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Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), section 516A

Environmental protection

ANSTO undertakes education, research and innovation to enhance scientific understanding of the environment and to provide solutions for a sustainable planet.

ANSTO’s commitment to environmental protection and sustainability principles is defined in its corporate strategic plans, Environmental Policy and organisational core values and is reflected in the logo. We are committed to effective stewardship, the sustainability of our operations and to responsibly interact with the local ecology and biosphere, and to protect it. We minimise our environmental footprint through continuing to apply the principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) and by the prevention, minimisation and control of pollution.

These values are integral to ANSTO’s Business Management System – the framework that defines how business is conducted to deliver outcomes to our customers and stakeholders in a safe, consistent and environmentally responsible manner. Objectives and targets for safe, secure and sustainable operations are implemented through documented operational and business plans at all levels of the Organisation.

Environmental protection is mandated when planning and undertaking major capital works and any proposed activities which may fall under the EPBC Act are assessed for referral to the Department of the Environment and Energy. Proposals for new (or modifications to existing) facilities or activities also undergo a rigorous internal safety, regulatory and environmental assurance process.

Environmental awareness is promoted throughout the Organisation via inductions, the staff intranet, training and communication programs.

Environmental and quality management systems

To provide assurance that ANSTO is maintaining appropriate environmental protection and management practices we maintain an environmental management system (EMS) that is certified to the International Standard ISO 14001 for all three sites including the ANSTO Nuclear Medicine facility which became operational in 2019.

The EMS is a framework that allows ANSTO to achieve its environmental goals through consistent review, evaluation, and improvement of our environmental performance and operations. This standard requires that:

  • The environmental context of the Organisation and its operations is defined;
  • The environmental impacts and compliance obligations are identified, with the risks managed and mitigated;
  • An effective measurement and review system is in operation; and
  • There is organisational commitment to continual improvement.

Our extensive environmental monitoring program also operates within a quality framework that is certified to the ISO 9001 standard for Quality Management Systems.

The ANSTO EMS Strategy is currently being re-evaluated against a new suite of key performance indicators, targets and action plans and a revised EMS strategy is being developed for 2020-2021 onwards which will place further emphasis on understanding ANSTO’s environmental footprint while improving the efficiency of our resources consumption, ensuring the minimisation of future pollution risks while delivering sustainable facilities across ANSTO Campuses in Melbourne and Sydney. The Executive Committee for Workplace Health & Safety and Environment supports the implementation and provides oversight to the EMS.

Environmental performance

ANSTO aims to improve the efficiency of its resource consumption while maintaining industry best standards for environmental standards. ANSTO measures and monitors the generation of waste and the consumption of resources such as hydrocarbon fuels, paper, electricity and water. ANSTO reduces its environmental footprint through initiatives such as recycling consumables and applying procurement sustainability principles to minimise our resource consumption. ANSTO monitors and annually reports its carbon footprint through the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (NGER) Scheme and participates in the Sustainability Advantage Program run by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage for which we were awarded a silver partnership award in 2019-2020. A program to assess the biodiversity within ANSTO’s Lucas Heights Bushland Perimeter has continued to deliver improvements in the eradication of invasive weed and pest species.

The performance indicators in Table 1 highlights just some of the data that is collected and monitored. Resource use figures incorporate all three campuses. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic which saw remote working conditions come into effect in quarter four and a resultant drop in staff present on site, the resource usage data for 2019-2020 is reflecting different trends than in previous years. The electricity data shows that over the past four years ANSTO’s total electricity consumption has been increasing incrementally, however following COVID-19 events, energy consumption in 2019-2020 dropped by 4.2 per cent overall. ANSTO continues to look for electricity savings as per the previous sustainability program introduced in 2017. However, expanded infrastructure on site, return to work conditions and hotter than normal summers are expected to impact electrical consumption in future years. Examples of where ANSTO invests in renewable energy includes pathway and streetlights using standalone integrated solar photovoltaic battery storage systems and solar hot water and electricity. Currently all purchased electricity is from non-renewable sources.

