SSEC logo Sutherland Shire Environment Centre  

It's the worst possible option!

By R.D. (Bob) Walshe, OAM
Chairman, Sutherland Shire Environment Centre

with acknowledgement of many helpful suggestions from readers of the MS; and
especially Jean McSorley, Nuclear and Energy Coordinator, Asia, for Greenpeace
International; and Dr Jim Green, B.Med.Sci. (Hons), Ph.D., Department of Science
and Technology Studies, University of Wollongong NSW, not least for permission to
use his paper, 'A New Reactor for Scientific Research?', February 1998

Nuclear Study Group
Sutherland Shire Environment Centre
Suite 16, Eton Arcade, 754-760 Princes Highway, Sutherland NSW 2232
PO Box 589, Sutherland NSW 1499 AUSTRALIA Web:
T el: +61 2 9545 3077 Fax: +61 2 9521 1477 Email:

Keep this booklet for reference during consideration of the Environmental Impact Statement on the suitability of Lucas Heights, within Sydney, as site of a new nuclear reactor.

This booklet shows that...

Australia does not need a new reactor; and most certainly not one located within a city.
  • ANSTO's present reactor has a 40-year record
    of accidents, worrying to residents of
    neighbouring suburbs.

  • ANSTO's costing of a new reactor at $300
    million is seriously misleading - it will cost
    much more.
  • ANSTO's production of medical isotopes is by
    no means a sufficient reason for a new reactor.
  • Medical isotopes can be produced by non-
    reactor technology, such as cyclotrons, which
    are much cheaper and safer and are powered
    by electricity.
  • Claims that a reactor serves Australia's
    'national interest' do not withstand scrutiny.
Publisher's note: R.D. (Bob) Walshe was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in
the 1998 Honours List for 'services to education and the environment'. We asked
him to make available as a publication the nuclear study he began last September
when the Government announced a new reactor. In a long career in education, as
R.D. Walshe, he was widely known as an author and editor of many books and
articles. Early in his teaching career, at Sutherland High School in the mid-1950s,
he had written a play for local schools acclaiming Sutherland Shire's good fortune
in being chosen as the site - at Lucas Heights - of Australia's nuclear reactor. ('We
were all so pie-eyed then about "peaceful uses of the atom",' he says.) In later life,
anxiety about the environment changed his mind and his direction. He is credited
with founding the Total Environment Centre in 1972 and was its first honorary
secretary. A resident for 50 years in Sutherland Shire, where he is better known as
Bob Walshe, he has been foundation Chairman of Sutherland Shire's Environment
Centre since 1991, and received the Shire Citizen of the Year Award 1995. This
booklet is a condensation of his six months of research and writing.
Michael Priceman, Convenor, Nuclear Study Group, SSEC, May 1998

Why a New Reactor?

‘PHEW , ONLY A NUCLEAR REACTOR’, said Sydney Morning Herald journalist Murray Hogarth in ironic comment on the Federal Government's extraordinary double announcement on the morning of 3 September 1997- NO, to a second Sydney airport at Holsworthy, but YES, to a new nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights. Holsworthy and Lucas Heights are adjacent Sydney suburbs.

Many residents of Sutherland Shire, which includes all of Lucas Heights and part of Holsworthy, saw this dropping of Holsworthy as a political ploy, a sweetener - to make the new reactor palatable!

Even so, Science Minister Peter McGauran obviously felt that further sweetening would be needed. His media release would speak not of a new reactor but of a replacement, and it would highlight research and medicine; so it began with the words, ‘The construction of a replacement research reactor...will build on Australia's life-saving nuclear medicine capabilities...’

‘Medical uses’ don't justify a new Reactor

Life-saving? In fact reactor-produced medicine won't save many lives, if only because over 98% of it is used in diagnosis, not in life-saving therapy.

The Minister should have spoken more moderately. Reactor-based nuclear medicine is only one among many medical technologies used in diagnosis. The Minister didn't explain why he was favouring it over all other diagnostic technologies by heavily subsidising it through a new hugely expensive reactor. Nor, indeed, why a new reactor is needed when the bulk of nuclear medicine consists in the supplying of medical isotopes that can be obtained much less expensively from sources other than a Lucas
Heights reactor? Consider...
  • Most importantly, cyclotrons increasingly produce isotopes and so render a reactor unnecessary (see cyclotrons, p.13); they are cheaper and safer and produce only small quantities of low-level radioactive waste.

