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Parliamentary Public Works Committee Approves the New Nuclear Reactor Project but Ignores Community Concerns

As was feared, but expected, the Committee, in its August 1999 report, has followed the Government's line and accepted the role of ANSTO as its chief advisor on nuclear matters. The footnote references include 42 from ANSTO, 16 from the Environmental Impact Study (prepared by ANSTO) and 34 from the Environmental Assessment Report produced by the Government Department Environment Australia which advises the Minister. In addition there are 84 paragraphs which include "ANSTO advised, or assured, or believes, or anticipates, or expects" etc.

In line with the EIS process, the Committee passed all submissions on to ANSTO for its assessment. The result of this is that ANSTO merely re-quoted from its EIS and conveniently ignored those embarrassing matters which demand answers. These quotes form a considerable part of the report. The Committee failed in its responsibility to flush out answers on such questions of liability in the event of a serious accident, the costs of decommissioning, the costs of waste management, the terms, costs and conditions of the spent fuel reprocessing contract with France and alternative technologies to a reactor.

There are some strange and conflicting references to National Security. On the one hand it refers to the need to provide assistance to developing countries on the peaceful uses of nuclear science, consistent with the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty. On the other hand it quotes the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)  that "it will be necessary for Australia to have the capacity to comprehend, anticipate and influence nuclear developments in its region and more broadly". It claims that this needs Australian expertise on the nuclear fuel cycle and the continued use of a nuclear reactor. One assumes that the geographical sphere of influence will include, China, Japan, North and South Korea, India, Pakistan. And of course Indonesia with which Australia has an agreement of co-operation.

One page later DFAT admits that " it is a fact that the possession of nuclear fuel cycle technology and facilities may shorten the time required to develop a nuclear weapons capability should they want to do so". So why should Australia believe that it would be accepted as an overseer to all or in fact any of our regional neighbours? Is this self delusion? Especially as it is now open knowledge that Australia was involved in nuclear weapons research until 1968. It would send a stronger non-proliferation message to our neighbours if we were to replace our reactor with alternative technologies.

Did the ANSTO show the Committee the report published in "Nuclear Technology" April 1999? Produced following research by members of the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, Lockheed Martin Idaho Technologies Company, it claims that its method, using accelerators, would cost $US3.7 million for each unit and $US1 million per annum to run.

They could supply Technetium 99m at one third the cost of subsidised reactor produced isotopes. Twenty such units could supply the needs of the entire USA. There would not be the radioactive waste problems associated with reactors and there would be no way of diverting the product for military use. Three such units would supply the needs of Australia and allow for an expansion for future exports. Such a project would receive the maximum support from all the Shire community.

From a more local point of view the Committee did not entirely accept the Deed of Indemnity between the Commonwealth Government and ANSTO as being satisfactory. But, whilst suggesting that there should be a legislative guarantee, it failed to make this a formal recommendation. The community remains isolated, unable to take out commercial insurance and  having to rely on expensive litigation with the Commonwealth should the impossible accident occur.

When the subject of the ANSTO community attitudes survey was raised, the Committee fell for a confidence trick when  ANSTO's only reported comment was that "it showed that a majority of respondents support a replacement research reactor". What was unstated was that over 80% of those, when given siting alternatives, preferred a site in a remote area of Australia. In spite of this the Committee suggests that ANSTO "adopt a frank and open relationship with the local community", perhaps by "conducting more frequent open days". It then recommended the need for a Public Right to Know Charter to be developed. Such a Charter has been in the pipeline at the community liaison meetings for the past four years and has not been completed due to persistent blockage by ANSTO management.

The cost of decommissioning the HIFAR reactor was totally misunderstood by the Committee. It described the process as turning it off, removing the fuel elements and the heavy water and leaving it under care and maintenance for 30 years. This is in fact the procedure before decommissioning, not the process itself. It accepted that, as the funds for decommissioning would not be called for until at least 2035, there was no need to worry about it now. Just pass it on to the next generation.

In summary the report of the Public Works Committee was disappointing, continuing the process which started by the Government's announcement in September 1997 that a new reactor would be built and that it would be sited at Lucas Heights. Each part of the process since then has been "within the terms and requirements of Commonwealth Legislation" and, as such, has worked to the detriment of the local community.

A copy of the report is available in 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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