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Performance criterion 5 – Advice to Government and international relations

Nuclear and related expertise and advice - To provide expert advice, education, and services to support Australian policy and to strengthen Australia’s nuclear science knowledge base.

Goal - Effectively facilitate ANSTO’s role with Government and internationally as Australia’s centre of excellence on nuclear science and technology by:

  • Providing reliable and trusted advice to Ministers, Parliament, and Government departments and agencies.
  • Engaging with key international nuclear organisations and policy discussions.

Results - Assessed by a minimum of four research case studies

Case study 1 - Understanding the 2019-2020 bushfires

Utilising its capabilities in air quality monitoring and understanding climate, ANSTO contributed to the national discussions on the health and environmental impacts of the 2019-2020 bushfire season. ANSTO made submissions to:

1. The Federal Senate Standing Committee's Government Inquiry into the lessons to be learned in relation to the preparation and planning for, response to and recovery efforts from the 2019-2020 bushfire season.

2. The New South Wales Legislative Council inquiry into the health impacts of exposure to poor levels of air quality resulting from bushfires and drought. ANSTO also provided evidence as part of an expert panel hearing.

ANSTO also provided information to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements and responded to a number of requests from DISER, as well as the Office of the Chief Scientist, in relation to ANSTO’s potential contributions to future preparations for bushfires. ANSTO’s CEO, Dr Paterson, also participated in several roundtables on Bushfire Science, chaired by the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Hon Karen Andrews, contributing to the development of a scientific response to address this national challenge.

Case study 2 - Science of nuclear power to inform policy discourse and the Generation IV International Forum (GIF)

ANSTO has made significant contributions to major national discussions and policy forums regarding nuclear science and technology and its applications. During the reporting period, ANSTO provided three written submissions to Federal and state nuclear power inquiries. These submissions were to:

(i) The Federal House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy’s inquiry into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia. View submission at https://bit.ly/3mXfzsa

(ii) The New South Wales Legislative Council Standing Committee on State Development’s inquiry to consider the Uranium Mining and Nuclear Facilities (Prohibitions) Repeal Bill 2019. View submission at https://bit.ly/3685XEN

(iii) The Victorian Government Legislative Council’s inquiry to examine the merits in lifting the state’s ban on nuclear power. View submission at https://bit.ly/366o6ms

ANSTO appeared at the public hearings for the Federal and New South Wales inquiries. ANSTO also appeared at a hearing of the Federal House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources’ roundtable on the nuclear industry in Australia and facilitated site visits to its Lucas Heights campus for Committee members and staff associated with the inquiries.

This work has been critical in informing Government on the economic, environmental and social implications of nuclear energy technologies.

ANSTO’s continued representation of Australia in the GIF enables the Organisation to provide timely and comprehensive submissions and advice to government on nuclear technologies, including international developments. ANSTO remains an active and enthusiastic member of the GIF through its participation in GIF Policy and Expert Group meetings and its contributions towards the development of the Very High Temperature Reactor and Molten Salt Reactor systems.

Case study 3 - Expert technical support and advice to the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF) Project

In early 2020, the Government identified Napandee in Kimba, South Australia, as the preferred site for the NRWMF following extensive consultation and site assessment activities. Later in the year, ANSTO provided a submission to the Senate Standing Committees on Economics’ inquiry on the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020, which highlighted the need for the establishment of a NRWMF in Australia. Representatives from ANSTO also participated in a public hearing for this inquiry in June 2020.

ANSTO continued to provide extensive technical expertise, services and advice to the Federal Government regarding the establishment of the NRWMF. ANSTO’s expertise and services have included the development of the facility concept design and preliminary safety case; assistance with planning for the management of facility safety, security, and safeguards; and the provision of policy advice, as well as information related to costs, waste conditioning processes and transport arrangements. ANSTO’s expertise stems from more than 60 years of safe and responsible radioactive waste management.

ANSTO has also facilitated departmental access to international experts and assisted in the broader community's understanding of radioactive waste management practices.

Case study 4 - Engagement in national science and technology discussions

ANSTO has maintained ongoing engagement with the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER) - formerly the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science - and other relevant ministers and their Departments over the reporting period.

Over the reporting period, ANSTO continued to act as the secretariat for both the Nuclear Agencies Consultative Committee (NACC) and Research Agencies Meeting (RAM) - two separate forums that enable discussion and collaboration among government departments, agencies and research institutes.

The NACC serves as a forum for senior representatives from various agencies of government who are involved in, or have an interest in, nuclear matters to exchange information, coordinate activities and discuss policy development and international engagement. Ten government departments and agencies regularly participated in NACC meetings during the reporting period.

The RAM aims to enhance science and research collaboration and policy at both the domestic and international levels. RAM brings together approximately 50 representatives from more than 20 government departments, agencies and research institutes each quarter for important science policy discussions.

