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South Australia’s Roxby Downs should be monitored by state EPA, argues MP

Posted by gmarkets on 17 September, 2007

The Roxby Downs (Indenture Ratification) Act 1982 represented a deal between mining company interests and the government of the day; but what was considered appropriate then was not necessarily appropriate today, argued Independent Kris Hanna in the South Australian House of Assembly on 12 September 2007. Environmental monitoring excluded: “There is a general background to the introduction of this motion,” said Hanna, “and that is the boom in the uranium market world wide. Clearly, South Australia is playing a significant role in that. There is a lot of uranium oxide to be mined at the Olympic Dam site, otherwise known as Roxby Downs. When Roxby Downs was first established, it was approved by means of an indenture act. The Roxby Downs (Indenture Ratification) Act 1982 represented a deal between mining company interests and the government and, of course, part of that deal concerned what would happen with the waste products of the mining that took place there. It was understood then that there would be material which could be rendered into uranium through the relevant processing. It was considered at that time that it was appropriate to keep the monitoring of mining of radioactive materials out of the usual environmental process; therefore, section 7 of the Environment Protection Act 1993 specifically provides that the act is subject to the Roxby Downs (Indenture Ratification) Act 1982. Section 7 specifically states that the act does not apply in relation to wastes produced in the course of an activity authorised by lease or licence under the Roxby Downs (Indenture Ratification) Act. The foremost environmental monitoring agency in South Australia basically has no right to go up to Roxby Downs and see what they are doing with the waste products which arise from mining radioactive materials.”

Some protections in place: “There is a national system for monitoring radioactive substances, including waste products,” said Hanna. “I note that, in the indenture ratification act itself, the schedule insists that certain minor matters at Roxby Downs be subject to relevant codes of practice. The relevant codes of practice are:

• the Code of Practice on Radiation Protection in the Mining and Milling of Radioactive Ores;

• the Code of Practice for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Substances 1990; and

• the Code of Practice on the Management of Radioactive Wastes from the Mining and Milling of Radioactive Ores;

and, of course, there may be recommendations from time to time from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the International Commission on Radiological Protection, or the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

Inadequate supervision: “My concern is that these codes, which are overseen by a national agency, will not be able to pay sufficient attention to what is going on at Roxby Downs, especially with the huge expansion that is proposed for that mine,” Hanna said. “We are already shipping radioactive materials out of there and there is going to be a lot more of it. The other new factor, or relatively new factor, that has come into play in the last couple of years is the threat of terrorism. Clearly, the Prime Minister and the national government have expressed concern about the risk of a terrorist attack in Australia. I am as concerned as anyone else about that prospect, and I do not think I am giving anything away to suggest that the seizure of radioactive materials could be a part of some terrorist act because of the threat that could then be made in relation to how that radioactive material might be disposed of. At any rate, I think we need a South Australian agency to examine closely just what safeguards are in place at Roxby Downs. It is a thriving community of some thousands of people and, of course, there are many hundreds of workers involved. Occasionally we do hear of accidents or in some way people being exposed to radioactive waste.”

State agency supervision proposed: Hanna said: “I think it is entirely appropriate for there to be a state agency to ensure the health of South Australians. With the prospect of increasing transport of radioactive waste out of the Olympic Dam region, we need a South Australian agency to examine whether all appropriate safeguards are being used, hence, the suggestion that the waste arising from uranium mining should be subject to the Environment Protection Act 1993. At least that way the state government gets a responsibility to make sure that we as the South Australian community know how much waste is being produced in general terms, where it is going, and that all possible safeguards are put in place.”

Reference: Kris Hanna, Member for Mitchell, Political Party, Independent, House of Assembly, South Australia, 12 September 2007.

Erisk Net, 16/9/2007

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