Woomera waste – rust, leaks, compaction, potentially explosive

Disgraceful mismanagement of radioactive waste by the CSIRO at Woomera (SA), and disgraceful non-regulation by the regulator ARPANSA. As of March 2018, it seems that much work remains to be done to fix the problems.

Rusted barrels of radioactive waste cost CSIRO $30 million

13 March 2017, Steven Trask

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/rusted-barrels-of-radioactive-waste-cost-csiro-30-million-20170307-gusb6v.html

Also posted at: http://www.theage.com.au/national/rusted-barrels-of-radioactive-waste-cost-csiro-30-million-20170307-gusb6v.html

CSIRO faces a $30 million clean up bill after barrels of radioactive waste at a major facility were found to be “deteriorating rapidly” and possibly leaking.

An inspection found “significant rusting” on many of the 9,725 drums, which are understood to contain radioactive waste and other toxic chemicals.

CSIRO flagged a $29.7 million budget provision for “remediation works” at a remote location in its latest annual report.

Fairfax Media can reveal the work will take place at a CSIRO facility located on Department of Defence land near Woomera, South Australia.

The Woomera facility is currently one of Australia’s largest storage sites for low and intermediate-level radioactive waste.

A damning report of the Woomera facility was issued by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) after an inspection in April last year.

“Evidence was sighted that indicates the drums are now beginning to deteriorate rapidly,” read the report, seen by Fairfax Media.

“Significant rust on a number of the drums, deterioration of the plastic drum-liners and crushing of some stacked drums was observed.”

Tests confirmed the presence of radioactive isotopes at one location and inspectors said there was a possibility the drums were leaking.

“Although unlikely, there is the possibility that the presence of deceased animals such as rodents and birds may indicate that some of the drums, which contain industrial chemicals, may be leaking into the environment.”

The mixture of water and concentrated radioactive material inside some of the drums also had the potential to produce explosive hydrogen gas, inspectors found.

They also noted CSIRO had little knowledge of what was inside many of the barrels, some of which are believed to date back more than 50 years.

“Without full knowledge [of] the contents of the drums, risks cannot be fully identified and risk controls cannot be appropriately implements to protect people and the environment,” inspectors noted in the report.

Many of the drums are understood to contain contaminated soil generated by government research into radioactive ores at Melbourne’s Fishermans Bend throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

The toxic soil was discovered by the Department of Defence in 1989, who sent it to Sydney’s Lucas Heights facility before it was palmed off to Woomera in 1994.

An ARPANSA spokeswoman said the $29.7 million estimate would cover the characterisation, handling, re-packaging and storage of the toxic material.

“As a result of an ARPANSA inspection in 2016, it was recognised that additional work was required to scientifically characterise some of the contents of the legacy materials more accurately,” she said.

“The work that needs to be undertaken is significant.”

A spokesman for CSIRO said the first phase of the three-year clean up would begin next month.

“CSIRO currently has a radioactive waste store located on defence land at Woomera, South Australia. The store currently has 9,725 drums of long-lived waste,” he said.

“Last year ARPANSA conducted a regulatory inspection of the Woomera facility.

“In conjunction with ARPANSA, CSIRO has developed a $29.7 million, three-year project to conduct an assessment, separation and treatment of the waste.

“The first phase of this project, which is to undertake a detailed assessment and pilot-scale separation and treatment trial of up to 600 drums of material, will begin in April this year.

“The first phase at Woomera is expected to take four to five months.”

The country’s other major radioactive waste storage facility at Lucas Heights, Sydney, is rapidly approaching full capacity.

Coupled with issues at the CSIRO site, the revelations highlighted the urgent need for a national radioactive waste storage solution, experts said.

Deteriorating radioactive waste barrels at Woomera require $30 million clean-up by CSIRO

Peter Jean, The Advertiser, 14 March 2017

http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/deteriorating-radioactive-waste-barrels-at-woomera-require-30-million-cleanup-by-csiro/news-story/35e145b33ce748406d46d892ade39e96

AN estimated $30 million will be spent on securing radioactive waste at Woomera after inspectors discovered storage barrels were rapidly deteriorating.

The CSIRO stores almost 10,000 drums of low-level radioactive waste at Woomera.

