Press Conference - ANSTO's Lucas Heights campus - Sydney, NSW

press conference
Topics included ANSTO and Australia's nuclear capability.

ANSTO CEO SHAUN JENKINSON: Okay, so, good morning everybody, I should say welcome to ANSTO, it’s lovely to have you on-site. Also delighted today that we've had on-site the Director-General of the IAEA Rafael Grossi, and also our Minister for Industry and Science the honourable Ed Husic. In addition to that, we’ve welcomed to site today the ambassador of Arms Control and Counter-Proliferation Ian Briggs and Australia’s permanent representative to the IAEA, the ambassador Richard Sadleir. So ANSTO as you know is the home of nuclear science and technology in Australia, and today we’ve had an opportunity to showcase some wonderful infrastructure, such as the OPAL reactor and the new Synroc facility, which deals with waste generated from nuclear medicine. We've had some wide-range discussions about wonderful infrastructure and how nuclear science and technology supports economic growth and health of Australians. Both the infrastructure we have, here at Lucas Heights and the infrastructure, the Synchrotron down in Clayton. ANSTO is known, probably by most of you, for our activities in nuclear medicine, but I just want to make sure that we point out that nuclear science and technology has a broader remit than that. And there are many things we do across defence, national security, supporting industry and advanced manufacturing that is designed to make the Australian industry more competitive, and that was part of the discussions we've had today. We’re very fortunate to have on-site the Director-General, and our Minister, and I’d like to thank them for their time, coming to see this facility, and spending time with us here today. So what I might do is hand over to the Minister, the honourable Ed Husic and ask him to  make a few comments. Thank you.

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: Thank you so much Shaun. And to the Director-General, welcome. Next year marks 70 years of ANSTO using – or finding, safe, practical, peaceful uses of nuclear technology for the good of this country and for various other countries in the globe. ANSTO itself leads on research, particularly around the environment, health and the nuclear life cycle. It manufactures nuclear medicine. 80 per cent of the nation's nuclear medicine comes out of ANSTO. It also helps manage research infrastructure - leading research infrastructure in this country. It works for business and industry. Just so you know, 50 per cent of the world's irrigated silicon comes out - irradiated silicon, I should say, comes out of ANSTO used for semiconductors. So very important.

Obviously, a trusted advisor to government and we wanted to obviously talk through with the Director-General what ANSTO is doing and also to reemphasise our firm commitments to nuclear non-proliferation. That is the cornerstone of what we are doing here in this country. And we are very grateful that the Director-General took up the invitation from the Prime Minister to visit Australia. The agency itself visits on a regular basis. In fact, they were here last in late May to do their inspections, to make sure that the safeguards and our commitments are being honoured, which they are. And we also clearly wanted to talk about future developments, particularly surrounding AUKUS, and again to demonstrate that conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines, those will be delivered, but while also strictly adhering to our longstanding commitments on NPT considerations.

So we've had very fruitful discussions with the Director-General. And I'm very grateful, if I may say, for his extended service to communities across the globe. This is a person who served for 35 years, who has been here previously - I think the last time we've been here, being very familiar with the OPAL reactor that we have here. And he's also championing in particular within the world community, the Raise for Hope Initiative that's designed to ensure that the type of medical equipment we rely upon in the fight for cancer is available to low and middle-income countries as well. And we're very grateful for advocacy again, Director-General Grossi, thank you for your visit and the ability for us to discuss a wide range of issues and for you to see what's being done here. And I might hand over to the Director-General for some comments.

IAEA DIRECTOR-GENERAL RAFAEL GROSSI: Thank you very much, Minister. Good morning, everybody. Great to be here in Australia. Great to be back at Lucas Heights. And as the Minister was saying, a few weeks ago, I received an invitation from Prime Minister Albanese to come to Australia, and I felt given the new moment, the new impetus of your your government, the commitment to nonproliferation, the contribution Shaun was describing, that this fine institution makes to science, to innovation, it would be important for me to come pay a visit. I'm delighted for what I see, for what I saw, not that I was not aware of it, but simply because we see good opportunities, new opportunities. As the Minister was kind enough to mention just now, the IAEA is trying to move forward quite actively on areas related to nuclear medicine, to cancer, radiotherapy, and this institution here is behind lots of efforts that make Australians' life better and also abroad because you are a very active exporter of radiopharmaceutical products.

So I think it's only logical, it's only natural, that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency comes here and continues this work together. The Minister has also referred to an important development politically, which is the project that Australia has with other international partners in the area of nuclear naval propulsion. I think it's an important development that requires, of course, the close collaboration with the IAEA so that nothing in that project could be seen as a driver for nuclear proliferation. So that traditional commitment of Australia, to move to nonproliferation, I see it, it's confirmed. And basically, it's also part of this very successful visit that I paid to Australia these days and to the Pacific. Thank you very much.

ED HUSIC: Thank you. Now we might, if there are any questions, more than happy to open up for any of those.

JOURNALIST: Director-General, can we ask what are the concerns of the agency when a nation like Australia says it wants to operate nuclear-powered submarines? What commitments have you sought from Australia?

RAFAEL GROSSI: Well, I would say the concerns are not related to Australia. The concerns are related to a very simple fact that I think we can all understand. When you put nuclear material in a reactor which goes in a vessel - in a military vessel that goes offshore for long periods of time, then this means that this material is not going to be subject to inspections. So for us and the basis of the international, I would say agreement we all have, that a country that has nuclear material has also an enormous responsibility there. So there has to be something special, a special arrangement so that Australia can continue to give us the necessary assurances that this material which goes just propulsing this vessel comes back and it's always there and there hasn't been any diversion or any loss of the material.