  • Nearly all countries in the world import the isotopes they need.

  • ANSTO, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, itself imports them when it shuts the reactor for maintenance.

  • ANSTO's isotope operations are indeed heavily subsidised, and thus are not really competing economically with those of large overseas suppliers.

  • While ANSTO argues that its most-used isotope technetium-99m can't be
    imported because it has a currency (technically, a 'half-life') of only six
    hours, ANSTO neglects to say that an equally effective, longer-lived
    isotope, molybdenum-99, is widely transported all around the world.

So, by using two cheaper alternatives - importation of some isotopes and production of others in cyclotrons - Australia would save itself the huge expense of this new reactor. It's as simple as that. And safer too.

A new reactor will worsen the unsolvable problem of dangerous radioactive waste.

No nuclear reactor is 'clean'. Every reactor keeps adding to a waste stockpile of radioactive materials many of which remain dangerous for hundreds and in some cases thousands of years.

ANSTO has been stockpiling such waste for 40 years, and there it sits at Lucas Heights. Worse will come with the new reactor because, ANSTO says proudly, the new one will enable it to increase isotope production - the very activity that most rapidly increases radioactive waste. Alarmed local residents are asking, 'Why give ANSTO a new reactor, with enhanced waste-creating potential, when it has demonstrated for 40 years that a reactor means accumulating more and more of this dangerous waste?'

Not that ANSTO and the Federal Government haven't tried to get rid of all this embarrassing waste. They have continually invited any and every state government to set up a dump-site (a 'repository') for it. But until 1998, no government would have it.

Only in February of 1998 did one government, that of economically troubled South Australia, hesitantly indicate it might accept it, at a site it considers to be 'remote' - but Aboriginal communities have expressed opposition. If established, such a dump would soon become ANSTO's dump for all levels of its waste.

The long failure of the Federal Government to find a remote dump-site for radioactive waste is conclusive proof - though proof is surely not needed - of the dangerous nature of nuclear waste. So why go on creating such waste? No community wants to be saddled with the burden Sutherland Shire has carried for 40 years.

Three 'levels' of waste - and all dangerous

There are three general categories of radioactive waste. First, the high-level kind, chiefly the highly radioactive spent fuel rods; second, intermediate-level waste, such as results from reprocessing of spent fuel rods; third, low-level waste, such as the continual gaseous and liquid discharges from nuclear plants, and contaminated materials like gloves and instruments.

But ANSTO chooses not to follow this high-intermediate-low classification, arguing that high-level waste comes only from nuclear power-generating reactors, and since Australia's reactor is the 'research' kind, its operation results only in intermediate-level and low-level waste. This is a semantic quibble which puts ANSTO at odds with US and Canadian terminology.

More than 1600 of the spent fuel rods, high - level waste, have accumulated at Lucas Heights in the past 40 years. The Federal Government is hoping to ship 700 of them to the United States, and hoping too that they will find permanent storage there. The rest it hopes to ship for 'reprocessing' to Scotland, whence the resulting waste will be
returned to Australia as 'intermediate-level waste', which will again constitute a problem here. Such shipments are never trouble-free: they involve safety, health and environment risks; they spark anti-nuclear protest along the route, resistance from residents around the destinations, and charges of unethical behaviour for dumping what should be one's own responsibility onto others. (In April, as this publication goes to press, 240 have just been shipped.)

An example of ANSTO's domestic difficulties with intermediate-level waste can be found in Building 57 on its Lucas Heights site. Here, in stainless steel tanks, is liquid molybdenum waste, a by-product of medical isotope production; it is dangerously radioactive and has to be stored indefinitely. A Safety Review Committee declared in 1988 that the contents of Building 57 constitute 'a hazard with potential for off-site consequences which must be corrected', but ten years have passed and there has been no 'correction'.

The waste from the hundreds of rods ANSTO hopes to have reprocessed in Scotland would contain, when returned, exactly the same amount of radioactivity as did the original rods - and it would then have been bulked up to 20 times the original volume! It would be returned in perhaps 10 years time, packed and concreted in numerous drums.

