Final Report on environment laws

The final report on environment laws in Australia has been made public this week.

In Summary, the Final Report:

  • recommends that “nuclear actions” remain a Matter of National Environmental Significance (MNES) this means all proposals that are a “nuclear action” eg uranium mining, need to be assessed and approved in accordance with national environmental laws (The EPBC Act). 
  • recommends that State and Territory Governments be accredited to assess and approve projects in-line with the EPBC Act and with “National Environment Standards.” National Environmental Standards do not yet exist but would be legally enforceable standards. In the case of nuclear it is likely that National Environmental Standards would be derived from national and international standards on the nuclear industry. o Nuclear projects, including uranium mines would then be assessed and approved by state and territory governments, not the federal government. 
  • recommends a second phase of reform that “the EPBC Act and the regulatory arrangements of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) should be aligned, to support the implementation of best-practice international approaches based on risk of harm to the environment, including the community.”
  • describes the section 140A prohibition on some nuclear actions (like nuclear power and reprocessing) reflects a policy choice and that to change this would also be a ‘policy’ or political decision – but notes that legislative changes would be required. Important to note that there is emphasis on elected parliamentarians making policy choices, a subtle hint on the lack of a mandate to lift the prohibition.

Initially “nuclear actions” will have to be assessed and approved based on “the whole of environment” impact – this means they would require a full environmental assessment. It is unclear if this would be retained under the proposal to make ARPANSA the regulator and with National Environmental Standards for nuclear actions or whether assessments and approvals would only be required for aspects of a project that involve radiation.