1.1. Background and scope

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency seeks to engage with stakeholders and promote a discussion on the health and safety of people and the environment in connection with management of radioactive waste. The purpose of this Information for Stakeholders document is to explain a number of principles, concepts and processes that apply to the management (mainly storage and disposal) of radioactive waste.

The document has been developed for information purposes only, and is a companion document to ARPANSA’s Regulatory Guide on  Applying for a licence for a radioactive waste storage or disposal facility, which is specifically directed to a licence applicant.

The document outlines, for information, ARPANSA’s role and functions as set out in the  Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 (the ARPANS Act). ARPANSA’s role (and the object of the ARPANS Act) is to protect the health and safety of people, and to protect the environment, from the harmful effects of radiation.

The document also provides brief information on other Commonwealth legislation of importance for the licensing of storage and disposal facilities, and on internationally recognised frameworks and principles for safety that form part of international best practice.

The scope of this information document is the same as for the Regulatory Guide. It is limited to Commonwealth facilities for managing large quantities of radioactive waste of Australian origin, including predisposal management and long-term storage of such waste, noting that a storage facility as well as a disposal facility may be operational for more than a century.

The guide is not applicable to:

  • short-term storage of small quantities of waste
  • disposal of small quantities of low level waste at the point of generation (see our website for guidance relevant to other types of radioactive waste than covered in this Regulatory Guide)
  • management of waste generated during mining and milling of ores
  • waste facilities under state or territory jurisdiction.

1.2. Style and structure

The intention of this information for stakeholders document is to provide useful and accessible information to a broad range of audiences.

While the intention is to suit a variety of audiences, ARPANSA realises that some of the content is of a technical nature. There are a number of other ARPANSA publications that provide less technical information and outline the basic principles for protection against radiation risks. These include an expanding suite of fact sheets that are regularly updated. They are available on ARPANSA’s website.

Information on the general approach to regulating facilities and activities involving radiation is provided in the Fundamentals for Protection Against Ionising Radiation (RPS F-1), published by ARPANSA in 2014.

Different sections of this information document deal with the Commonwealth legal framework that apply to radioactive waste storage and disposal facilities, the licensing process and international best practice outlined in recognised frameworks for safety.

Throughout the text there are ‘hexagons’ in either purple or green:

A purple hexagon with the letters 'PO' in the middle to indicate protective objectives.
 Purple hexagons - explain protective objectives
A green hexagon with the letters 'CP' in the middle to indicate concepts and principles.
 Green hexagons - explain concepts and principles

An important example of explanation of concepts and principles (‘green hexagon’) is given below, providing a definition of radiation risks. ARPANSA seeks to identify, characterise, manage, reduce and eliminate (as relevant) such risks for the purpose of protecting people and the environment from the harmful effects of radiation.


A green hexagon with the letters 'CP' in the middle to indicate concepts and principles.

‘Radiation risks’ as defined in the Fundamentals for protection against ionising radiation, RPS F-1

Radiation risk ..... means detrimental health effects of exposure to ionising radiation including the likelihood of such effects occurring and other risks including environmental risks that might arise from exposure to ionising radiation, the presence of radioactive material (including radioactive waste) or its release to the environment; or a loss of control over a nuclear reactor core, nuclear chain reaction, radioactive source or any other source of radiation alone or in combination.

The term safety as used in this information document cover all actions aimed at protection against radiation risks.

Terms and definitions are the same as in the ARPANS Act and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Regulations 2018 (the ARPANS Regulations). To the extent terms that are used here are not found in the ARPANS Act and Regulations, their use is aligned with the International Atomic Energy Agency ( IAEA) Safety Glossary.

References to publications that are quoted in this document are provided at the end, together with a list of standards and recommendations that contain additional information on the safety of radioactive waste management.

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