Reactors produce large quantities of low-level waste, particularly in liquid and gaseous forms. ANSTO piped its liquid waste for decades into nearby Woronora River, despite continual protest from residents. Since 1980 it has poured it into the sewer, whence it is discharged into the ocean through Potter Point outfall near the northern end of the popular Wanda-Cronulla beaches. Solid forms of low-level waste include materials that have been contaminated - at Lucas Heights or in hospitals using isotopes, or in industrial firms using isotopes, and so on. Waste of this kind has accumulated at scores of places throughout Australia, but it amounts to only a tenth of all radioactive waste, the rest coming from Lucas Heights.

Having caused so many unsolved waste problems for 40 years, ANSTO should not be given a new reactor, which will produce waste at a faster rate for the next 40 years.

A Nuclear Waste 'Reprocessing Plant' for Spent Highly Radioactive Fuel Rods at Lucas Heights?

An option for dealing with spent fuel from a reactor is 'domestic reprocessing', a mild term for an extremely dangerous operation. Nuclear waste reprocessing plants in other parts of the world have been plagued by serious accidents, serious pollution. In February 1997, anger greeted a TV suggestion by the Science Minister that such a plant could be set up in Australia. [Where else but on-site at Lucas Heights!] He retreated. But when he made his September 1997 new reactor announcement, he only added that there was no present intention to embark on 'reprocessing'. Critics declare that the option therefore lingers, smouldering, and will burst out again - if a new reactor begins creating waste, as it will, and at a greater rate than did the old.


No reactor can be pronounced 100% 'safe' - all reactors are at best only 'as safe as humanly possible'.

No reactor is 'safe'. Reactors routinely discharge radioactive materials. And each reactor's management - in this case, ANSTO - must employ a safety team to maintain vigilance over both the day by day operation of the reactor and the ever-growing stockpile of radioactive waste. Yet accidents not only can happen, they do happen...and have happened at Lucas Heights.

ANSTO's public relations team likes to stress that its Lucas Heights plant is 'only' a research reactor, and not one of those massive power-generating reactors like Chernobyl in USSR or 3-Mile Island in USA or Sellafield in UK which have had appalling nuclear accidents. But ANSTO does not reveal that at least 13 serious accidents have been reported involving research reactors around the world, at least three resulting in loss of life.

Neither does ANSTO reveal that the worldwide trend is towards closure of research reactors. Of over 600 built since 1945, only 270 remain in operation and many of these are 'old' and will shut down, without replacement, in the next decade or so.

'The history of ANSTO is a litany of accidents'

So declares a two-and-a-half page list of 'Safety Problems at ANSTO', compiled by Sutherland Shire Environment Centre. Spokesman Michael Priceman is quoted as saying that Federal Government claims of exemplary safety for the past 40 years are 'contradicted by a long list of incidents reported in ANSTO's own annual reports' ( Sutherland-Menai Express, 29.7.97). ANSTO is inhibited about using the word 'accident'; it invariably uses the euphemism 'incident'.

The Environment Centre's list includes cases of contaminated workers, ruptured pipes, fire in a radioisotope processing building, leaks of radioactive materials, a laboratory destroyed by fire and, perhaps the most serious, water leaking for over ten years onto the highly radioactive spent fuel rods which of necessity must be kept in 'dry storage'.

The anxieties of Lucas Heights residents about such safety deficiencies were dramatically validated on 11 June 1992 when the NSW Environment Protection Authority conducted a 'raid' on ANSTO, led by the then Minister for Environment Tim Moore, who found that 'drums of radioactive waste were leaking and vital safety equipment was out of order. Leaking waste may have washed into the stormwater system'. No further raids have taken place, if only because the Federal Government legislated swiftly to exempt the entire ANSTO facility from State environmental inspection.

A community voice, the Lucas Heights Nuclear Study Group, has for years urged improved monitoring of safety at ANSTO. It hopes that the proposed Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Authority (ARPANSA) will be a more effective regulator than the present Nuclear Safety Bureau which it has often found cause to criticise.

