A look at Australia's radioactive waste

·2-min read


* Australia produces two levels of radioactive waste - low-level and intermediate-level. Both will be dealt with at a planned national facility in South Australia

* Low-level waste (LLW) is typically things like plastic, gloves, clothing, and filters that have small amounts of radioactivity

* LLW is typically shredded and compressed into steel drums; about 7000 such drums are currently held at the Lucas Heights compound that is home to the country's only nuclear reactor

* But LLW is also held elsewhere, in about 100 locations across Australia

* LLW must be isolated and contained for a few hundred years to allow its radioactivity to degrade to safe levels, the International Atomic Energy Agency says

* It is suitable for disposal in engineered near-surface facilities, either slightly above or slightly below ground level

* Intermediate-level waste (ILW) is far more radioactive and includes what's left of spent nuclear fuel rods used at Lucas Heights, sent overseas for reprocessing, and then returned

* ILW can contain long-lived radionuclides and can remain dangerous for thousands of years

* It is not suitable for near-surface disposal and must be left at greater depths in the order of tens of metres to a few hundred metres below ground level, the International Atomic Energy Agency says

* Lucas Heights currently houses one special-purpose steel cask containing 20 tonnes of ILW that has been reprocessed in France and returned

* A second cask containing two tonnes of reprocessed ILW is due to arrive from the UK next year

* Both will be stored at Lucas Heights, but once the national facility is built the government intends to move both casks there

* The South Australian waste facility will only be a temporary storage site for ILW, until a final disposal solution is found

* The CSIRO, along with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation which operates Lucas Heights, are investigating the possibility of using bore-hole technology as a final disposal option

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