The OPAL research reactor, Lucas Heights, near Sydney. This reactor produces much of the global supply of diagnostic nuclear medicine, dopes silicon for the high-end electronics industry, and uses the neutron beams to undertake a wide range of research.

I noticed this article today regarding the imminent return of reprocessed radioactive waste to Australia from our old HIFAR reactor fuel.

I am a member of the Independent Advisory Panel that is working with the Department of Industry and Science on a good process for this challenging matter.

I am unhappy with the nature of this reporting and the quotes from David Sweeney. Dave is also a member of this panel. Time and again, the media quotes him on this issue without explaining that he is an invited member of the IAP who is helping to steer the decision-making process. As I know full-well media will quote selectively and I have no doubt Dave said much more than this.

I would like to make the following points in response:

  • The basis of this whole process is voluntarily nominated land by those with secure tenure of the land. The principle behind this process is for there to be no doubt that this facility WILL NOT be imposed on unwilling communities, indigenous or otherwise. The Department has remained true to this commitment throughout. It is the fundamental basis on which the IAP are involved.
  • The area in question is 100 ha. This process was open to all of Australia, it was not constrained in anyway to remote indigenous lands.
  • The response to that process has been strong. Many locations have voluntarily entered into the process, many more than anticipated. A diverse mix of urban, rural, regional and remote applications were received.
  • The panel worked with the Department to screen locations including a red-flag process. This red-flag process included identifying locations where there was evidence of probable conflict with the wishes of indigenous communities. This issue has been of paramount importance throughout. The panel and Department were united in seeking to avoid this conflict wherever it could be identified in advance.
  • Community support is the single most important, heavily weighted criteria in the analysis tool thanks to the input of the IAP and the response of the Department.
  • The announcement of a long-list of sites is expected soon. Following a period of communication and consultation that is to be followed by the determination of a short-list of sites, and evidence of community acceptance and support (for entering into a much longer process of consultation and assessment) will be critical in that determination.
  • That in turn will be followed by a detailed site-selection process on the shortlisted sites, which will involve ongoing engagement with the communities in question while the necessary detailed scientific studies are undertaken.

This is a challenging process however the process to date has been a clear break from past practice, as acknowledged by Greens Senator Scott Ludlum in the opening to his questions in Senate Estimates on this matter. It is my opinion that this process is not being rushed. It is being treated with the importance it is due given the critical role of nuclear research for Australian science and medicine. It is being done in a way that is open, transparent and responsible, and that engages with Australian communities who wish to participate, and respects the wishes of Australian communities who wish to remain apart. People may feel differently about nuclear technologies however not one person involved in this process is seeking to impose a site on an unwilling community.

I have been involved in this process for nearly 12 months and, aside from the occasional small remark on social media, this is the first time I have chosen to speak about it. I have preferred, to date, to see the process unfold in a professional way in the format that was established.

Today, I am tired of the highly selective reporting that accompanies this issue, particularly it seems from the ABC. Despite the clear and honourable intention of the Department to depart from past practice, despite the involvement of a diverse, eleven-person independent panel, there seems a determination by some to maintain a narrow, backward looking, negative narrative of fear and injustice in relation to this issue. This does absolutely nothing to help any stakeholders.

Any and all of the information and perspectives I have shared here would be available to the media. They just need to show an interest in speaking to either the Department or perhaps one of the 10 other people on the IAP who were not affiliated with an organisation with a committed opposition to nuclear technology.


  1. At least this is better than coverage I have seen quoting Greenpeace about unseaworthy ships and other nonsense! Also we are up to year 23 of this supposedly rushed process.

  2. I wonder if a logistic constraint is that only Port Botany currently has the hazmat rating to take canisters of formerly ‘hot’ material, that is ‘hotter’ than export yellowcake. That would seem to rule out the remote outback far from Sydney. Also an SA site nominated near the home of Rowan Ramsey MP could be perceived as politically influenced.

    A propose a ‘ tarpaulin’ test for the canister arriving from France. Build a mockup canister and fill it with gravel. Drape it and the real canister in tarpaulins and invite a Concerned Person to scope both with a geiger counter. The offending canister is then whisked off to the outback or wherever no questions asked. Too bad if they got the wrong canister.

  3. Yeah I don’t know, Ben. They know who to ask when it comes to the CEFC
    and when they want an adult chat about nuclear energy
    But apparently, when it comes to a bunch of reinforced shipping casks with immobilised fission products left over from producing life-saving hi-tech medicine, they think their listeners are best served by the only guaranteed partial voice involved.

  4. Should send the editor a email. Usually these people build a relationship and a profile with editors and journalists that they are just remembered when the topic comes up. Like Pavlov’s dog.

  5. To me it seems more than a coincidence that disconnected aboriginal groups are opposing nuclear fuel cycle developments. There are the Coober Pedy women in the linked article, those opposing Jabiluka mine and Muckaty Station as we saw with Ben on SBS, These places are thousands of kilometres apart. You have to suspect some city folks lurking in the background are putting in a major co-ordination effort. They don’t live in the outback communities but in cities and they have websites and donors, However they can exert enormous leverage. Since their efforts prolong the reign of coal you have to ask who they are really helping.

    I note after Muckaty rejected the ILW repository offer that Gilnockie Station NT was the first to nominate. On the principle of first-in-best-dressed they should be considered favourably. However I now question whether the outback or aboriginal communities should be involved at all.

    1. That principle does not apply; there was an application deadline and everything received was treated equally. As for you closing thought, I understand the sentiment though arguably that denies some communities an opportunity. I think the Government are getting it roughly right. Make it voluntary, anyone and everyone can participate and if there looks adequate community support is lacking, it does not proceed. I think that gives genuine applicants the opportunity to stand up to outside influences if indeed that is what is happening and make their case for involvement.

      1. I’m expecting a quiet chuckle over the theatricality when the ex-HIFAR material goes to its final resting place. There’ll be convoys with flashing lights and ‘smoking’ ceremonies even if the site is not aboriginal. Placard wavers will tag along with the help of despised hydrocarbon fuel. VIP speeches will get sign language interpreters. In effect an exorcism ceremony.

  6. Prime ministerial aspirant Bill Shorten doesn’t think SA should get nuclear power
    He apparently wants 50% of more variable renewables the rest perhaps pixie dust. Trouble is SA is already approaching 40% wind and solar yet big business is leaving. As the time of writing the SA wholesale power price (Link) is -$45 per Mwh (that’s minus) and at other times it gets to $350 when the other states are around $40. It all seems to depend on the sun and wind even at less than 50% penetration. If Shorten had his way it could be worse, both the volatile power prices and the industry exodus.

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