To the incidents/accidents scenario must be added an even darker menace. On 17 November 1983, an explosive device was discovered in an electrical sub-station inside the ANSTO compound. In July 1984 neighbouring residents and media received a leaflet which contained a threat to demolish the reactor by crashing an explosives-laden aircraft into it. On 3 August 1995, the Senate Select Committee on the Dangers of Radioactive Waste discussed the danger to local people arising from a terrorist attack at Lucas Heights which might take place during an international crisis such as the Gulf War of 1991.

Safety at Lucas Heights can never be guaranteed. Accidents - human failings - have punctuated the reactor's 40-year history, and threats of a terrorist attack on this 'easy' beside-a-busy-road target all dramatise the absurdity of locating the reactor within Sydney.

The reactor is a health hazard within Australia's largest city.

The Lucas Heights site was chosen in 1955 because of its remoteness from the centre of Sydney. But 40 years later it is surrounded by houses because authorities have allowed Sydney to expand around and beyond it.

Logically, the old HIFAR reactor should be closed down as 'unhealthy' and 'unsafe'. But the Federal Government persists instead in being illogical - by proposing to build a new, more powerful reactor at this discredited site. It knows that no other community in Australia would accept it; so, it has resorted to the 3 September 1997 ploy of announcing a 'replacement research reactor' to produce 'life-saving nuclear medicine' - and then ride out the local storm of opposition!

Obviously, no reactor is 'healthy'. Ever present is its potential to expose its workers or the people living in its vicinity to radioactivity. Yet all that is heard from ANSTO is praise for the 'life saving' role of medical isotopes - though these could much more safely be produced by cyclotrons. Thus, with the help of a numerous PR staff, ANSTO argues that black is in fact the whitest of white.

No less brazenly, the Federal Government disregards the finding of its own 1993 Research Reactor Review which said: 'If a decision were made to construct a new reactor, it would not necessarily best be placed at Lucas Heights. An appropriate site would best be decided after exhaustive search and taking into account community views...'.

The Government has made no effective 'search' for an alternative site. Nor has the Government dared to take into account 'community views' - let alone act on them.

Community views are already perfectly clear. ANSTO's own 1997 poll of Sutherland Shire people found that 83% thought a new reactor should be sited at a 'remote location'. In the neighbouring Liverpool area, 88% said so. This almost precisely confirmed a 1992 poll by Sutherland Shire Environment Centre: 81% then said 'away from population centres'.

Health fears, around the world and locally, are well founded.

Radioactive gases are constantly emitted from the site into the air of Sutherland Shire, creating concerns for residents in the nearby suburbs of Lucas Heights, Menai, Woronora Heights, Engadine, Yarrawarrah and Heathcote. And liquid wastes are routinely discharged into the sewer system of the area, surfacing at an outfall near the northern end of the Wanda-Cronulla beaches.

ANSTO claims, 'The annual dose of radiation received by any member of the public living near ANSTO as a result of authorised emissions from the site is currently less than one-100th of the amount permitted by the National Health and Medical Research Council...' ( ANSTO Website )

But radiological protection authorities worldwide have long acknowledged that there is no 'safe' dose of radiation; indeed, that any increase in dose - whether by continual or acute exposure - increases the risk of cancers and genetic defects. Recently, the respected New Scientist has reported that cumulative exposure to very small radiation doses (1mSv) may be harmful and could be poisoning the human gene pool.
  • There has never been a health study of the population close to the reactor site. The NSW Health Department says such a study 'would not be warranted'.

  • Studies overseas - e.g. around reactors in the UK, US, France and India - report evidence of higher than average local incidence of leukaemia, infant mortality, and birth defects.

  • Because so much uncertainty prevails as to both the health and safety of reactors, the Federal Government should follow the Precautionary Principle which is central to its commitment to uphold the United Nations 1992 call for Ecologically Sustainable Development. In brief this means, 'When in doubt - don't!' Don't replace the Lucas Heights reactor.

  • Perhaps most telling is that the insurance industry refuses to meet any claim for damage caused by radiation exposure or nuclear accident. No-one living in the suburbs around the reactor can hope for insurance cover, for either their person or property.

So many health fears surround the present Lucas Heights reactor that it should be decommissioned as soon as possible and not replaced by a new, more powerful one.

