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The Project

The Project

In this section:

The Project

The National Radioactive Waste Management Project (‘the Project’) has been established to implement Australia’s radioactive waste management policy. This requires that all waste generated in Australia be stored or disposed of within Australia at suitably sited facilities.

This policy is aligned with the principles of a multilateral treaty ratified by the Australian Government with the International Atomic Energy Agency  (IAEA) for the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management.

This provides that “radioactive waste should, as far as is compatible with the safety of the management of such material, be disposed of in the country in which it was generated.”

The development of the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility is a long term project which will involve public consultation or input at all phases of the Project.

The development process is underpinned by the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012. More information on the purpose and operation of the Act can be found in the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 Explanatory Memorandum.

Project Phases

The Project will be developed in four phases:

  • Phase 1: Volunteer Site Nomination
  • Phase 2: Site Identification
  • Phase 3: facility Design and Site Licensing
  • Phase 4: Construction and Operation

The indicative project timeline is as follows:


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The Volunteer Site Nomination phase is the first of four project phases in the development of a national radioactive waste management facility. It aims to provide a shortlist of approved nominated sites for further and more detailed investigation and assessment.

The Site Identification phase will involve detailed site characterisation studies and other activities as described under section 11 of the Act.  The detailed site investigations will enable a preferred site to be identified from the short list of sites identified in Phase 1.

The Detailed Business Case

Consistent with the Government’s Two Stage Capital Works Approvals Process a Detailed Business Case be undertaken in Phase 3 that will assess and recommend a preferred design and engineering option for the national facility.  The Detailed Business Case will consider the options identified in the Initial Business Case, considered by Government in 2014.

The Detailed Business Case will consider the following:

  • cost benefit analysis
  • functional design brief
  • preliminary designs and drawings
  • risk management plan
  • project delivery and procurement strategy
  • project program
  • cost plan
  • whole-of-life cost estimate
  • other legislative requirements such as environment and heritage obligations, and stakeholder management plans

The Construction and Operation phase is dependent on all relevant licences and approvals being obtained.  The national facility may commence operations only after an operating license is granted by the relevant authorities.

Voluntary site objectives and criteria

The objectives and criteria are based on the 'Code of Practice for the near surface disposal of radioactive waste in Australia', which is available on the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency website.

For the purposes of delivering against the Australian Government’s commitment and providing transparency, six key Objectives have been identified as being important in the process of identifying a possible site for the facility. Specifically for phase 1, these six Objectives are underpinned by 25 assessment Criteria. The Objectives are: Community Well Being, Stable Environment, Environmental Protection, Health, Safety and Security, Economic Viability.

The minimum land area required is 100 hectares. Before a facility can be built, the site, facility design and operational arrangements will need to be assessed and authorised under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 and all other relevant legislation and regulations.

Possible designs

Several different concepts, including an Excavated Facility and Engineered Disposal Facility will be assessed as possible designs for the facility.

The two main types of facilities used for low level radioactive waste disposal are simple excavated facilities, which are based on natural site characteristics, and engineered disposal facilities, which are based on man-made engineering features.

Depending on the site chosen, various natural and engineered features will be used to isolate low level radioactive waste from the environment and workers.

Consistent with international best practice the Governments preference is to manage waste at a single site. Intermediate level waste at the site would be managed in a separate above-ground store that can be co-located with either design option.

Once site nominations have been approved, functional engineering design work for the two concepts will commence. The functional engineering designs will be site-specific and draw on the findings of site characterisation studies and the generic concept design project.

The concept designs are not site specific, however they incorporate features and capabilities required to satisfy Australian regulations and reflect international best practice.

The Australian Government will decide on the most appropriate design when the Detailed Business Case is finalised.

It is anticipated that the finalised design will have the capacity to manage Australia's current radioactive waste and that accumulated over the next 100 years, before being closed.

A concept design

In 2013, the department commissioned concept designs to show what a low-level waste disposal facility and co-located intermediate-level waste store might look like for generic Australian conditions.

Concept designs were developed by Enresa, the Spanish public company responsible for the safe management, storage and disposal of radioactive waste produced in Spain. Enresa providesd a concept for an international best practice low-level waste disposal and intermediate-level waste storage facility for generic Australian conditions. This concept identifies that approximately 40 hectares would be required for buildings and infrastructure to accommodate Australia’s current and future waste inventory.

The Enresa report contains preliminary cost and timeline estimates for siting, designing and commissioning such a facility.  These cost and timeline estimates contained within the report are indicative only. They are not official estimates of the costs and timeline for the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility.

For the purposes of Phase 1 and 2, the area of land required for the national facility is expected to be no less than 100 hectares.

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