We are investigating the best options to prepare waste material stored at the Woomera Test Range in South Australia for transfer and acceptance at the proposed National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF).

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Where did the waste come from?

Almost 10,000 210-litre drums of waste now stored at the Woomera Test Range came from the clean-up of a former research site at Fishermans Bend, Melbourne, in the early 1990s and comprises of mainly soil and building materials.

How radioactive is it?

Latest testing shows that the material in storage does not present risks to worker safety or the environment. Measurements taken in May 2018 show that radiation levels adjacent to the storage are typical natural background values for Australia, as would be found in typical soil and rock.

During 2018, CSIRO has worked with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) to check that no contamination has occurred from waste storage, including measurements of air and the soil, to establish a comprehensive environmental baseline for the site.

Read more about 2018 investigations into the radioactivity of the waste.

Further information for download:

What is CSIRO doing about it?

CSIRO is using robotic equipment to better understand the physical condition and contents. This work will take 12–24 months and will inform future activities to characterise, separate and repackage waste and reduce its volume for transfer to the NRWMF. The robots are able to travel between the tightly packed drums which cannot be reached by people.

The robotic work will also help us better understand the physical integrity of the drums before further testing. The painted or galvanised drums are just over half way through their expected useful life of around 40 years.

Like other Commonwealth organisations, including ANSTO and the Department of Defence, CSIRO’s radioactive waste is independently regulated by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and subject to regular inspections to ensure all future activities comply with best practice.

Further information for download:

What are we finding?

Initial gamma imaging conducted by ANSTO indicates very low levels of activity in those drums scanned.

We expect a large portion of the waste will be so low in radiation it will not require any controls, and can be disposed of in an appropriate landfill.

Some material will be low level radioactive waste (LLW) and a very small amount may be intermediate level waste (ILW). Measures will be taken to ensure the material is safely stored to meet ARPANSA regulations until a final disposal pathway has been identified.

What does this mean for a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF)?

Further analysis and separation of material is needed to clarify how much of the material currently at the Woomera Range will require future disposal (LLW) or storage (ILW) at the proposed NRWMF.

The waste could not be transferred to a NRWMF until its contents are known and it is packaged to comply with the strict Waste Acceptance Criteria for the Facility. The current storage arrangement at the Woomera Test Range poses no health or environmental threat.

Past ANSTO testing

When the material was taken from Fishermans Bend in the early 1990s, testing was carried out by ANSTO in 1991 and 1993. These tests found:

1991

  • 99% of drums had a surface dose rate less than 5 microsievert per hour (µSv/hr), similar to travelling on an international air flight.
  • 1% had surface dose rates of 5-17 µSv/hr, which is less or only slightly higher than the permissible level of 10 µSv/hr for radiation workers (based on a 20 millisievert per year limit). This is comparable to having a chest x-ray.

Download a copy of the 1991 ANSTO report [pdf · 1mb]

1993

  • Sampling of almost 3,000 drums found 98% of drums had radioactive content low enough to be classified as non-radioactive for transport purposes at that time.

Download a copy of the 1993 ANSTO report [pdf · 2mb]

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