The proposed new reactor will cost Australia vastly more than the $300 million estimated by ANSTO

ANSTO estimates the new reactor will cost 'in the vicinity of $300 million' [$286 million quoted at a Senate inquiry, 15.4.98]. This is naively optimistic! Or deliberately misleading. An honest accounting to the Australian people is essential. As a writer in the Financial Review noted, the $300 million is 'just the tip of a financial iceberg' (23.9.97).
  • First, note that comparable reactors overseas have cost more; even so, the cost in Australia will be still higher because most of the technology has to be imported. Even if this were admitted, ANSTO should go further and add the many other associated costs of being in the reactor business...

  • Add the costs of dismantling the old HIFAR reactor - 'decommissioning' it - about $70 million.

  • Add an annual depreciation factor relevant to closing down the new reactor after 30-40 years - say, overall, another $70 million.

  • Add the costs of sending abroad ANSTO's waste stockpile of over 1600 spent fuel rods, probably around $90 million; plus the costs of managing the accumulating spent rods from the new reactor.

  • Add the massive costs of establishing a national waste repository - no estimates thus far disclosed.

  • Add the heavy yearly funding of ANSTO by the Government: $65 million, only $12 million of which is offset by sale of isotopes, plus $10-12 million by other sales.

The costs of keeping ANSTO in the nuclear business will obviously mount to a blow-out of more than Opera House proportions - without prospect of the benefits the Opera House has conferred on Australia.

The science community is riven with doubts about ANSTO, which is seen more and more as the pampered favourite of successive federal governments that are otherwise tight-fisted with funding for science.

Criticism of a 'privileged ANSTO' has been simmering for a long time.
Some of this broke through at the 1993 Research Reactor Review.
  • Professor Ian Lowe, Griffith University: '...a new reactor should not be a high priority for Australia's small public sector research budget... The output of [ANSTO] scientific papers is modest...and it is not possible to show the impact of this work as being unusual. The rate of invention and patenting makes little contribution to the nation as a whole.'

  • Australia's Chief Scientist and former head of CSIRO, John Stocker: '...more productive research could be funded for the cost of a reactor...[and the real question is] whether using other facilities in the world might represent a cost-effective alternative to the massive investment of a new reactor.'

Justified criticism! For as science writer Peter Pockley says, 'At about $300 million, the reactor itself is the single most expensive science facility in Australian history...[its] generous funding... contrasts with the grinding, unglamorous business of restoring the infrastructure of 36 public universities and paying their staff properly.' A 'very worried' Sir Gustav Nossal, head of the Australian Academy of Science, has deplored the effect of 'funding cuts and shortfalls' on universities, and especially on younger

The most devastating critique of a new reactor has come more recently (1997) from Professor Barry Allen, former Chief Research Scientist at ANSTO and now Research Director at St George Hospital's Cancer Care Research Centre. He writes in an article titled, 'Benefits of Nuclear Reactor Still Unclear': '...the reactor will be a step into the past...[it] will comprise mostly imported technology and it may well be the last of its kind ever built. More importantly, anticipated developments in functional magnetic resonance imaging may well reduce the future application of reactor-based nuclear medicine. Certainly the $300 million reactor will have little impact on cancer prognosis, the major killer of Australians today. In fact, the cost of replacing the reactor is comparable to the whole wish list that arguably could be written for research facilities by the Australian Science, Technology and Engineering Council (ASTEC)... Did ASTEC review the arguments given to the Minister for Science, which led to this decision [to proceed with a new reactor]? If not, then someone certainly should.'

Not only does much of the science performed at ANSTO not need a reactor but the science that does use it is seriously questioned by these comments as being over- funded relative to other perhaps more deserving science. Without a reactor - considered by some scientists to be 'outdated 20th century technology' - the ANSTO complex at Lucas Heights could become a more diversified, more widely respected
centre intent on updating to 21st century techniques, across a range of sciences as, say, 'ASTC, the Australian Science and Technology Centre'.

Is 'national interest' the real but downplayed motive behind the push for a new reactor?

'Privately, senior government officials admit the main drive is a strategic "national interest" tied to standing within the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA]', writes Peter Vries in Financial Review, 23.9.97.

If this is so, then ANSTO's heavily funded PR advocacy of a new reactor intended for medical research and isotope production collapses into a shabby concealment of the real intention, a deception to lull the fears of locals around Lucas Heights.

