Australia’s National Health Service (NHS) is set to move some of its nuclear care workforce to the United States as part of an agreement to ensure the safety of nuclear workers, the ABC has learned.
Key points:Australia’s National Nuclear Safety Commission has identified a total of 1,000 care workers from all of the nation’s nuclear plants as being at risk of exposure to radiationA total of 50 of the 50 workers were relocated to Washington stateThe deal with the US is being touted as a major breakthrough in preventing a nuclear meltdownThe move is expected to save around 2,000 lives and has been welcomed by the American nuclear industry, which says it will provide valuable work to the nation.
The announcement comes just days after the US announced that it was lifting its nuclear reactor safety standards, after the latest round of inspections revealed a number of safety issues.
The new agreement with the United State will allow care workers to work in Washington state and Canada and is expected, in the short term, to save the lives of around 2 and a half million people.
The US National Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NNRC) has identified around 100 nuclear workers from its three plants as potentially at risk from exposure to radioactive materials.
While the agreement has yet to be finalized, there is already a strong precedent in Australia of moving nuclear workers between countries.
In 2015, the US Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRA) announced a settlement with Australia’s Department of Radiation Protection (DPR) and Department of Environment, Heritage and Mineral Heritage (DENMH) for the removal of nuclear worker safety regulations and the establishment of a framework for nuclear worker relocation in the country.
The NRC has been looking for ways to move care workers out of Australia for some time, and last month announced the establishment to ensure safety of the country’s nuclear workers.
A spokesman for DENMH, which manages the DENMH facility at Adelaide’s Curtin Nuclear Station, said the deal was a “historic milestone” in the “long-standing and mutually beneficial relationship between the two organisations”.
“We are extremely pleased to be working with our US counterparts to bring our workforce to work safely in Washington, DC,” DENMH Chief Executive, John Dutton, said.
“The relocation of the care workers will provide a major boost to our efforts to provide safe and effective work for the public and our employees,” he said.DENMH employs around 1,500 nuclear workers in the United Kingdom, where the organisation has about 300 workers, while the Australian facility has about 100.
The United States was not part of the deal, but Mr Dutton said the agreement with Australia was “an important step forward in the nuclear safety protection of our nation’s workforce”.
“The NNRRC’s decision to allow us to relocate our care workers and the safety standards we have in place for the safety and welfare of our nuclear workers is an important step in ensuring the safety, welfare and well-being of our staff,” he added.
Australia’s Nuclear Safety Commissioner, David Johnston, said he was excited by the move, which he said was “not a surprise”.
“I am very pleased that our nuclear workforce are able to return to Australia,” Mr Johnston said.
The nuclear industry in Australia is “extremely grateful for the work” that the new agreement will do, he said, but added that it would be important to see if it would help “save lives”.
“While it is not possible to determine the exact number of lives saved, it is likely that the safety measures in place will make a huge difference in protecting the lives and well being of our employees and patients.”