So this is very important and this is why Australia has to work with us, Australia and the other two partners. As you know, this is done in partnership - or will be done in partnership in principle with the United Kingdom and the United States. So when that happens, there will be -  and we have started this work legal and technical, it has two important dimensions. What I can say is that one of the first things that Prime Minister Albanese told me is that Australia's commitment is unwavering and that he's been going and following our advice every step of the way. So you can imagine that I felt very well, we'll have to work together, we have to do it all the time, but this couldn't be more reassuring to me.

JOURNALIST: So how confident are you, that Australia could manage a nuclear submarine program?

RAFAEL GROSSI: Well it can, of course Australia is a country that doesn't have nuclear power generation, no nuclear power energy in the country. But Australia has a fine and long tradition in terms of nuclear science, technology and it builds capacity. Everything you see here is a proof of that and it is also building a capacity at the level of the national navy to do that. So I don't have any doubt about the capacity of the country to handle it. None at all.

JOURNALIST: And what message will you take to the world on Australia's nuclear submarine ambitions – will you try and ease concerns? 

RAFAEL GROSSI: Well, as Director-General of the IAEA, I don't make judgments on political choices. The political choices are for Australians to make. All I do is to make sure that out of these political choices that the nation is making, there won't be any negative repercussions, in terms of nuclear weapons, which has been one of tens of Australia's foreign policies for decades.

JOURNALIST: What kind of role do you think nuclear power will play globally in mitigating climate change?

RAFAEL GROSSI: Globally, it does play a big role. Globally, it is generating already around 25 per cent of clean energy. It's an emission-free source of energy. It's not for everyone. Every country has a different approach. But in many countries, and especially not far away from here in Asia - there is a lot of interest in Europe, in Latin America, in North America as well. So I think at the moment, the global challenge we have is to decarbonise the economy. So for decarbonising the economy, we have different tools, we have renewals, we have the long-term operation of nuclear, we have hydro, we have different things. And in energy, there's no one size fits all. You have different choices. The important thing is that these choices stop harming the environment.

JOURNALIST: So do you think that nuclear energy could play a role in Australia's efforts to reduce its carbon emissions?

RAFAEL GROSSI: It could, it's up to Australians to decide how, when and if.

JOURNALIST: And would you welcome a conversation with Australia on generating nuclear power and would you encourage Australian leaders to consider it?

RAFAEL GROSSI: I would welcome any conversation with Australians. It's always a positive conversation. Again, what we do is give the facts - advice when requested. And I believe there is a global interest in this, so I don't exclude that that may happen. As I understand it's not an option - an active option at the moment, but it's not a discussion that is absolutely foreclosed, so we will see. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Minister if we can ask, a recent, I think, Lowy Institute poll said the first time since they've been asking Australians about nuclear power, 52 per cent said that they would be interested in removing the ban on nuclear power. Is it time for that debate, as we are talking about energy options for the future?

ED HUSIC: I guess a number of things, first. Today's visit is about being able to showcase Australian smarts in nuclear science. We have very smart people, over 70 years, who've contributed to improving the well-being, of not just Australians, but others and so we're all about the safe, practical and peaceful application and that's very important. And the other thing I just wanted to touch on as well, our commitment with the Director-General as picked up from the Prime Minister to nuclear non-proliferation, it's rock solid. But we have also extended to the agency to reinforce that commitment. If they have any issues or advice, we will obviously take that on board. In terms of within the context of AUKUS.

The issue of nuclear power, let me say this, has not really been a big focus for today. But I understand that there will be people in the community and in particular spaces want to talk about it. Some of which haven't been talking about it during their time where they could have done something about it, notably the Coalition, without getting too political here. What we have said as a Government is that we believe, as the Director-General said, decarbonization - big priority. Reducing emissions equally, obviously hand in hand with that. Finding alternative, cheaper, quick ways to generate power is really important. And that's what our big focus has been. We have a plan, in terms of Powering Australia Plan to be able to meet 43 per cent reductions by 2030 and obviously net-zero by 2050. That’s our, our big focus is on finding new ways of generating energy very quickly, very efficiently and very cleanly, so that might be renewables, it might be hydrogen as well.

The other thing too is on storage. We play a big part as well. So energy storage systems and we said we want to as a government, manufacture storage, notably, batteries onshore and do that. So we're very fixed there. And so when you've got that big agenda, I might say there will be people that might advocate for nuclear, but they need to be able to demonstrate how quickly can we get that online relative to what we've got at the moment in the pipeline of new generation and also meeting those challenges and also getting community buy-in for that as well, which I think is a big issue. Now all the time that can be taken to meet that versus the time to be able to get new forms of energy, renewable energy, cleaner energy sources in. Now we think that challenge is there and we have got to meet that real quick.

JOURNALIST: So you’re saying it's as much a political, and by political I mean public opinion, versus a technical issue when it comes to nuclear?

ED HUSIC: You've got to be able to balance both. And again, today has been more about the way in which ANSTO and if I can extend my thanks to ANSTO and all the people that work for it and what they do for the country. But they've got a specific focus. The broader question about alternate energy generation and looking at sources like that. That's going to take some time to resolve. Either at a political or as you rightly point out, a technical level. We just want to be able to get on the job to meet our international and importantly our commitments to the Australian public about how we'll meet the expectation of reducing emissions, being able to provide reliable supply and also generate a whole stack of jobs through that as well. Because we committed, that the climate emergency is also a chance for us to generate jobs in responding to that emergency and we need to get on with it.

Okay, thanks everyone, for your time here. Thank you.