Nuclear waste from AUKUS nations could be on cards

An inquiry looked at how nuclear safety would be carried out as part of the AUKUS submarine deal.

An inquiry looked at how nuclear safety would be carried out as part of the AUKUS submarine deal. Photo: AAP

Nuclear safety laws should allow for Australia to accept low-level waste from the UK and US as part of the AUKUS submarine deal, a Senate committee has found.

An inquiry looking at how nuclear safety would be carried out as part of the $368 billion submarine deal found that while Australia should not accept high-level nuclear waste, low-level waste from the submarine programs of AUKUS nations would be accepted.

The Senate committee on Monday recommended the safety laws pass Parliament and extra oversights should be set up for nuclear regulators.

However, opponents say the laws would allow Australia to become a dumping ground for nuclear waste.

Greens senator David Shoebridge, who sits on the committee, said the laws would allow the defence minister to designate any area as a nuclear waste facility.

“This runs roughshod not just over local communities but also First Nations peoples who have a long history of protecting their land from nuclear waste, from Muckaty to Kimba,” he said.

“This just shows the lengths the Albanese government will go to try and keep the failing AUKUS nuclear submarine deal sputtering along.”

However, while the committee in its report acknowledged the concern of what would happen to the nuclear waste as part of AUKUS, proper processes would be in place.

“Terms like ‘dumping ground’ are not helpful in discussing the very serious question of national responsibility for nuclear waste of any kind,” the report said.

“There is an important distinction between the categories of nuclear waste which spans from waste with lower levels of radioactivity generated by day-to-day submarine operations … to waste with higher levels of radioactivity, such as spent fuel produced when submarines are decommissioned.”

As part of the AUKUS deal, the US will sell Australia three second-hand Virginia-class submarines in the next decade before a new class of vessels will be used that are co-designed by all three nations in the pact.

In a dissenting report to the inquiry, the Greens also took aim at the oversight of the proposed Australian Naval Nuclear Power Safety Regulator.

Senator Shoebridge said the regulator reporting to the defence minister was out of step with similar bodies set up in other countries.

He said the body should instead report to the federal health minister to ensure its independence.

The report’s findings are set to be considered by the government before being brought back for debate in Parliament.


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