What the government officials have privately told Vries has also been expressed by some ANSTO employees to local anti-reactor campaigners. But, does a seat on the IAEA Board really depend on Australia expending hundreds of millions of dollars on a new reactor?

Definitely not. For no less an authority than the Report of the Research Reactor Review (1993) has declared: 'Membership of the IAEA Board is clearly not dependent on possession of a reactor as a minimum requirement' (p.102).

Several countries that don't have a reactor are on the Board. More importantly, Australia has three powerful claims to a seat. First, and sufficient by itself, is Australia's prominence in uranium production. Second, Australia contributes to the Board's coffers. Third, our nuclear scientists, at work in many states, don't depend on a Lucas Heights reactor for their standing; indeed, to send them periodically to study in the world's major nuclear centres - termed 'suitcase science' - would achieve more
and cost much less than will the proposed new reactor.

Therefore the 'national interest' argument must be turned back on Government officials and politicians with the question, 'Wouldn't the millions that a new reactor will mop up be better directed to other science that will really serve the national interest?'

After all, the existing reactor, HIFAR, can't be said to have contributed anything of note to the 'national interest' of Australia throughout its 40-year life. It was geared in its early years to preparing for nuclear power-generation and perhaps also nuclear weaponry, under the leadership of founder Sir Phillip Baxter. But in the 1970s Australia turned its back on both nuclear power and nuclear weaponry. ANSTO, then, deprived of all raison d'être, had to look around for a purpose - and thus far it has found little more than its questionable medical rationale.

What an uncertain future ANSTO faces! It must bumble along with old HIFAR for at least another eight years before a new reactor could come on line. What then?
  • The world's technology is changing and diversifying very rapidly. Many claims for funding of new projects look more attractive than ANSTO's.

  • The world is moving towards harnessing safe renewable energy sources - sun, tides, wind, geothermal - and not only safe but free of the costly accumulation of dangerous waste which is the curse of nuclear operations.

  • The Asian financial crisis will greatly deter Asian nations from taking the expensive nuclear path - thus depriving ANSTO of any claim to wield influence with these nations because of its nuclear know-how.

  • If Australia spends on more hopeful science projects the hundreds of millions of dollars that a new reactor will absorb, it will stand tall in the eyes of the international community and thus more certainly serve the national interest; it will also be assured of that seat on the IAEA Board.

The 'national interest' argument is shallow. If it ever had validity, the rapid emergence of non-nuclear technologies has left it behind. Now, money spent on science-without-a-reactor will serve Australia better. Moreover, 'national
interest' is no justification for the immorality of locating a reactor for another half century within Australia's largest city.

There are attractive alternatives to a new reactor, especially cyclotrons. Why are they being ignored?

Dr Jim Green says, 'There are several alternatives to a new reactor, including particle accelerators, spallation sources, and synchrotron radiation sources.'

But none of these were independently evaluated prior to the Federal Government's 3 September 1997 statement of intention to proceed with a new reactor. Yet, says Dr Green, in all cases 'the alternatives are preferable to a reactor, in relation to radioactive waste and safety'.

There is not room here to report the claims of all these scientific/technical alternatives, but the keenest contender, the cyclotron, suffices to demonstrate what is possible.

'Particle accelerators' are machines that charge particles to enormous velocities, whence they can be directed to hit a target and so produce the medical isotopes that ANSTO has led so many people to believe require a nuclear reactor. The cyclotron is at present the most useful of the accelerators.

Australia already has two cyclotrons, one in Sydney and a smaller in Melbourne. Dr Green says they are much cheaper to buy than reactors, cheaper to run, are powered by electricity not nuclear fuel, leave only a small quantity of low-level radioactive waste, and so avoid the intractable waste problem associated with a reactor.

Attractive indeed. How, then, to explain the churlish attitude of ANSTO to cyclotrons? The unavoidable answer is - because the nuclear industry fears it will be undermined by the cheaper, safer, electricity-based cyclotron industry.

Several authoritative voices have called for funds for cyclotron research; for example, the 1995 Senate Select Committee on Radioactive Waste was urged to recommend that $500,000 be spent over three years on cyclotron research - a fraction of the money lavished on the reactor - but none has been forthcoming.