Table 1. Environmental performance indicators for ANSTO sites

Resource Usage

Units

2015-2016

2016-2017

2017-2018

2018-2019

2019-2020

Change on previous year

Electricity

GWh

67.2

66.6

67.2

68.5

65.6

-4.2%

Water

m3

315,694

320,369

318,438

323,898

364,169

+12.4%

Passenger vehicle petrol and diesel

L/100km

8.98

8.65

8.26

8.20

8.79

+7.2%

Waste Water Discharged to Sewer (1)

Lucas Heights

m3

89,235

103,024

75,916

76,711

87,676

+ 14.3%

Camperdown

m3

6.2

9.3

14.9

7.7

21.3

+176%

Landfill and Recycled Waste (2)

Waste sent to landfill

tonnes

226

237

259

308.7

274.0

-11.2%

Recycled cardboard + paper

tonnes

22.3

85.5

114

130.5

121.9

-6.6%

Recycled co-mingled containers

tonnes

5.9

16.7

18.2

20.5

14.3

-30.2%

Other recycled streams (3)

tonnes

19.8

12.9

24.8

31.5

10.9

-65.4%

Landfill diversion rate

%

17.5

33.2

37.7

37.1

33.2

-10.5%

Notes:

  1. Authorised discharges of trade waste water to the Sydney Water sewer (not applicable to Clayton site).
  2. Data for the Lucas Heights site only (includes tenants); end-point disposal information is not currently available for recycling at the Camperdown and Clayton sites.
  3. Other recycling streams include batteries, ferrous and non-ferrous metal, gardening and E-waste.

In 2019-2020 the Lucas Heights campus received 1084 mm of rainfall, which is higher than the thirty year average. However, temperatures over the summer period were higher than average and as a result, a significant level of irrigation was required across the campus. This was partly offset by utilising the rainwater capture system and communications to staff highlighting the ongoing need to use water efficiently.

ANSTO’s landfill diversion rate was lower by 10.5 per cent compared to the total waste being diverted from landfill in previous years. The 11.2 per cent decrease in the total amount of waste going to landfill is attributed to lower staffing levels during the last quarter and less construction activity occurring on site compared to previous years. ANSTO continues to recycle ferrous metals, garden waste, concrete, batteries, toner cartridges, mobile phones and redundant computer and other electrical equipment. Many business units within ANSTO have set up recycling stations for alternative reuse/recyclable waste streams such as soft plastics, coffee grounds and compostable food scraps. Waste segregation and recycling will continue to be a focus for new environmental strategies.

During 2019-2020 the amount of paper consumed decreased by 6.6 per cent. This positive outcome in reducing resource use is partly due to COVID-19 events seeing a reduced staff presence on site, as well as a positive transition to electronic formats with less paper being consumed. The recycled paper content of print stock has increased to over 20 per cent. There was an increase of 14.3 per cent to the amount of wastewater discharged via the sewer system, due to ingress of stormwater during multiple high rainfall events in February.

Environmental monitoring program

ANSTO conducts an extensive effluent and environmental monitoring program that measures radioactivity in authorised emissions to air and liquid effluent discharges to the sewer; and in samples of air, surface water, ground water, sediment and biota from the local environment. Local environmental radiation and weather conditions are reported online via the ANSTO website. Many of the monitoring results are independently verified.

Due to working restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was necessary to apply a risk-based approach to delivery of the planned environmental monitoring program. The scope of sampling activities was subsequently reduced for the April-June quarter, allowing critical resources to be applied to emission monitoring for ANSTO’s essential operations, including the OPAL reactor and radiopharmaceutical production facilities. This approach was accepted by the nuclear regulator, ARPANSA, and three quarters of the scheduled monitoring program was delivered in 2019-2020.

Results of the environmental monitoring conducted in 2019-2020 demonstrate that ANSTO’s authorised releases of radioactive material to the air and sewer continue to be effectively controlled, complied with regulatory limits and had minimal impact on humans, wildlife or the environment.

