Articles about Lucas Heights and its nuclear reactors

The case for a Royal Commission into the proposal for a new nuclear reactor in Sydney’s southern suburbs

Produced by the Nuclear Reactor Taskforce
Sutherland Shire Council
PO Box 17, Sutherland, NSW, 1499.

 

1999


Summary

The Commonwealth Government and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) plan to build a new nuclear reactor in the Sydney suburb of Lucas Heights. This is Australia’s largest ever scientific investment, with profound implications for foreign policy and the direction of future Australian science, as well as significant health and property risks for the population of Australia’s largest city. Yet the design and approval process for the reactor has been shrouded in extraordinary secrecy and unaccountability, with the effect of blocking public debate and Parliamentary oversight.

Vital documents and studies have not been made public or do not exist:
*    No detailed costings or economic analysis have been released
*    No reactor design has been prepared
*    No credible accident scenarios appear to exist
*    No alternatives have been seriously considered
*    No independent analyses apparently exist
*    The waste processing contract with France is "Cabinet in confidence" and cannot be viewed, even by Parliament.
*    The alternative sites study is "Cabinet in confidence".

Further, scientists' concerns over the public health and environmental risks associated with the planned new reactor and associated facilities have been trivialised or ignored; opponents of the reactor plan have been threatened with defamation suits; emergency planning procedures are far from adequate; a plethora of economic issues remain unanswered and unresolved; the Executive Director of ANSTO sat on a selection panel to interview applicants for the position of CEO of the regulatory agency which, in theory, regulates ANSTO's activities.

Many more issues could be added to this list of concerns. Above all, two recurring themes have prompted this demand for a Royal Commission:
*    secrecy, so pervasive that even the President of the Australian Nuclear Association has recently complained about the "culture of secrecy" at ANSTO; and
*    dishonesty, which prompted a former ANSTO engineer with over 25 years experience to write last year, "It is an unfortunate state of affairs that dear old ANSTO, which lives off taxpayer's money, is feeding us all this propaganda and very little objective information. I thought governmental agencies are there to serve the public - not just to perpetuate themselves."

The effect of these failings, plus the gaps contained a weak and partisan Environmental Impact Statement, mean that neither the public nor Parliament have the possibility of rationally assessing or debating this proposal. In order to create the conditions for public confidence and trust, and make possible Parliamentary oversight of the proposed project, it is vital that a independent and rigorous inquiry is made into the siting, costs, alternatives, waste management and safety aspects.

We therefore call upon the federal government to establish a Royal Commission into the nuclear reactor proposal and the licensing process which has accompanied it.

A saga of deception

The Government ignored the 1993 Research Reactor Review's recommendation for a Public Inquiry to investigate any future proposal for a new reactor. More recently the Government ignored the recommendation of the Senate Economics References Committee for a public inquiry into the proposal. The Senate committee said the decision to build a new reactor was "premature and open to ongoing controversy" because of the failure to carry out a public inquiry into the proposal, to properly investigate alternative sites, to take into account community views, and to resolve radioactive waste management issues.

Instead of a public inquiry, ANSTO prepared its own Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which was duly approved by the federal government. The government refused a request from the Sutherland Shire Council to appoint an independent auditor to oversee the Environment Impact Assessment. The EIS was neatly, though generously, summarised by a former head of Engineering and Reactors at ANSTO: "If it is normal for the proponent (of an EIS) to tell the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth, then ANSTO's presentation is normal. Sometimes the difference between the truth and the whole truth is quite remarkable."

A senior government bureaucrat said on ABC Radio National on March 29, 1998, that: "The government decided to starve the opponents of oxygen, so that it could dictate the manner of the debate that would follow the announcement. Because the government couldn't win it on rational grounds ... they decided, right, we'll play the game and in the lead up to the announcement catch them totally unawares, catch them completely off-guard and starve them of oxygen until then. No leaks, don't write letters arguing the point, just keep them in the dark completely."

Such comments on the public record, yet the Prime Minister stated last year that the government has been "open and honest" in its handling of the reactor controversy.

Both ANSTO and the government have sought to cloak rational discussion about the costs and benefits of a reactor under a dishonest claim that the reactor is vital for nuclear medicine. In fact medical isotopes can be easily obtained from a global market which already supplies many Australian hospitals.

Peter McGauran, then science minister, began his press release announcing the decision to build a new reactor with the words, "The construction of a replacement research reactor at Lucas Heights will build on Australia's life-saving nuclear medicine capabilities." McGauran said on ABC radio on March 29, 1998, that "There's no doubt that health issues concluded the matter beyond any doubt whatsoever."

It has indeed been a dishonest argument according to a senior government bureaucrat who was quoted on the same ABC radio program saying: "The government decided to push the whole health line, and that included appealing to the emotion of people. ... So it was reduced to one point, and an emotional one at that. They never tried to argue the science of it, the rationality of it".

When Dr. Geoff Bower, head of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Physicians in Nuclear Medicine, was asked if it would be a "life threatening" situation if Australia did not produce medical isotopes locally, he said, "Probably not life threatening. I think that's over-dramatising it and that's what people have done to win an argument. I resist that."

The medical isotope rhetoric has become so implausible that the government is itself backing away from it. The parliamentary Public Works Committee produced a bipartisan report in August 1999 which said: "A number of organisations and individuals challenged the need for a research reactor based on a requirement to produce medical radiopharmaceuticals. ... The Committee recognises that this issue has not been resolved satisfactorily."

Over two years have passed since the government's decision to build a new reactor, $300 million has been committed to the project, a sham Environmental Impact Assessment has been completed, the tendering process is underway. Yet we now observe the government acknowledging that the debate over medical isotope supply - the issue which "concluded the matter beyond any doubt whatsoever" according to the former Science Minister - has not been resolved satisfactorily.