The relatively cheap, safe and simple cyclotron undermines the case for a new, expensive, waste-proliferating reactor. The cyclotron and other attractive alternatives to a reactor promise better results in nuclear medicine. And ANSTO's
last defence of the reactor - that it alone can produce the much-used isotope Technetium-99m which can't be imported because its effective life is only six hours - neglects to say that its equally effective longer-lived parent , Molybdenum-99m, is being widely transported around the world. (Moreover, American research into cyclotron production of Technetium-99m has shown promising results in recent years, and further research is proceeding actively. )

The Government's own exhaustive inquiry has questioned ANSTO's case for a new reactor

In October 1992, the Federal Government announced a 'Research Reactor Review' (RRR) to examine publicly ANSTO's call for a new reactor to replace the old reactor HIFAR.

A wide-ranging inquiry followed, under a distinguished academic, Professor Ken McKinnon. In August 1993, it produced its report, Future Reactions. It severely questioned ANSTO's case for a new reactor.

While not undervaluing the products of 'nuclear medicine' nor the professionalism of scientists engaged by ANSTO, the RRR report recommended that a decision on a new reactor be delayed for five years, and that five onerous conditions must be satisfied before a new reactor could be justified.

What has happened since? Incredibly, not one of the five conditions can be shown to have been met; yet the Government brazenly proposes the building of the new reactor, and its location at Lucas Heights.

Most obviously unmet is the first condition, that 'A waste site for high-level radioactive waste be identified and work started on proving its suitability '. The second and third conditions require assessment of alternatives to a reactor; the fourth questions whether sufficient demand exists in Australia for reactor 'applications'; and the fifth, whether 'national interest' remains a high priority.

Of many critical judgments of ANSTO's case, the RRR was most blunt in saying: 'The Review was not even convinced that [reactor based] science has been a major focus of ANSTO present the case for a new reactor on science grounds cannot be sustained, however compelling the need for such science'.

The RRR said in 1993 that the case for a new reactor had not been proved. It required a five-year delay till ANSTO could present a more convincing case. But ANSTO hasn't! Moreover the case for a new reactor, as Dr Green and others have shown, has greatly weakened since 1993.

Does Australia need a new reactor? The Government is avoiding this, the essential question

The need for a new reactor is unproved - that is the inescapable conclusion from the 40-year history of the HIFAR reactor. And, as we have seen, it is also the conclusion reached by the Government's own Research Reactor Review which in effect said in 1993, NOT PROVED, SO SPEND FIVE MORE YEARS EXAMINING ANSTO'S CASE.

Our survey has shown that the case for a new reactor has weakened
since 1993...
  • Medical uses don't justify a new reactor...p.3

  • The dangerous radioactive waste problem will worsen... p.4

  • Neither the old nor a new reactor can be pronounced 'safe'... p.6

  • ANSTO's history is a litany of incidents/accidents... p.6

  • The reactor will be a continuing health risk to Sydney... p.7

  • A new reactor will be immensely costly... p.9

  • Some scientists have spoken out against spending on a reactor... p.10

  • The argument for a 'national interest' is not supportable... p.11

  • Less costly alternatives to a reactor are being ignored... p.13

  • The Government's own inquiry (RRR) questions a new reactor... p.14

Yet the Federal Government disregarded all these reasons and proposed on 3 September 1997 to build a new reactor on the old within-Sydney site.

The Government did bow a little to public opposition: it agreed to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on possible effects of the new reactor. But 'This is an unacceptable evasion', declares Michael Priceman, convenor of the longstanding Nuclear Study Group of Sutherland Shire Environment Centre. 'There is outrage here, for at least six powerful reasons...'
  • 'We need, not an EIS, but revival of the Government's 1993 Review (RRR) which laid down five conditions that must precede a new reactor - because not one has been implemented!'

  • 'It's blatantly outrageous that ANSTO is given $6 million from which to make the case for locating the new reactor at Lucas Heights - this puts "Dracula in charge of the blood bank" - while the opponents are denied a single cent of funding!'

  • 'Scarcely less outrageous that this EIS is arbitrarily limited to the Lucas
    Heights site while consideration of other possible sites is excluded.'

