IAEA Board of Governors Meeting
Statement by Dr Kath Smith, Alternate Resident Representative to the IAEA
Agenda Item 3: Strengthening the Agency’s Activities Related to Nuclear Science, Technology and Applications: Nuclear Technology Review 2018
6 March 2018
Thank you, Chair.
Australia thanks Deputy Directors General Chudakov and Malavasi for their introductory comments on this agenda item, and the Secretariat for its helpful briefing held on 12 February. We also welcome the opportunity to comment on the Director General’s report Nuclear Technology Review 2018 (GOV/2018/2), which presents Member States with a detailed summary of developments in this important area over the last year.
Australia looks forward to the “Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Science and Technology: Addressing New and Emerging Development Challenges”, in Vienna from 28-30 November 2018. We are very supportive of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and fully support the conference. Australia is proud of its role in working together with countries in our region to apply some of the many and varied applications of nuclear science and technology to address the challenges they face. Noting that there was a Technical Cooperation conference last year which attracted Ministerial and other high level engagement, we hope that the Nuclear Applications conference will draw heavily on that experience.
While Australia does not utilise nuclear power, we note that nuclear power continues to be an important element of the energy mix of 31 Member States, and is being considered for inclusion in the energy mix of 28 other States. We further note that 50 of the 69 new reactors under construction are being built in our own region of Asia, and that the Agency’s International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century, held in Abu Dhabi, in October 2017 stressed that substantial nuclear power growth is needed for the world to meet its climate and Sustainable Development Goals.
Australia continues to support the front end of the fuel cycle as a leading producer of uranium ore. In 2016 Australia produced and exported 7447 tonnes of uranium oxide. We are the world's third-ranking producer, behind Kazakhstan and Canada.
Australia has a long history of contributing to fuel cycle and reactor-related research. Last year, Australia acceded to the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) Framework Agreement. The Generation IV International Forum is a co-operative international endeavour which was set up to carry out the research and development needed to establish the feasibility and performance capabilities of the next generation nuclear energy systems. Our accession has allowed us to become actively engaged in GIF research and development projects on materials for very high temperature and molten salt reactors, safety assessments and waste management. Drawing from our expertise in materials analysis, we have also already initiated and are leading a new project on common cross-design materials development.
Australia is very active in the development of leading-edge technologies for management of radioactive waste and is close to finalising the tender process to build a treatment plant for liquid wastes generated from our production of nuclear medicines. This plant, which is planned to commence operation in 2020, is based on Australia’s indigenous Synroc technology, which has high-levels of irretrievability and proliferation resistance, and can reduce waste volumes by over 90% compared to other methods such as cementation. It also has the potential to be used in a wide variety of intractable waste management scenarios.
Australia is also continuing its volunteer-based site selection process for a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility for the disposal of its low level waste, and temporary storage of its intermediate level waste.
As noted in the Review, the management of ageing research reactors continues to present challenges in regards to their maintenance, modernisation and refurbishment, as well as to the secure supply of nuclear medicine, particularly molybdenum-99. Australia has and continues to share the knowledge we have accumulated from safely and successfully operating research reactors for over 60 years.
Australia’s current LEU-fuelled research reactor, OPAL, commenced operation in 2006 and routinely operates for over 300 days per year. In the past three years, we have significantly increased production of molybdenum-99 from our current processing plant. At present we are finalising the commissioning of a new “state-of-the-art” production facility and will soon be seeking regulatory approval for the products it produces. Once all the approvals are given, Australia will be in a position to meet an even more substantial proportion of global demand for molybdenum-99.
Both our current molybdenum-99 production plant and the new plant are fully based on low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel and targets, demonstrating again that this technology is a real, practical and currently-available alternative to highly-enriched uranium (HEU) based production to meet global nuclear medicine demand. We encourage all Member States utilising HEU technology for the production of molybdenum-99 to convert to LEU as quickly as possible.
We remind the Board that Norway will host the “2018 HEU Minimisation Symposium” in Oslo, from 5-7 June. In the lead up to the Symposium, they have convened three Working Groups to produce discussion documents on the topics of Conversion; Removals and Disposition; and Radioisotope Production. Australia is fully supportive of Norway’s initiative and is actively participating in all three Working Groups.
Australia continues its commitment to the use of nuclear techniques in materials, environmental and health research through a number of significant ongoing infrastructure investments and international collaboration. Australia’s major nuclear research infrastructure and expertise includes: extensive neutron scattering and synchrotron capabilities, accelerators, and biological and chemical deuteration technologies. ANSTO, Australia’s nuclear science and technology agency, is an IAEA Collaborating Centre and provides researchers from IAEA Member States with access to state-of-the-art nuclear research capabilities, assists with the IAEA’s training programmes and strengthens international knowledge transfer and outreach.
We also continue to develop novel medical applications using nuclear science. Earlier this year, ANSTO and Australian biomedical company OncoSil Medical commenced a global clinical trial to treat inoperable pancreatic cancer using phosphorus-32 doped microparticle implants. Clinical trials of Lutetium-177 based medicines for the treatment of neuroendocrine and prostate cancers also continue to produce positive results.
Australia participates in a range of IAEA Cooperative Research Projects and other international collaborative projects. Australia also makes many “in kind” contributions to the Agency’s Technical Cooperation, Nuclear Applications and Nuclear Energy programmes. In the last year, we have hosted a number of meetings on topics such as groundwater management, marine monitoring, neutron scattering, SPECT and PET, and decommissioning, among others. In the next few months we will also host a Review Meeting and Workshop on Updates on Theranostics in Melbourne from 16-20 April.
With these comments, the Australian delegation takes note of the Nuclear Technology Review 2018 (GOV/2018/2).
Thank you, Chair.