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Repatriation of Australian waste from France

First issued Saturday 14 March 2015
ANSTO has over 60 years of experience in the safe management of radioactive waste and used fuel. A proposed new storage facility will enable Australia to meet obligations to repatriate Australian waste currently being reprocessed in France. 
Timeline of key events
  • Following an expert review and a statutory public consultation process in May 2013, the independent nuclear regulator, ARPANSA, advised ANSTO in November 2013 that it had approval to both site and construct an interim waste store on site at our campus at Lucas Heights.

  • ANSTO submitted a separate application for Operation of the Interim Waste Store to ARPANSA in December 2014. Public consultation regarding this application closed on 16 January 2015. Review of this application is ongoing.

  • With construction of the interim waste store now well underway, as per the standard process ANSTO has referred the transport of the waste arising from reprocessing of Australian spent fuel to the Department of the Environment, in line with the requirements of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conversation Act 1999. This application is now open for public comment.

  • Under French law the material in France must have left for Australia by the end of 2015.

Project context
  • For decades, Australia has benefitted from the medical, minerals, environmental, and industrial research undertaken at Lucas Heights. That includes:

    - Production of millions of doses of nuclear medicine.

    - Increased efficiency of our mining industry, contributing to the Australian economy.

    - Irradiation of high-quality silicon, used across the world in fast trains, hybrid cars and solar farms.

    - A knowledge base that secures Australia’s position at the IAEA.
  • Along with benefits that preserve our lives, add to our economy, assist our industry, and deliver for our environment, comes a responsibility to deal with by-products, including waste.
  • It is international best practice for the countries which benefit from nuclear medicine and research programs to safely manage the by-products, which is what Australia has committed to do.
Project overview
  • In the 1990s, Australian Governments entered agreements though which four shipments (sent between 1999 and 2004) of spent fuel from the old HIFAR reactor would be reprocessed in France.
  • The French have the expertise to reprocess spent fuel and produce vitrified waste, because of their extensive nuclear power program.
  • In line with those agreements, and in line with French law, the waste from reprocessing will leave for Australia by the end of 2015.
  • The waste will eventually be stored in Australia’s National Radioactive Waste Management Facility, which is expected to be established by around the end of the decade.
  • In the interim, ANSTO is planning for the waste to be kept in a purpose-built building at Lucas Heights, which is currently under construction.
  • Once the waste is moved away to the national facility, we have plans to repurpose that building for work associated with medicine production.
  • These plans are all being overseen by the independent Australian nuclear regulator – ARPANSA.
Key statistics, dates and figures
  • Medicine doses produced: ANSTO produces 10,000 doses of Molybdenum-99 a week (c550,000 a year) which is sent to 250 hospitals and nuclear medicine centres around Australia and the region.
  • Waste: With uranium and plutonium removed, the waste will be placed in 20 steel canisters weighing 500kg each, placed inside a loaded container which will weigh between 109-112 tonne.
  • Similar transports: Similar containers have been successfully used in 170 nuclear shipments around the world over 30 years.
Links for more information