Good water quality

Storm water runoff from the Lucas Heights site does not contribute to any public drinking water supply, however ANSTO regularly monitors radioactivity levels in stormwater leaving the site, as well as sampling the nearby Woronora River. Results show that concentrations of tritium in local waterways have decreased significantly since the HIFAR reactor closed in 2007, and are well below the level considered safe for drinking water by the World Health Organisation. Gross alpha and beta measurements were below the radiological levels set for surface waters under the previous NSW Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997. In fact, the majority of results were below the screening level of 0.5 Bq/L for alpha and beta radioactivity set out in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

An extensive network of shallow and deep groundwater wells is designed to monitor potential sources of contamination to groundwater, water quality and groundwater movement. Groundwater from the Lucas Heights site contains only naturally-occurring radionuclides and low levels of tritium. Groundwater near underground fuel storage tanks is analysed for petroleum hydrocarbons to check for evidence of leaks from the tanks, however no leaks have been detected to date.

Authorised discharges within limits

Liquid effluent discharged from ANSTO's NSW sites into the sewer system complied with the radiological and/or chemical concentration acceptance limits for trade wastewater set by the Sydney Water Corporation. Compliance with these limits ensures that liquid effluent discharges meet World Health Organisation drinking water standards for radioactivity.

Air ventilated from laboratories and facilities that handle radioactive materials is treated and/or filtered prior to discharge and continuously monitored. ARPANSA sets limits for airborne radioactive discharges from licenced ANSTO facilities and all airborne emissions were within the annual operating compliance limits.

Detailed reporting

Reports on airborne and liquid effluent discharges are submitted to the relevant regulatory authorities on a quarterly basis. Details of our environmental monitoring program are on the ANSTO website and the results and findings are available on request. In addition, ANSTO reports real-time environmental radiation dose-rates recorded in the nearby suburb of Engadine via the ANSTO website. The weather data for Lucas Heights are also available on ANSTO’s website and published by the Bureau of Meteorology on the Lucas Heights Weather Observations page.

ANSTO continues to report annually to the Energy Efficiency in Government Operations (EEGO) and National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (NGER) programs; the data are aggregated and disseminated by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.

All staff are encouraged to report early and often on any potential or actual safety and environmental incidents. All incidents are subsequently investigated, actioned and mitigation controls evaluated for effectiveness via ANSTO’s reporting system.

Safe waste management

ANSTO has maintained safe and effective management of its radioactive wastes for many years. There is minimal environmental impact from the storage of solid radioactive waste since there are no ongoing emissions or energy requirements, aside from the packaging process and building footprint.

Liquid wastewater comprising mainly sewage with some trade waste is tested for compliance with limits for radioactivity before being discharged to the sewer. Concentration limits for non-radioactive materials such as ammonia, zinc and total dissolved solids were also met. Sydney Water conducts independent testing of ANSTO’s liquid effluent discharges and the Trade Waste Agreement is periodically reviewed to provide assurance that ANSTO’s discharges are fully characterised, remain within authorised limits and pose no threat to the environment. Effluent from the Sutherland Shire undergoes tertiary treatment at the Cronulla wastewater treatment plant and is ultimately discharged to the ocean at Potter Point. Analyses of marine biota (fish, seaweed and barnacles) from Potter Point confirmed that wastewater from ANSTO has a negligible effect on the local marine environment.

ANSTO continues to support a national approach to safe waste management, including the establishment of a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility.

Little Forest Legacy Site

ANSTO is responsible for the Little Forest Legacy Site (LFLS) located within the 1.6 km bushland perimeter. This site, formerly known as the Little Forest Burial Ground (LFBG), was used by the Australian Atomic Energy Commission and other government agencies during the 1960s to dispose of waste containing low levels of radioactivity and non-radioactive beryllium oxide, in a series of shallow trenches. There has been ongoing monitoring, maintenance and management of the site since 1966 including routine air, soil and groundwater testing, results of which are publicly available and confirm that the site is being safely managed.

The site is subject to a licence issued by ARPANSA and is managed by ANSTO on behalf of the Government. ANSTO has established a steering committee for the ongoing management of LFLS and continues to conduct detailed scientific studies of the site, in order to investigate options for the final disposition of the radioactive material and to ensure the continued safe management of the site.

Dose levels low

Environmental gamma radiation levels are continuously measured by thermoluminescent dosimeters at the Lucas Heights site and averaged 1.4 millisievert (mSv) for 2019-2020. The environmental dose recorded in surrounding suburbs was also at normal background levels with an average of 1.4 mSv/yr. The dose recorded at the Cronulla wastewater treatment plant was lower at 0.85 mSv/yr, which is typical for this location which is partially shielded. The national average natural background radiation dose is 1.5 mSv/yr*.

