I am pleased to present to you the 2018–19 Annual Report of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA).
During this reporting period ARPANSA celebrated 20 years of excellence. In 1998 the Australian Radiation Laboratory and the Nuclear Safety Bureau were integrated and today’s ARPANSA, with expanded and national responsibilities, was born. ARPANSA was established as the radiation protection and nuclear safety regulator for Commonwealth entities using radiation, and a national resource of expertise in radiation protection and nuclear safety.
Today, although only 20 years old, ARPANSA builds on the successes of its predecessors from the previous 90 years. ARPANSA plays many roles nationally and internationally and contributes to ensuring that people in Australia and our environment stay healthy and safe. This report demonstrates how ARPANSA continues to deliver high quality services and advice to the Australian Government and community on radiation protection and nuclear safety. Our services include holding the Australian primary standard for absorbed dose, monitoring solar ultraviolet radiation in real time, auditing radiotherapy equipment used in cancer treatment, and offering radiation monitoring services to Australians who work with radiation. We regulate radiation facilities and nuclear installations operated by the Commonwealth, maintain a national register of radiation doses for well over 40 000 workers, and we evaluate and report on radiation incidents through the national incident register, which we maintain on behalf of all Australian jurisdictions.
During the year, ARPANSA installed a new, state‑of‑the‑art medical linear accelerator (linac). This will ensure that ARPANSA is well placed to respond to changes in the medical oncology environment, and continue to develop and deliver clinically relevant dose calibration and audit services, benefiting the more than 60 000 cancer patients who undergo radiation therapy using linacs in Australia every year.
In November 2018, ARPANSA received an international team of experts to perform a peer review of Australia’s regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety, known as an Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) Mission. The IRRS was a culmination of many years of work by the Commonwealth and state and territory governments to benchmark ourselves against international best practice. The review covered a wide range of areas including regulation of waste facilities, transport of radioactive materials, occupational radiation protection, nuclear safety, emergency preparedness and response, and medical radiation. The IRRS gave us an opportunity to see what we do well and understand opportunities for improvement, ensuring that Australia remains at the international forefront in this complex area of regulation. The Mission report, delivered in February 2019, included four points of good practice, and 23 recommendations and 12 suggestions for improvement for ARPANSA, Australian governments, and jurisdictional regulators.
On 24 May 2019, I authorised the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) to produce molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) for the domestic and international nuclear medicine markets in the new ANSTO Nuclear Medicine (ANM) Facility. This authorisation came after ANSTO had, over a period of a year, implemented safety-related measures requested by ARPANSA as a condition for transitioning from commissioning to routine operations. Despite this, an overexposure of two workers took place in the new facility in June 2019. As a consequence, I have until further notice capped production at the facility at a level that can sustain the Australian demand only in order to free up resources for safety-related work at the facility.
We undertake significant international engagement, including with international organisations that carry out risk assessments and set standards. This year, ARPANSA continued to drive and influence international safety standards in radiation protection and nuclear safety. In October 2018, I was elected vice-president of the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS) and ARPANSA compiled the Australian National Report to the Eighth Review Meeting of the CNS, to be held in 2020. Another significant appointment was that of Dr Gillian Hirth, Deputy CEO of ARPANSA and Chief Radiation Health Scientist, as Chair of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. During the final quarter, ARPANSA was also awarded a contract by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) to operate stations located in Fiji and Kiribati for monitoring radioactivity in the Earth’s atmosphere. These stations form part of the International Monitoring System for detection of clandestine nuclear weapons testing and have now been added to the stations already operated by ARPANSA in seven locations in mainland Australia, Macquarie Island, Cocos Islands and Antarctica.
Toward the end of the reporting period, ARPANSA experienced an increased volume of enquiries about the new generation of the mobile phone network known as 5G. Mobile phone networks and other wireless telecommunications sources emit low-level radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy (EME) and some members of the public are concerned this might have adverse health effects. ARPANSA sets the safety limits for exposure to RF EME. ARPANSA's assessment of existing scientific evidence is that there are no established health effects from exposures below these limits . Considerable ARPANSA resources have been devoted to providing information on the science of RF EME, addressing misinformation, and responding to the high level of interest in 5G mobile telecommunications.
As we move in to 2019–2020, we will work with the Australian Government to ensure that the public has access to independent and trusted advice in the area of 5G. We will continue our collaboration with Commonwealth and state and territory governments to address the recommendations and suggestions outlined in the IRRS report.
We also look forward to co-hosting the International Commission on Radiation Protection’s (ICRP) 5th International Symposium in Adelaide, November 2019. The ICRP is an independent, international organisation that advances the science of radiological protection for the public benefit. We will continue to develop and enhance our systems, capabilities and assets to sustain and improve our services, and leverage our scientific and stakeholder networks to deliver radiation protection and nuclear safety to the Australian community. I also anticipate safety of nuclear medicine production at ANSTO to be a major focus of ARPANSA’s regulatory work in the 2019–2020 financial year.
Finally, during this reporting period I was honoured and humbled to be reappointed by the government as the CEO of ARPANSA for a term of three years, commencing 22 March 2019. I look forward to continuing to ensure Australians are protected from the harmful effects of radiation—by maintaining the delivery of our high quality services, providing Australians with health advice and independently regulating Commonwealth entities that use or produce radiation. I am convinced ARPANSA’s dedicated and highly capable staff will continue to demonstrate that ARPANSA is Australia’s leading authority on radiation protection and nuclear safety.