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- Phone Number+61 3 9433 2211
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Radioactive Waste Safety
Radioactivity is very much a part of today’s world. Radioactive materials are used beneficially in areas such as health, agriculture, industry, science, protection of the environment, and for our personal safety (smoke detectors for instance). The flipside is that many of these radioactive materials will ultimately end up as waste once their useful life is over.
What is Radioactive Waste?
Radioactive waste is material that contains radionuclides and has no foreseeable further use.
For instance, many countries do not regard unprocessed spent nuclear fuel as 'waste' because of its future potential use as fuel for electricity production in next-generation nuclear reactors.
Waste includes liquid and gaseous effluents as well as solid materials.
What do we do with it?
Radioactive waste must be managed in order to isolate it from people and the environment ('safety'). Radioactive waste must also be managed in a way that prevents it from being accessed by anybody with malicious intent ('security').
In many jurisdictions it is a regulatory requirement that, wherever possible, radioactive sources for which no further use is foreseen should be returned to the supplier, either for recycling or disposal. However, this is not always possible.
The two ways in which radioactive waste are generally managed are "concentrate and contain" or "dilute and disperse", the former for mainly solid waste and the latter for most liquid and gaseous waste.
The processes of 'cradle-to-grave' management of radioactive waste, from generation to disposal, include:
ARPANSA’s Role in Maintaining Radioactive Waste Safety in Australia
In Australia, radioactive waste safety is guided by a series of national codes and safety guides based on international best practice, including IAEA standards. These national codes and guidance documents are developed by ARPANSA and currently cover the areas of classification of radioactive waste, predisposal management, management of NORM, near-surface disposal of radioactive waste, and radioactive waste management in mining and mineral processing. These codes and guidance form part of ARPANSA’s role in promoting national uniformity in radiation protection regulation across all jurisdictions.
ARPANSA is a scientific and independent regulatory agency of the Australian government, which regulates Commonwealth activities in radioactive waste management. State and territory governments are independently responsible for radiation protection within their jurisdictions and regulate waste safety within their own jurisdiction.
International Best Practice
In response to the question "Where would I look for guidance on what you consider international best practice? Is there a specific set of guidelines or something that the IAEA publishes?", the CEO of ARPANSA, Dr Carl‑Magnus Larsson has provided the response:
“I do not think that you are able to find best international practice in a particular place. What you need to do is go and look in different places for the different aspects of the problem that you are studying and you will find what you can call best international practice for those different elements. I would particularly point perhaps to the Nuclear Energy Agency or the university in particular in relation to the safety assessment and also in relation to stakeholder involvement. There is the forum for stakeholder involvement which is a very active group within the OECD NEA. By doing that and also comparing different national systems, national facilities, you can get an indication on what is best international practice. But you do not find it in a specific place."
ARPANSA's vision is that in the area of radioactive waste safety, best international practice should be found in one place - Australia!
|Chair’s Column – WASSC||Paper "Managing Radioactive Waste in Australia" (PDF 415kb)
(Reproduced from Issues)
Communication and Consultation
Consistent with ARPANSA's goal for improved engagement with stakeholders and the public, our aim is to eventually incorporate a facility here where you are able to contribute comments and engage in conversation on radioactive waste issues.
In the meantime, please provide us with any feedback or questions, and we’ll do our best to respond in timely fashion.
Current Projects of ARPANSA in Radioactive Waste Safety
- Presentation of Australia’s 5th National Report to the UN Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management at the IAEA in Vienna, May 2015
- Updating the ARPANSA Regulatory Guide Licensing of radioactive waste storage and disposal facilities
- Revision of the 1992 Code of Practice for the Near-Surface Disposal of Radioactive Waste in Australia (PDF 327 kb)
- Maintaining a national inventory of Australia’s radioactive waste
- Chair of IAEA Waste Safety Standards Committee (WASSC)
Important ARPANSA Links
- Australia’s Classification System for Radioactive Waste
- Safety Guide for the Predisposal Management of Radioactive Waste
- Safe Transport of Radioactive Material (including Waste)
- Code of Practice for the Near-Surface Disposal of Radioactive Waste in Australia (1992) (PDF 327 kb)
- Council Advice to CEO regarding a review of issues related to the Management of Intermediate Level Radioactive Waste in Australia
- Regulatory Guide: Licensing of Radioactive Waste Storage and Disposal Facilities
- Regulatory Guide: Siting of Controlled Facilities
- Smoke Detectors and Health
- NORM in Australia
- Cleanup of the British Atomic Test Sites at Maralinga
- Code of Practice for the Security of Radioactive Sources
Some Useful External Sites
- Department of Industry and Science - Radioactive waste management in Australia
- Radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel management in Australia (Parliamentary Library - includes a chronology of major events)
- Mt Walton East Intractable Waste Disposal Facility
- IAEA Division of Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety
- Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), Canada
- Washington State DoH Waste Management
- US WIPP deep geological disposal facility
- 'No Time To Waste' (report of Senate Committee on the Dangers of Radioactive Waste, April 1996)
- Characterization of Plutonium Contamination at Maralinga – Dosimetry and Cleanup Criteria, IAEA-TECDOC-1148, pp. 15-30 (2000)
- Rehabilitation of Former Nuclear Test Sites at Emu and Maralinga (Australia) 2003–Report by the Maralinga Rehabilitation Technical Advisory Committee (also known as the MARTAC Report)
- IAEA General Safety Requirements GSR Part 4 'Safety Assessment for Facilities and Activities'
- IAEA Safety Guide SSG-23 'The Safety Case and Safety Assessment for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste'
- IAEA Safety Guide WS-G-6.1 'Storage of Radioactive Waste'
- IAEA Safety Requirements SSR-5 'Disposal of Radioactive Waste'
- IAEA Safety Guide SSG-1 'Borehole Disposal Facilities for Radioactive Waste'
- IAEA Safety Guide RS-G-1.7 'Application of the Concepts of Exclusion, Exemption and Clearance'
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