Studies carried out for ANSTO’s liquid effluent discharges to sewer have confirmed that the radiological risk to humans (working at the Cronulla wastewater treatment plant or swimming in the sea near the Potter Point ocean outfall) is negligible.

Computer modelling is used to estimate the potential radiation dose to people from airborne emissions at the Lucas Heights site. The model inputs include the quarterly stack emission results, local weather data and conservative assumptions about environmental exposure pathways. The maximum potential dose to local residents from ANSTO’s airborne emissions in 2019-2020 was calculated to be 0.0016 mSv. This is less than 0.2 per cent of the annual public dose limit of 1 mSv established by ARPANSA.

Figure 1: Maximum estimated annual effective dose from Lucas Heights airborne discharges at the boundary of ANSTO’s 1.6 km bushland perimeter zone, July 2006 to June 2020.  0.02 mSv/yr. Dose estimates (mSv/yr) 2006-07 0.0020 (HIFAR reactor), 2007-08 <0.0001 (OPAL reactor), 2008-09 0.0003, 2009-10 0.0006, 2010-2011 0.0018, 2011-2012 0.0018, 2012-2013 0.0020, 2013-14 0.0025, 2015-16 0.0018, 2016-17 0.0018, 2017-18 0.0027, 2018-2019 0.0027, 2019-2020 0.0016.
Doses from ANSTO’s airborne emissions in 2019-2020 also remained well below the 0.02 mSv ‘as low as reasonably achievable’ (ALARA) performance objective despite increased production of beneficial medical isotopes (Figure 1). For its closest neighbours, ANSTO’s activities added less than 0.2 per cent to the 1.5 mSv dose that every Australian receives from natural background radiation each year, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: The average annual dose received by Australians from various sources* compared to the maximum potential airborne dose to ANSTO’s nearest residents in 2019-2020. Australia yearly radiation dose (mSv) natural background 1.5; Medical tests 1.7; and maximum dose 1.6km from ANSTO <0.002.
*Source: ARPANSA Fact Sheet http://www.arpansa.gov.au/pubs/factsheets/IonisingRadiationandHealth.pdf

Radiological protection of wildlife

A screening assessment was performed in 2018 to investigate the potential dose rates received by local wildlife from radiological effluent releases associated with operations at the Lucas Heights site, including expected releases from the ANM Mo-99 Manufacturing Facility.

The assessment applied the methodology laid out in ARPANSA Guide: Radiation Protection of the Environment, which is consistent with current international best practice approaches. Dose assessments were performed for a range of terrestrial and marine organisms using conservative radioactivity concentrations for the air and water exposure pathways (determined from routine stack monitoring of airborne emissions and liquid effluent releases to sewer).

Even using a very conservative approach, the potential dose rates to all organisms were below the lowest international benchmark for potential harmful effects (10 µGy/hr). These results were consistent with previous studies that concluded there are no significant impacts to wildlife from ANSTO’s operations.

Managing the ANSTO bushland perimeter

At its Lucas Height campus, ANSTO manages a section of land with an area over ~450 ha within the 1.6 km bushland perimeter in accordance with the ANSTO Bushland Perimeter Plan of Management. This area comprises the Lucas Heights Science and Technology Centre, a number of legacy waste disposal sites and approximately 350 ha of undeveloped native bushland and riparian zones. A qualitative review of the biodiversity potential of the ANSTO Bushland Perimeter assessed 110 sample sites against benchmark criteria for the different vegetation communities, such as native species diversity and density, connectivity, soil exposure and weediness. The results of this assessment are being used to prioritise management actions for the ANSTO Bushland Perimeter Plan of Management including: revegetation and rehabilitation works, stormwater system upgrades, and weed management programs. This assessment will form the baseline for future assessments utilising the same benchmark criteria to evaluate improvement programs and any ongoing impact of ANSTO’s operations on the surrounding environment.

