Siting another reactor at Lucas Heights
|Even if we assume that Australia does need a third nuclear reactor, is Lucas Heights the best site?
There are numerous and compelling reasons why it is not.
1. It's not remote
Lucas Heights was selected in 1955, as a site for Australia's nuclear industry for the very reason that it was remote from population. Now, 40 years later, it is surrounded by houses, on the edge of Australia's largest city. This is no longer in a good site for a nuclear reactor!
2. It's not been the subject of a proper site-selection process
The most recent search for a dump for low and short-lived intermediate level radioactive waste has taken 4 years and has considered criteria such as low rainfall, freedom from flooding, stable hydrology, freedom from cyclones, tectonic, seismic or volcanic activity, as well as socio-economic, ecological and land-use factors.
Selection of a site for a nuclear reactor - its production of high, medium and low level waste- should be at least as stringent as that for a low level waste dump!
The McKinnon report said that "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. Any siting decision should be based on criteria similar to those developed by the National Resource Information Centre (in its search for a low level waste dump) with an additional range of economic and scientific criteria." (1993 Research Reactor Review 20.1-2.)
3. It's the easiest option
ANSTO maintains that "The relocation of infrastructure and personnel to a new site would significantly add to the costs of a new research reactor." (Website) This is no justification for building a reactor at Lucas Heights!
According to leaked memo to Peter McGauran on the Relocation of the Lucas Heights Nuclear Reactor, "the political fallout from either the refurbishment of the old reactor or the construction of a new one would be of the same order."
The real reason that Lucas Heights was seen by the Federal Government as being the best site was that it knew that no other community in Australia would accept it. It also believed that the Local Council would be compliant as would the surrounding population
4. It does not comply with public opinion
ANSTO's recent public opinion poll - commissioned at a cost of $40,000 of taxpayers' money - found that 83% of Sutherland Shire people surveyed thought that a new reactor should be in a "remote location". This is consistent with this Centre's 1992 poll which found that 81 % people felt that a new reactor should be away from population centres. The Commonwealth has ignored this finding.
5. It is a health and safety risk to the local population
According to ANSTO "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 and by NSW Government regulations. A modern research reactor would not produce more than those levels..." (Website)
Regulations or not, there is no proof that this (or any) level of radiation is safe. There are neither medical records nor diagnostic tests to assess the effects of radiation on the local population. Apart from obvious cancers and leukaemia - which can take decades to develop - more subtle health or genetic problems could be caused such as impaired scholastic performance, visual impairment or reproductive problems. The NSW Health Authorities have avoided their responsibilities and declined to carry out health studies. They say that one "would not be warranted".
Current scientific studies in the UK suggest that even radiation exposure less than 1mSv may be harmful and could be poisoning the human gene pool (New Scientist Oct. '97) Yet we are daily subjected to routine emissions of radioactive gasses from the nuclear plant at Lucas Heights!
There is no insurance to cover the public against risk of a nuclear accident. Commercial insurance companies will not insure against radiation or nuclear accidents because they "would not have enough funds to cover claims" . (NRMA Insurance letter.) In the event of such an accident claims would have to be made against the Commonwealth Government. The NSW Government and the local Council may also be liable for damages and they are uncertain of their position.
6. Lucas Heights a potential disaster area
In 1994 and 1997 disastrous bushfires struck the area. In the most recent calamity Barden Ridge, the suburb closest to ANSTO, was evacuated at the height of the fire. Eleven houses in the next suburb of Menai were destroyed. At the same time the ANSTO staff were locked in, unable to telephone their families. The official reason was that staff were held back on police advice. For several days the only road connecting the site was blocked to through traffic.
This is hardly the perfect site for Australia's only nuclear reactor!
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