In addition to these forums, ANSTO continued to work with DISER on a daily basis, keeping it abreast of ANSTO’s operations, achievements and activities. Further, ANSTO responded to numerous requests for expert or technical advice regarding nuclear science and technology, and provided input into the development and revision of science and research policy.

Case study 5 - International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

ANSTO plays a leadership role within the IAEA. During the reporting period this continued and ANSTO’s role involves coordinating the Scientific Visits and Fellowships program, participating in Coordinated Research Projects, and representing Australia at numerous technical meetings on topics across nuclear science and technology. ANSTO staff play prominent roles in IAEA expert groups, including chairing the International Expert Group on Nuclear Liability (INLEX), the Standing Advisory Group on Nuclear Applications (SAGNA), and the International Decommissioning Network (IDN).

ANSTO’s strong participation in IAEA activities is not only consistent with our mandated role to undertake international cooperation under the ANSTO Act, but is also fundamental to maintaining Australia’s permanent seat on the IAEA Board of Governors. This position gives Australia a strong voice on important policy and programmatic issues at the IAEA, and is maintained by continual demonstration that we are the most advanced country in nuclear science and technology in our regional group (South East Asia and the Pacific).

ANSTO also provides expert advice and support to other Australian Government agencies tasked with pursuing Australia’s nuclear-related foreign policy objectives through the IAEA. Working in close collaboration with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other agencies, ANSTO provides much of the technical expertise that informs Australia’s whole-of-government approach to IAEA technical cooperation, nuclear technology and applications, and nuclear safety, security and safeguards. ANSTO is represented at the Australian Permanent Mission to the IAEA in Vienna, and is a highly active participant in both technical and policy discussions within the IAEA and amongst its Member States.

Case study 6 - Regional Cooperative Agreement (RCA)

The Regional Cooperative Agreement (RCA) is an intergovernmental agreement of 22 IAEA Member States in East and South Asia and the Pacific, under which people from developing member countries are educated and trained in the safe and peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology for a range of applications in health, environment, industry and agriculture. RCA projects deal with topics such as food safety and authentication, non-destructive testing and examination methodologies in industries, environmental and climate science, and cancer and non-communicable diseases management.

An ANSTO officer is the Australian National Representative to the RCA, directing Australia’s involvement in the program. This includes facilitating Australia’s participation in all of the 16 projects active during the reporting period. Four of these projects are led by Australia, and include:

(i) the assessment of the vulnerability of coastal landscapes and ecosystems on sea-level rise and climate change;

(ii) the role of soil and water quality in minimising land degradation and enhancing crop productivity;

(iii) the enhancement of medical physics services in the region through education, training and standards development; and

(iv) enhancing wetland management and sustainable conversation planning.

In its role as National Representative, ANSTO was successful in progressing two project proposals to the detailed design stage for the 2022-2023 project cycle. We were also successful in getting an Australian expert appointed to the influential RCA Program Advisory Committee (PAC).

In December 2019, 28 teachers and experts from 16 developing countries attended a two-week IAEA teacher training course at ANSTO as part of ANSTO’s work as an expert advisor on education and engagement to the IAEA.

Case study 7- Forum for Nuclear Cooperation in Asia (FNCA)

The Forum for Nuclear Cooperation in Asia (FNCA) is another multilateral forum of importance to Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. The FNCA facilitates technical cooperation using nuclear science and technology amongst the 12 member countries. Australia is represented by ANSTO in three of the eight projects – radiation safety and radioactive waste management, research reactor utilisation, and climate change science. This last project is led by ANSTO.

This year, the ANSTO team in the Research Reactor Utilisation (RRU) project was awarded the FNCA Excellent Research Team Award, recognising the team’s contribution to the FNCA project, the prominence of its output and its socioeconomic contribution in the preceding year.

Case study 8 - Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown origin (CKDu) in Sri Lanka

ANSTO’s investigation of Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown origin (CKDu), a globally prevalent, non-communicable disease has continued during the reporting period. In late 2019, ANSTO signed a new MOU with the Sri Lankan Government, affirming commitment to the collaboration for a further three years. ANSTO continues to leverage the funding support provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to progress understanding of CKDu.

Of particular note, two water-sampling rounds were completed in the north-central province, including one that was led by collaborators from the University of Peradeniya. These samples, in addition to an earlier sample collection undertaken in 2018, are the subject of three, high-impact scientific publications, and focus on topics including microbes, carbon and nitrogen cycling, and water-rock interactions. ANSTO’s key finding indicates microbial contamination of drinking water; a new finding which has the potential to reframe discussions and hypotheses about the role of drinking water in development of CKDu.

A capacity-building program aimed at developing a methodology to extend understanding of the histopathology of the Sri Lankan kidney was completed in late 2019 during the visit of a senior researcher from the University of Colombo. This program has helped to establish a baseline methodology for identifying targetable CKDu development stages.

ANSTO has increased the global network of collaborators on this project with the intention to help address this disease in other locations around the world.