Australia’s radiation protection watchdog is mostly doing a good job of protecting people against the effects of harmful radiation
When it comes to protecting Australians from harmful radiation, the national radiation watchdog is a glowing success – mostly.
The radiation sources it regulates, most of them low level, are all over the place.
There’s the big one, Sydney’s Lucas Heights reactor, and smaller sources in the CSIRO and in luggage and cargo scanners operated by Customs.
Defence has the most – some 60,000 of the 65,000 registered sources – mostly night-sights mounted on weapons that use the luminous gas, tritium, and high-powered lasers.
Even the Australian War Memorial has 794, mostly historical artifacts marked with luminous paint containing radium.
Keeping us safe is the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), founded in 1998 to regulate federal government radiation and nuclear sources and facilities.
A new report by the Australian National Audit Office says it has been generally effective at licensing and monitoring the entities with potentially dangerous radioactive materials.
But ARPANSA could do better in some areas such as licensing, in some cases taking far too long because of the complexity of the process.
Defence presents a particular challenge because of the large number of sources and their geographic distribution. ARPANSA has to rely to a great extent on Defence’s internal controls.
But while Defence accepts primary responsible for the safety of such equipment this does not relieve ARPANSA of its regulatory responsibilities, the audit office said.
ARPANSA also operates three scientific facilities, placing it in the interesting position of licensing, regulating and inspecting itself – and on two occasions, in 2009 and 2010, breaching itself for minor acts of non-compliance.
In 2011, the Queensland Health’s radiation health unit took over inspecting ARPANSA facilities to overcome this conflict of interest.