An inspection by the radiation safety watchdog last year revealed some drums were deteriorating quickly and it was possible some industrial chemicals had leaked into the environment.

“Evidence was sighted that indicates that the drums are now beginning to deteriorate rapidly.,’’ an Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency report said.

“Significant rust on a number of the drums, deterioration of the plastic drum-liners and crushing of some stacked drums were observed.”

Some of the drums contain industrial chemicals and biological hazards.

“It was noted that chemical baiting of pests has occurred in the past at this site. A concern was the existence of deceased animals located in and around the site,’’ the ARPANSA inspection report said.

“Although unlikely, there is the possibility that the presence of deceased animals (such as rodents and birds) may also indicate that some of the drums, which contain industrial chemicals, may be leaking into the environment.’’

Most of the waste is contaminated soil from CSIRO’s former Fishermans Bend site in Melbourne.

It was transferred from Sydney’s Lucas Heights nuclear campus to Woomera in the 1990s.

A CSIRO spokesman said the agency was undertaking a three-year project to assess, separate and treat the waste.

“The first phase of this project which is to undertake a detailed assessment and pilot-scale separation and treatment trial of up to 600 drums of material will begin in April this year,’’ the spokesman said.

“The first phase at Woomera is expected to take four to five months.

“The Department of Defence provides security and controls access to the Woomera facility, and a joint CSIRO-Defence inspection of the facility is undertaken annually and reported to ARPANSA.”

The Federal Government wants to establish a single national centre for the secure storage of low-level radioactive waste. Barndioota, in the Flinders Ranges, is the preferred site for the waste dump.

CSIRO facing $30 million bill to clean up radioactive waste in South Australia

13 March 2017

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-13/csiro-facing-$30-million-bill-to-clean-up/8350552

http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2016/s4635390.htm

The CSIRO has confirmed it faces a $30 million bill to clean up radioactive waste near Woomera in South Australia. The contaminated soil is contained in almost 10,000 drums that have been left to deteriorate over decades. The clean-up is due to begin next month, and comes as the Federal Government continues to explore options for a national nuclear storage facility.

The CSIRO has confirmed it faces a 30 million dollar bill to clean up radioactive waste near Woomera in South Australia.

The contaminated soil is contained in almost 10-thousand drums that have been left to deteriorate over decades.

Meanwhile the Federal Government is continuing to explore options for a national nuclear storage facility.

Radio segment / interviews posted at

http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2016/s4635390.htm

and at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-13/csiro-facing-$30-million-bill-to-clean-up/8350552

Featured:

Alan Parkinson, nuclear engineer who was in charge of the clean-up of the Maralinga bomb test site in South Australia

Jim Green, nuclear campaigner from Friends of the Earth

Hot news: new home for waste

Mark Davis, 26 September 2009

http://www.smh.com.au/environment/hot-news-new-home-for-waste-20090925-g6aj.html

TWENTY years after being found at an old CSIRO site in Fishermans Bend, in Melbourne, nearly 10,000 barrels of radioactive waste are moving to another ”temporary” storage facility in outback South Australia.

The Defence Department plans to move the contaminated soil, which is now in a corrugated iron shed in the Woomera prohibited area, to an explosives storage building several kilometres away at Koolymilka.

Over the years the 1950 cubic metres of soil has been shifted from Melbourne to Lucas Heights, in Sydney, and then to the Woomera rocket-testing range as politicians squabbled over where to put a permanent radioactive waste storage facility.

A spokeswoman for the Defence Department said Koolymilka would provide secure storage for that soil and for some waste at Edinburgh, in Adelaide.

The Koolymilka facility would use a refurbished above-ground explosives storage building, she said. It would have capacity for additional waste but would not be licensed to take any.

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency was assessing defence’s application for a licence to establish the facility, a spokesman said.

The CSIRO waste is more than half of Australia’s stockpile of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste, which is expanding by about 50 cubic metres a year. It is stored at mainly temporary facilities around the country.

After the South Australian Government blocked a planned permanent national repository near Woomera in 2003, the Howard government began assessing four sites in the Northern Territory for a permanent spot for Commonwealth waste.

The Rudd Government got the scientific reports on the sites in March. It is yet to decide whether to select one of the NT sites or rethink the Howard government’s strategy of bypassing the states.