This page belongs to: Australian Radioactive Waste Agency

Site characterisation activities

Site characterisation activities provide data on the selected site area.

We will perform site characterisation activities on the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility site and surrounding area.

These are investigative studies to get detailed information about a site’s environmental conditions. This includes the site’s geology, hydrology, seismology, baseline radiological conditions and flora and fauna characteristics.

Activities will include:

  • soil surveys
  • geophysical surveys
  • flora and fauna surveys
  • groundwater, dust and air sampling
  • native vegetation sampling
  • radiological baseline sampling
  • cultural heritage activities including localised surveys and consultation.

Site characterisation activities are non-permanent and can be reversed or remediated.

Site characterisation activities do not signify the start of construction. The activities will:

  • inform the final design and engineering requirements of the facility
  • allow us to progress approvals that must be achieved before construction can begin
  • inform regulatory applications including an environmental impact statement (EIS), which will be made available for public comment.

These activities will take up to 2 years to complete.

Protecting and safeguarding cultural heritage

The Barngarla people are the traditional owners of much of the eastern Eyre Peninsula. Their traditional lands range from Port Lincoln to Whyalla, Port Augusta and Kimba.

All activities are conducted in line with strict cultural heritage management measures. This includes a cultural heritage management plan which identifies and protects heritage on the site.

We take our obligation to safeguard and protect cultural heritage seriously. 

Activity timeline



Approximate number of workers

Likely timing

Surface soil sampling and testing for background radiation


On site and nearby properties


Q4 2022 – Q4 2023


Native vegetation, produce, livestock and game sampling

On and around the site and local roads


From Q1 2023


Flora and fauna surveys


On and around site and local roads

Up to 6

Q4 2022 – Q1 2023 


Light and noise surveys


On site

1 to 2

Q2 2023 

Weather station installation and dust and air sampling


On site and neighbouring properties


Q4 2022 – ongoing  

Drilling to support soil, rock and groundwater sampling and testing


On site, nearby road reserve and properties


Q4 2022 – onwards

Geophysical surveys to map soil and rock layers

On the site surface


Q1 2023 


Geotechnical investigations (on and offsite)

On site and nearby local roads


Q4 2022 – Q1 2023  

Geotechnical surveys (to facilitate solar microgrid)

On site

6 to 7

Q4 2022 – Q4 2023


Underground service location

Along local roads


Q4 2023 

Archaeological surveys

On site and off site

1 to 2


Surface soil sampling and testing for background radiation

A handheld meter will measure the levels of naturally occurring radiation at the ground surface. Workers will measure properties near the site and roads near the site and towards Kimba.

Workers will use a hand trowel or similar tool to collect soil samples from the ground on the site. These will then be tested in laboratories.

No testing will occur on or near identified heritage sites under the Cultural Heritage Management Plan.

This activity will involve about 2 workers.

Hand trowel being used to collect soil samples from the ground.

Native vegetation, produce, livestock and game sampling

Workers will collect samples of native vegetation from locations around the site. Workers will use garden scissors or shears used in farm environments.

Workers will test the samples in laboratories for background levels of radionuclides. The tests will create a baseline for future tests.

For lab testing, we will also collect samples of:

  • local garden vegetables and fruits
  • livestock including sheep, chickens and eggs
  • wheat crops when available
  • pests like rabbits.

This activity will involve about 4 workers.

Land and trees near the site.

Flora and fauna surveys

Flora and fauna surveys will involve observing and documenting species. When needed, workers may catch, categorise and release any small mammals, birds or reptiles.

Traditional owners are also invited to document flora and fauna species in the local area. This includes species that may be of cultural use for food, medicine, craft and in stories.

This activity will involve up to 6 workers.

Native vegetation growing on the land.

Light and noise surveys

Workers will measure ambient light and background noise levels experienced on the site. They will use cameras, hand held lux meters and sound pressure recording instruments.

This will create baseline levels to help understand and address any concerns during project construction or operation.

These surveys will also form part of the EIS.

This activity will involve about 1 to 2 workers.

An electronic instrument being used outside to measure sound and light.

Weather station installation, and dust and air sampling

An on-site weather station will record climate data such as wind direction and speed, rainfall and temperature.

Workers will also regularly collect dust, air and radiation samples using equipment attached to tripods and stands.

This activity will involve approximately 2 workers.

A weather station that is used to measure and record climate data such as wind direction and speed, rainfall and temperature.

Drilling to support soil, rock and groundwater sampling and testing

Workers will use equipment to extract soil, rock and any underground water samples for laboratory testing.

Thin bores will vary in diameter between 50mm and 250mm and range in depth from 3 to more than 100 m. 

Workers will place sensors or extraction tools down the holes to characterise the sub-surface conditions underground and extract samples. 

Workers will decommission and backfill any boreholes not needed for ongoing work and develop formal boreholes for future groundwater sampling.

In addition to any underground water, workers will collect water samples from nearby farm dams, drainage lines and rainwater gauges or tanks.

This activity will involve about 10 workers.

A worker operating drilling equipment to extract soil, rock and underground water for testing.

Geophysical surveys to map soil and rock layers

A geophysical survey will collect information on the structure of soil and rock beneath the site.

A vibrating steel plate attached to a vehicle will send energy waves underground. Sensors will then measure the energy waves that bounce back from the different soil and rock layers. Workers will repeat this process along survey lines across parts of the site.

This activity will involve about 12 workers.

Two workers using equipment to survey the land.

Geotechnical investigations (on and off site)

Workers will will dig pits or trenches between 1 and 3 m deep using equipment that is commonly used on farmland and for industry. Workers will use these pits or trenches to document soils and rock and to collect samples for testing by laboratories. Thin metal rods will be temporarily driven up to about 2 m into the ground to measure the ability of the soil to bear a load.

After the boreholes are drilled, the pits will then be backfilled with grout.

This activity will involve about 4 workers.

A worker holding a piece of equipment that is used to investigate the soil.

Geotechnical surveys to facilitate solar microgrid

We expect the future facility will need a solar microgrid. A microgrid contains a series of solar panels fixed to steel piles which are driven into the ground. 

As part of site characterisation works, geotechnical surveys will measure the strength and resistance of the soils using specialised equipment.

Workers will also measure the amount soil resists or conducts electricity where the microgrid and other electrical equipment will be located.

This activity will involve about 6 to 7 workers.

A worker operating machniery to dig into the ground.

Underground service location

Workers will use hand-held tools including ground penetrating radar to locate underground services such as existing water mains, communications cables or power cables.

The ground-penetrating radar resembles a domestic lawn mower.

If there is a need to visually identify the type and depth of the underground service, workers will use a high-pressure water jet and a vacuum hose.

This activity will involve about 4 workers.


Equipment used on the field to locate underground services.

Archaeological surveys

An archaeological survey will assess culturally sensitive areas and objects located on and off the site. This includes identifying any potential archaeological sites and objects.

This activity will involve about 1 to 2 workers.

Land and trees near the site.