam McLean

The first shipment of reprocessed nuclear waste is returned to ANSTO at Lucas Heights for storage in 2015. Picture: Adam McLean


Sutherland Shire Council is expected to oppose an application to increase nuclear waste capacity at the ANSTO facility at Lucas Heights.

A mayoral minute to be delivered at Monday night's council meeting will call on the federal government to urgently progress the development of a national radioactive waste facility.

"More than 20 years of inaction must end now to ensure the ongoing safety of our community," mayor Steve Simpson says.

In a move foreshadowed last year, ANSTO has applied to the independent regulator ARPANSA to vary its license so it can receive a second shipment of "intermediate level radioactive waste" next year from the UK, where it was reprocessed.

The 114 spent fuel rods are from the old HIFAR reactor were sent overseas in 1996.

ANSTO's original operating license was approved in 2015, enabling it to hold the first cask of the reprocessed radioactive waste, which was returned from France later that year.

Cr Simpson's mayoral minute, which was released in advance of Monday night's meeting, calls for a submission to be made to ARPANSA opposing the construction of the extra waste storage.

Cr Simpson expresses "deep concern" over the licence modification application.

"This minute is not intended to take away from the good work that ANSTO does; it is to again raise the issue of the failure of successive governments to address the need for a national repository for radioactive waste," he says.

"ANSTO plays an important role in our community and in our nation; it is a facility providing almost all of Australia's nuclear medicine.

"The site employs highly skilled people and is responsible for ground breaking research.

"I applaud its innovation and the employment it brings to our local government area."

The 2015 transportation of nuclear waste from Port Kembla to Lucas Heights. Picture: supplied

The 2015 transportation of nuclear waste from Port Kembla to Lucas Heights. Picture: supplied

However, Cr Simpson says the council has "a long history of opposing the Lucas Heights site being used as the de facto repository for Australia's nuclear waste".

"In 1991, council successfully challenged the transfer and storage of nuclear waste from a CSIRO facility at Fisherman's Bend, Victoria to the ANSTO facility at Lucas Heights," he says.

"This action highlighted the need for the development of a suitable national repository to accept these wastes.

"Repeated parliamentary and senate Inquiries since this time have again highlighted the need for such a facility to deal with Australia's growing nuclear waste issues."

Cr Simpson says, in granting an approval for the OPAL reactor in 2005, the ARPANSA chief executive identified the need for a national repository.

"Despite this, over 15 years later we are still awaiting this facility," Cr Simpson says.

"Successive governments have failed this community."

Cr Simpson says ANSTO's current projections show the existing storage facilities will reach capacity from 2027 for certain waste streams, and an additional facility is required.

"While the safety assessment accompanying the application concludes that it is very unlikely accident scenarios will result in potential for spread of radioactivity to the surrounding areas, ANSTO is not a suitable site for a radioactive waste storage facility," he says.

"Such sites need to be located in environmentally suitable locations, including sites that are geologically stable and isolated from major population centres.

"Council calls on the federal government to urgently address this unacceptable situation and progress the development of a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility."

An ANSTO spokesman said the organisation had "a very long and successful partnership with our local community and council, and we're one of the largest employers in Sutherland Shire".

"We absolutely stand with our community and council about the need for the waste we produce, which is directly linked to nuclear medicine production, to be sent to a national waste facility.

"We welcome the recent steps the federal government took to deliver the national waste facility, with a site identified in South Australia, legislation passed, and consultation due to end soon.

"The proposed new ANSTO storage facility is by no means able to replace what is required from a national waste facility.

"The proposed new Lucas Heights facility will be for preliminary waste storage and the interim management of the waste by-products that come directly from the manufacturing of nuclear medicines each week. It will complement the capacity of an existing facility that will fill by 2027.

"The national facility proposed for South Australia is for long-term storage of that intermediate-level waste and others spread around the country. It has a different design and function.

"We value the support from council and welcome the opportunity to discuss these plans and the importance of a national facility further."