Verification of environmental monitoring

ARPANSA’s independent monitoring program 

In November 2018, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) reviewed Australia’s national, legal and governmental framework for nuclear and radiation safety against the IAEA’s Safety Standards. 

One of the recommendations made by the IRRS was for ARPANSA to independently assess the environmental monitoring program of licence holders to verify reported results. 

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) is authorised to discharge small quantities of radioactivity into the environment at the Lucas Heights site near Sydney. These discharges are released in gaseous form to the atmosphere via stacks, and in liquid form via the sewage system. These discharges are planned, controlled releases of radioactive substances that occur as part of the normal operation of the ANSTO facilities.  

ANSTO is required to monitor the discharges as they occur and report periodically to ARPANSA on the discharges, and promptly if a notification level is exceeded. The notification levels are set conservatively, well below the level of release that could result in a member of the public exceeding an annual dose limit. ANSTO also shares radiation monitoring information with the public on the ANSTO website.

ANSTO has an established environmental monitoring program and provides reports detailing the measurements to ARPANSA on a quarterly basis. ARPANSA has also commenced an independent environmental monitoring program. The independent measurements obtained by ARPANSA are compared against the values measured by ANSTO. This is done to provide additional assurance that the results reported by ANSTO are accurate and the community and environment are protected from harmful effects of radiation. 

To commence this process of verifying environmental monitoring, samples were taken from stack discharge points (ambient air sampling) at Lucas Heights, wastewater discharged to the sewage system, groundwater and surface water, soil, sediment and vegetation.  

The independent monitoring program is aimed at measuring specific radionuclides. These radionuclides have been selected following a review of what may be released from the operations conducted by ANSTO.      

Measurements and results 

An initial set of baseline measurements was collected in November 2019 and further measurements were conducted in 2020. ARPANSA plans to obtain further data on an annual basis. 

The results of the independent monitoring program confirm that the majority of the radionuclides released to the environment are at levels below the detectable level. Those that are above the detectable level are at low concentrations well below notification levels.  

The initial results of the monitoring program have shown that radiation doses to the public and the environment from gaseous and liquid discharges around the ANSTO Lucas Heights site are negligible. There are no expected health impacts from radiation at these levels.  

These results are consistent with the results submitted to ARPANSA by ANSTO, confirming that the licensee's environmental protection program to protect the health and safety of people and the environment is fit for purpose.