Tuesday’s federal budget sets ANSTO’s 2019-20 funding at $354.9 million, which includes more than $56.4 million for the support of nuclear medicine production.
Money to plan for the replacement of the building must be drawn from a bucket of $26 million given to ANSTO for the «maintenance of ageing infrastructure», according to an ANSTO statement.
The same money must also cover the management of spent nuclear fuel and waste and planning for the production of nuclear medicine in the future.
Minister for Science and Technology Karen Andrews said the funding given would allow «the development of a business case to consider options to secure the long-term and sustainable future of Australia’s nuclear medicine supply».
«The funding will enable proactive maintenance work and equipment upgrades to support the ongoing operations of the nuclear medicine production facility,» she said.
But Labor slammed the government’s decision not to provide the full amount to replace the building, arguing it was «clear it is no longer fit for purpose».
«Despite warnings from ANSTO, and the recent independent report, the government has not made public any plans to replace or upgrade Building 23,» opposition spokesman for science and research Kim Carr said.
«As a matter of public safety, we expect that the government should act on this matter.
«A Labor government would live up to its obligations to secure a safe working environment for all employees.»
A spokesman for ANSTO welcomed the overall funding increase of $112.4 million since the previous financial year, and said the budget had made provision «to start the necessary planning work» for the replacement of Building 23, to occur «over a five- to 10-year horizon».
«Regarding Building 23, it is typical practice around the world, including Australia, that nuclear facilities are both planned for, then operated, over horizons of many decades,» the spokesman said.
There have been a series of incidents at the building in recent years. The most serious occurred in August 2017, when a worker suffered blisters after a vial of radioactive material spilled onto his hands. The employee received a «significant radiation dose», elevating his risk of cancer.
The incidents prompted an independent review, which found Building 23 failed to meet modern nuclear safety standards and warned of a «make-do and mend» culture.
A replacement facility had been in the pipeline for several years but plans had been hindered because of federal government budget restrictions, the report said.
«Heightened expectations and then subsequent failure to secure backing for replacing this
ageing facility has led to frustration, disappointment and cynicism amongst the staff,» it found.
The report made 85 recommendations, including that the Australian government commit to a replacement facility as soon as practicable.
According to the regulator — the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency [ARPANSA] — an implementation plan to address the rest of the recommendations is still under development.
ANSTO submitted a draft of the plan to the regulator last December, but is yet to receive approval.
An ARPANSA spokeswoman said the organisation had «demonstrated progress» towards addressing the recommendations.
«However [it was] felt that ANSTO did not provide sufficient detail around the objectives and strategies that would achieve the desired improvements and safety outcomes,» she said.
The organisations were in «frequent communication» and it was anticipated the plan would be approved in coming months.
«Twenty actions responding to the recommendations in the report have already been completed,» the ANSTO spokesman added.
Carrie Fellner is an investigative reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.