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Response to Senate Economics Reference Committee Calls for an Independent Public Inquiry on Lucas Heights Reactor

Set up in October 1997, the Committee's brief was to inquire and report on whether a new reactor should be built at Lucas Heights or anywhere else in Australia. It considered the matters of the density population; the impact on the environment; alternative technologies for neutrons; safety, cost, viability and effectiveness of alternatives to a reactor; and, most importantly, whether the recommendations of the Research Reactor Review (RRR) had been satisfactorily addressed.

The report was scathing as to the Government's handling of the decision making process over the past two years. Not surprising as the Committee was not set up by the Government. Contrasting markedly with the Public Works Committee and the EIS, this Senate report has actually listened to and carefully considered the views of the opponents, including PANR, the Sutherland Shire Environment Centre and Dr Jim Green. Whilst ANSTO was invited to the public hearings it was not allowed to demolish our arguments or to control the final opinion.

Some of the matters raised by the Committee were:
  • Lucas Heights as a suitable site: It was a matter of concern that details of the alleged site selection process were not made available to the Committee as it was Cabinet-in Confidence. This led it to believe that alternative sites were not properly considered as recommended by the RRR. Such an analysis should be part of a public inquiry.

  • Community attitudes: Because of "differing interpretations" of the ANSTO poll results a detailed review of community attitudes be undertaken to reflect the views of local residents. The RRR said that this should be taken into account in determining the location of any future reactor. Unfortunately. Senator Forshaw did not include the results of his own survey of the residents of Barden Ridge which confirmed all the previous studies which shoed the opposition to a new reactor.

  • Alternative Technologies: The Committee reported that this issue should be thoroughly investigated by an independent panel prior to a final decision.

  • Waste storage at Lucas Heights: In spite of all ANSTO's protestations, waste will be stored at the site for the next half century plus the length of time it takes to decommission two or more reactors - which could take from 30 to 100 years. The question of the storage of long lived intermediate level waste has by no means been resolved. Interim storage, at a place to be considered "somewhere", for a period of time yet to be decided, is certainly not a long term policy for dealing with the most difficult radioactive wastes.

  • Health: "Whilst the Committee appreciates that the presence of such [nuclear] activities in local communities can raise concerns, it noted that no evidence was presented to the Committee to cause it to reach conclusions different from those reached by the RRR." Perhaps we did not push the line hard enough. The NSW State Government is at present examining a health study in the area. It has at last realised that it, and not the Commonwealth is responsible for public health in NSW.

  • Legal Liability: Here also the Committee has played down the problem of the inadequacy of public liability although it does quote from the Sutherland Shire Council's submission which made the point that, by relying on the common law, nuclear liability in Australia is primitive by international standards. No recommendations were made.

  • The Research Reactor Review: The Committee found that the issues raised by the RRR had not been satisfactorily addressed at the time of the Government's announcement. Further it [the Government] ignored the properly considered  findings of the Review and, instead, relied largely on the vested interests of ANSTO and those involved in, and dependent on, the reactor.

  • A Public Inquiry: The Committee said that a full public inquiry, as provided in the EPIP Act should have been conducted prior to any final decision to build a new reactor. Such an inquiry could have finalised the work undertaken by the RRR and would have give greater credibility to the eventual outcome. It recommended that a public inquiry should be carried out before the project proceeds.

The report had a minority report by Government Senators, Gibson and Chapman. Nine pages affirming their support for the way the Government had proceeded so far and saying that a public inquiry was a waste of time. Such comments were not surprising.

Senator Stott-Despoja added several pages of additional comment, most of which was excellent and which took the whole question of Australian nuclear involvement several steps further than the official report.

A copy of the report is available at the Sutherland Shire Environment Centre.

For more information, contact Michael Priceman, Convenor, Nuclear Study Group,
c/- Sutherland Shire Environment Centre, Ph: (02) 9545 3077
Email: office@ssec.org.au

Further campaign material and articles can be found on the Sustainable Energy and Anti-Uranium Service's Lucas Heights Page
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