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
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
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
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
and at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-13/csiro-facing-$30-million-bill-to-clean-up/8350552
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
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.
ARPANSA 2016 Inspection Report
Licence Holder: CSIRO Hangar 5 Annex
Licence Number: S0013
Location inspected: Woomera, SA
Date of inspection: 27-29 April 2016
Report No: R16/05292
An inspection was conducted under Part 7 of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 (the Act). The purpose of the inspection was to assess compliance with the Act, applicable regulations, and licence conditions. The inspection was conducted as part of ARPANSA’s baseline source inspection program.
The inspection consisted of a review of records, interviews, a series of radiological measurements, and a physical inspection of radioactive material stored at Woomera. In addition, soil samples were collected in order to establish a baseline of the background environmental conditions at the site.
CSIRO Business Infrastructure Services (CBIS) is licenced under section 33 of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 to store low-level radioactive material in approximately 10,000 drums at one site at Woomera.
In general the management of the drums at Woomera has not changed significantly over the previous eight (8) years. However, the inspection found concerns regarding the future integrity of the drums. Evidence was sighted that indicates that the drums are now beginning to deteriorate rapidly. Significant rust on a number of the drums, deterioration of the plastic drum-liners and crushing of some stacked drums were observed. At one location, a radiation measurement was taken that had elevated from 90nSv.hr-1 to 2μSv.hr-1 when compared to the same measurement conducted by ARPANSA eight (8) years ago. A spectrum was taken at this location confirming the presence of 226Ra. It was unclear whether the elevated dose rate was due to the in-growth of daughter products or due to material that may have leaked from the drums.
Moreover, research conducted recently by CSIRO has indicated that many of the drums contain industrial chemicals and biological hazards. There is also the potential for the buildup of hydrogen gas within the drums due to the hydrolysis of water mixed with concentrated thorium.
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. 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.
As a result of these observations, the inspectors decided to collect environmental soil samples to be analysed for any radiological signatures that exceed the normal environmental background levels. Additional soil samples were also collected by ARPANSA for chemical analysis to be performed by Chem Centre in Western Australia. Chem Centre will be analysing the samples for heavy metals, acids and alkalines, solvents and hydrocarbons, and pesticides. The results of these environmental assessments will be provided to CSIRO.
CSIRO was unable to provide a detailed inventory of the drums. Although the inspectors recognize that this is a legacy issue where historical records of the contents of the drums are difficult to locate, the drums should be characterised as a matter of priority. Without the full knowledge the contents of the drums, risks cannot be fully identified, and risk controls cannot be appropriately implemented to protect people and the environment.
The CSIRO representatives provided a copy of the Woomera (Hangar 5) Risk Management Plan (04/04/16). Based upon the observed conditions of the drums, and new historical research which highlights evidence of the presence of combined chemical, biological and radiological hazards, the risk assessment provided failed to adequately address all of the presented hazards. On page 5 for example, Hazard 4 states “various hazards on site” but does not adequately consider the chemical hazards which are now known to exist at the site.
Being explicit about the potential risks will allow for more adequate controls to be put in place. Page 1 of the supplied Hazardous Substances Risk Control Plan (01/03/16) highlights radiological and miscellaneous substances as the Dangerous Goods Classification for the site. The newly acquired historical information on the site suggests that 2.1 Flammable Gases (hydrogen), 6.1 Toxic Substances, 8.0 Corrosive Substances should also have been highlighted. Moreover, the identified Exposure Route only considers inhalation. Ingestion, absorption and external irradiation should also be considered as pathways for the complex hazardous materials at the site.
When observing the entry and exit procedures for the storage annex, a range of contamination controls were not present. It is usual practice to have an established contamination control line, with appropriate quantities of gloves, booties, suits and respirators, a waste bin and calibrated contamination monitors. For chemical hazards, additional requirements such as a spill kits, decontamination agents and rinse stations may also be required.
These observations also demonstrate that the CSIRO staff could coordinate and communicate more effectively. Sharing new information about the history of the stored material, when discovered, would assist those charged with the responsibility to implement risk management strategies for the site.
Performance may be improved by addressing the following deficiencies:
- CSIRO was not able to provide a comprehensive inventory of the radiological material stored in the drums.
- As a result of an inadequate inventory, CSIRO were unable to develop or implement an adequate risk assessment, risk management plan, and risk control plan for the site.
- The procedural arrangements for protecting personnel entering or operating around the site could be enhanced. Contamination control was not established to address all types of hazardous materials located at the site.
- Communication within across the various business units of CSIRO was not evident; the sharing of information relating to the likely contents of the drums has not occurred.