The area has numerous bush walking trails, and is actively managed through a program of regular inspections, maintenance, culling of feral animals and weed reduction programs. An ANSTO staff bush care group meets regularly to target at-risk locations. The work of this group has seen the eradication of noxious weed species such as Crofton Weed, Cotton Bush, African Love Grass and Cassia from over two hectares of riparian vegetation within the ANSTO Bushland Perimeter. Annual hazard reduction burns are planned in consultation with NSW Rural Fire Services and ANSTO also engages with the local Dharawal Indigenous Group to identify and protect areas of cultural importance within the ANSTO Bushland Perimeter.

Referrals under the EPBC Act

Within this reporting period ANSTO did not submit any new referrals under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC). Construction activities for the expansion of the solid low-level waste facility and the ANM Mo-99 Manufacturing Facility at the Lucas Heights site were completed in 2018-2019, and construction of SYMO continued.

Regular independent inspections have been undertaken throughout the projects to evaluate conformance with the environmental commitments made by ANSTO in the referrals.

Mitigating environmental impacts

ANSTO encourages staff to cycle, carpool or take public transport to travel to work and to walk rather than drive around the site. ANSTO provides staff with a carpooling website and regular shuttle-bus services to and from the local railway station. Numerous paths, tracks, bike racks, lockers and shower facilities are available for use by the avid walker/cyclist.

The ANSTO online ‘swap shop’ continues to provide a forum for staff to pass on unwanted goods. From furniture to chemicals to analytical equipment, by exchanging useful products staff can help save time, money and the environment by reducing waste going to landfill. The online Equipment Database tool also allows staff to share resources and knowledge while minimising the procurement of new equipment.

ANSTO’s chemical management system enables staff in different business areas to share and track chemical resources, which will reduce the need to procure new chemicals. ANSTO is also utilising the system to better determine its reporting requirements under the National Pollution Inventory and to improve the identification and control of environmentally hazardous chemicals.

New IT systems and solutions including digital authorisations continue the transition to a paperless office which reduces power and paper consumption. Many functions such as budgeting, business planning, procurement, maintenance, recruitment, on-boarding, training and waste transfers are now managed through online user interfaces.

ANSTO has adopted an integrated approach to planning and decision-making across the business, to optimise the management of all that we do. By managing its people, resources, and infrastructure more effectively, ANSTO aims to increase productivity thereby enhancing the environmental sustainability of our operations.

Accordance with ecologically sustainable development (ESD) principles

Ecologically sustainable development (ESD) is embedded in ANSTO’s core values. The ANSTO Building Code (ABC) provides the minimum standard that new facilities at ANSTO must conform with. Within the ABC, the principles of ESD are mandated through the requirement for all new and refurbished buildings to have an independent ESD consultant involved in the design, achieve a target minimum 4.5 star National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) rating and comply with the requirements for the Energy Efficiency in Government Operations (EEGO) Policy. Furthermore, minimum standards for the efficient use of water in offices and laboratories, installation of rainwater tanks, re-use of waste water and sub-metering are enforced through the ABC.

ANSTO has integrated environmental protection into management processes by requiring project/construction environmental management plans (P/CEMP) at the project planning phase. All capital projects such as construction of buildings, infrastructure and support facilities must have P/CEMP in place to prevent environmental impacts such as soil erosion, dust, noise and discharges to stormwater. Independent oversight of these projects includes the approval of P/CEMPs, ad hoc inspections and formal audits.

ANSTO is also moving to more sustainable procurement practices. Other ANSTO activities that contribute to improved social, environmental and economic outcomes include our research into significant environmental issues such as air quality, soil erosion, water resource management, wetland health, biodiversity, food provenance, climate variability and global warming impacts such as rising sea levels and temperatures on marine ecosystems.

ANSTO’s support of nuclear non-proliferation ideals and the development of nuclear safeguards also accords with ESD principles. We contribute to the global non-proliferation agenda through the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and the International Partnership on Non-Proliferation, Disarmament and Verification. ANSTO also collaborates with bodies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation.

Finally, ANSTO’s commitment to environmental protection means that special emphasis is placed on reducing our environmental footprint by minimising waste and the consumption of resources and by recycling consumables. Our scientific research provides practical, science-based advice to inform decision makers, creating opportunities to conserve resources and sustain our fragile environment. It also ensures that we manage our past and current waste in a manner that protects human health and the environment, now and in the future.