Ansto seeks licence to expand its interim waste store

22 July 2021

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, (Ansto) said on 16 July that it will make an application to the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (Arpansa) to vary its licence for its Interim Waste Store. The original operating licence was approved in 2015, enabling the facility to hold what is called a TN-81 cask of intermediate-level radioactive waste that was repatriated from France in 2015.

The licence variation to Arpansa will allow Ansto to prepare to receive a second TN-81 cask of intermediate level radioactive waste, which will to be repatriated in the 2022 financial year, in this case from the UK. Some 75-80% of the radioactive waste produced at Ansto is directly associated with production of nuclear medicine used in the diagnosis of a variety of heart, lung and muscular skeletal conditions, as well as diagnosis and treatment of certain types of cancer.

Australia’s Open Pool Australian Lightwater (Opal) reactor, which began operation in 2007, is a state-of-the-art 20MW multi-purpose reactor that uses low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel to achieve a range of activities to benefit human health, enable research to support a more sustainable environment and provide innovative solutions for industry. A variety of low and intermediate level radioactive wastes result from Australia’s nuclear operations, which are managed safely with different levels of shielding and protection. Australia’s used fuel management strategy is to reprocess the used fuel rods to remove the remaining uranium which is then recycled overseas and used to manufacture fuel for NPPs.

This minimises the amount of long-lived radioactive species in the resulting waste, which is returned to Australia, encapsulated in a glass matrix suitable for storage and final disposal. The molten glass is placed in 500kg steel cannisters. These, in turn, are placed into a 100-tonne TN-81 transport and storage cask that is 6.5m metres long, 3m metres in diameter and which has 20cm thick walls made from forged steel.

Some 1,288 used fuel rods were sent to France for reprocessing over four shipments between 1999 and 2004, and the resulting waste returned for storage in Ansto’s Interim Waste Store in 2015. In addition, 114 used fuel rods from the old HIFAR reactor were sent to the UK for reprocessing in a shipment in 1996, and subject to regulatory approval, the remaining waste will return for storage at Ansto in 2022.

“For decades, Australians have benefited from nuclear medicine, and environmental, industrial and minerals research undertaken at Lucas Heights,” said Ansto’s Chief Nuclear Officer, Hef Griffiths. “Along with these benefits comes a responsibility for Australia to safely deal with the by-products including radioactive waste. Australia does not shy away from that responsibility, and Ansto has comprehensive plans to safely manage it.”

Ansto’s Group Executive Nuclear Precinct, Pamela Naidoo-Ameglio, said that this will be a routine and safe operation. “This will be the second repatriation project and 12th successful transport of spent fuel or reprocessed waste which Ansto has carried out since 1963,” she said. “For all of the obvious and standard security reasons, we can’t comment on the specific route or timing of this transport, but wanted to let our community know ahead of the license applications.”

In addition to the forthcoming application to Arpansa, Ansto will also submit a referral under the EPBC Act, which will include a standard 10-day public submissions process. The TN-81 transport and storage cask which returns in 2022 has capacity for 28 x 500kg cannisters, but will only contain four with a radiological equivalence to used fuel sent to the UK in a shipment in 1996. This is far less than the 20 500kg cannisters inside the cask repatriated from France in 2015, which is currently inside the Interim Waste Store.

The TN-81 casks will be stored at Ansto until a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility is operational, at which point the TN-81s will be moved there for storage over several decades. The TN-81 casks are suitable and safe for storage over the course of many decades (subject to ongoing regulatory approval), however eventually their contents will require permanent disposal. Early work is already underway on planning for a separate disposal facility for Intermediate level waste, in several decades time. “The government has progressed plans for a low level radioactive waste disposal facility in Kimba, and started work on options for the eventual disposal facility for intermediate level waste,” said Griffiths.

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