  • 'Outrageous too that there is to be no open public inquiry; only written submissions can be made and sent to - the very "consultant" engaged by ANSTO! Critics could be excused for saying, "Why should I bother? "'

  • 'And outrageous that appeals for a public Auditor to check the adequacy of the findings of ANSTO's consultant have been flatly rejected! (Everyone knows that the consultant, PPK, is the same firm that prepared the EIS on a Second Sydney Airport which was trenchantly criticised by such an Auditor.)'

  • 'Bizarre as well as outrageous that the EIS proposes to "consult the community", when ANSTO's own survey of local opinion found that 83% urged that any new reactor be "built somewhere remote from human settlement". Which was "a blow to ANSTO which has spent much time and effort on public education programs about the reactor" ( SMH, 9.5.97).'

Even persons inclined to support a new reactor mostly want it located out of Sydney. Thus the SMH Editorial of 9.9.97 declared: 'Reactor, yes. Sydney, no': the Government's proposal will only 'continue the controversy over a nuclear reactor being located in a densely populated area... the new research reactor in some less populated part of Australia therefore makes sense...' The 1997 NSW Conference of the ALP said NO to a new reactor at Lucas Heights ( Leader, 9.10.97). The Federal ALP too has said NO, and its Senator Michael Forshaw says that Labor questions whether there is a
need for a new nuclear reactor in Australia at all (SMH, 9.3.98).

$$$ A Six Million Dollar Travesty! $$$

The Federal Government has funded ANSTO with $6 million 21 from which to conduct an inquiry into - ANSTO itself! (see page 15 above)... It will 'mostly' be spent 22 on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that ANSTO has engaged consultant PPK to conduct. And funding has been flatly refused to community groups to prepare an independent assessment of the effects a new reactor will have on
their physical and social environment. 'Therefore, groups like Sutherland Shire Environment Centre and People Against a Nuclear Reactor must raise dollars from cake stalls and donations to counter this $6 million travesty', says Michael Priceman, SSEC. Please send a donation to: SSEC, PO Box 589, Sutherland NSW 2232.


  1. SMH, 6.9.97. And ABC Radio's 'Background Briefing', 29.3.98, said the announcement was 'stage managed'.

  2. 'Nuclear Reactor Replaced', 3.9.97.

  3. An isotope is an atom with slightly different physical and chemical properties from other atoms of the same element.

  4. ANSTO up to 1986 was called AAEC, Australian Atomic Energy Commission.

  5. ANSTO's reactor is said to be used 90% for research and 10% for isotope production.

  6. See, for example, US Dept. of Energy EIS on Policy Concerning Foreign Research Reactor Spent Fuel, 1996.

  7. Dr Jim Green, Discussion Paper, 'A New Reactor for Scientific Research?', Feb . 1998. Also, H.W. Bertini, Descriptions of Selected Accidents at Nuclear Research Facilities, N T I S, Springfield, US, 1980. And J. Valentine , Let the Facts Speak, Office of J. Valentine MP, Perth 1992.

  8. Ibid.

  9. List is available from SSEC: send stamped envelope to PO Box 589, Sutherland NSW 2232.

  10. 'Water Corrodes Rods', S M H , 10.10.97; also Leader, 18.9.97.

  11. Telegraph Mirror, 12.6.92.

  12. HIFAR stands for High Flux Australian Reactor.

  13. RRR report, 1993, item 20.1-2.

  14. 'Radiation Roulette', New Scientist, 11.10.97, pp. 37-40.

  15. Search, journal of ANZAAS, Vol. 28 [9], p.273.

  16. In Dr Jim Green, op. cit., p.11.

  17. Search, Vol. 28 [9], p.259.

  18. Dr Jim Green: '...most of ANSTO's work could continue uninterrupted if HIFAR is shut down without replacement', op. cit.

  19. Op. cit., p. 3.

  20. Its Report says: 'The Committee considers that Dr Egan's submission comprises a modest request for research funding, the results of which may provide a useful basis for decision making associated with the replacement of Australia 's research reactor', (4.44, p.67).

  21. Industry, Science and Tourism Portfolio, Budget Additional Estimates, Paper No. 1-11, Senate, Parliament House, Canberra. (22) Senate Estimate Committee, 12.11.97.

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