Nor was the Department of the Environment and Heritage prepared to accept this rhetoric when required to examine the EIS produced by ANSTO. It said that "a combination of alternatives, such as funding for 'suitcase science', importation of radioisotopes, and possible development of spallation and other technologies, could substitute in part for not constructing a new reactor." A further reflection of the Department's unwillingness to parrot the rhetoric was its statement that, "The Department's assessment concludes that the need and justification for the proposal is ultimately a matter for Government, particularly in defining how best to meet national interest objectives."

A blank cheque

The proposal requires spending over $500 million of Commonwealth funds in the short term, with well over a billion dollars committed for on-going expenditure during the 40-50 year life of the reactor.

The absence of financial honesty in the proposal is astonishing - neither the public nor Parliament have been provided with detailed costings or a credible cost-benefit analyses. At a time of acute financial accountability and restraint in Commonwealth expenditures, ANSTO is apparently being handed a blank cheque.

ANSTO’s claim that the reactor will cost taxpayers $286 million. This is a 1993 figure which does not take cost escalations into account. It is a deceptive figure which fails to take into account obvious foreseeable costs. Here is a more honest accouting:

Cost of reactor - up to $400 million (1)
Instrumentation - up to $150 million (1)
Decommissioning old reactor - $70 million (1)
Spent fuel reprocessing - $120 million (3)
Isotope processing - $13 million p.a. (2)
Reactor operating costs - $20 million p.a. (1)

Total likely costs = over $500 million

Plus ± $20 million Commonwealth subsidy per year for 40-50 years.

(1) McKinnon Research Reactor Review 1993
(2) ANSTO Annual Report 1998-99
(3) ANSTO EIS 1998

To these costs must be added the unknown cost of a waste repository for long-lived intermediate level wastes (ie. spent fuel when returned to Australia from reprocessing overseas).

The costs of such a waste repository are likely to be immense. The US government plans to spend US$30 billion on a high level waste repository in Nevada. The cancelled Nirex intermediate waste facility in the UK was to cost £2 billion. Pangea Ltd’s high level waste proposal in Australia was supposed to cost US$6 billion.

Does the federal government intent to hand ANSTO a blank cheque? It certainly seems so.

A key task for the Royal Commission would be to obtain credible independent assessments of the likely costs of the reactor proposal, so that an informed debate can occur.

A failure of science policy

As with the rhetoric about medical isotopes, claims that a new reactor is required for "world-class" scientific research are also questionable. The reactor, if built, would be the single largest investment in a science facility in Australia's history yet the government failed to consult its science advisers - the Office of the Chief Scientist, the Australian Science, Technology and Engineering Council (ASTEC) and the CSIRO - before making the decision. The CSIRO said in 1993 that "more productive research could be funded for the cost of a reactor."

There is little scientific or medical support for a new reactor beyond those individuals and organisations with financial and/or career interests in reactor technology. Needless to say alternative technologies - such as cyclotrons - have not received such enthusiastic and uncritical support; indeed the development of alternative technologies has been impeded because of the push for reactor technology.

Distorting Australia’s foreign policy

So why does the government want a new reactor? The Public Works Committee said that the "national interest criterion forms the cornerstone of the need for a replacement research reactor". ANSTO said in its Draft EIS that national interest issues were addressed "comprehensively" by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Safeguards Office in their submission to the Senate Nuclear Reactor Inquiry - but that submission was just seven pages long and it was unreferenced.

It appears that a seven-page, unreferenced document on "national interest" issues forms the principle justification for the new reactor.

In fact, a nuclear reactor is likely to commit Australia decisively to the "nuclear club" by ensuring a seat on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA regulates the world’s nuclear industry and is also the world’s biggest promoter of nuclear energy.

It is unclear how our national interest is served by participating in the global spread of nuclear energy with its associated risks and waste problems. Professor McKinnon, who carried out the government’s 1993 Reactor Review, agreed, stating: "There may be national advantages in not being so closely associated with IAEA stances."

The serious accident in September 1999 at Tokaimura, Japan, suggests a far more sensible ‘national interest’ for Australia might be to encourage regional countries to adopt safer non-reactor technologies.

(Note that on page 38 of the 1998-99 Annual Report, ANSTO boasts a 14 year collaboration with Tokaimura on the management of waste!)

These ought to be vital matters for Parliamentary, and public, discussion.

A culture of secrecy

ANSTO’s operations are shrouded in secrecy. Some of the issues of concern include the following:
*    the Federal Government claims to have evaluated alternative sites but refuses to release the site selection study report, claiminig it is "Cabinet in confidence".

*    ANSTO has refused to release copies of the spent fuel reprocessing contracts between ANSTO and the French nuclear agency Cogema to the Senate Economic References Committee, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, and the Sutherland Shire Council.
*    progress on a Community Right to Know Charter has been stalled. In 1998, ANSTO rejected a Charter put forward by the local community group involved in these negotiations. More recently, the Environment Minister, Senator Robert Hill, has refused to facilitate the introduction of a Charter despite his agreement that the establishment of a Charter should be a "high priority" before the reactor is built.
  several accidents took place at ANSTO's Lucas Heights plant in February 1999 with one worker taking contamination home. Local residents and schools were not informed, nor was the NSW Health Department, nor was the Sutherland Shire Council. The information only came to light when released by a concerned ANSTO employee. One accident involved a spent fuel rod falling from its container, where it remained for a period of months. Four ANSTO staff members were exposed to radiation. On two other occasions, radiation releases above routine levels required closure of ANSTO's radioisotope processing plant. Discussing one of these accidents, an ANSTO employee said, "ANSTO have covered this incident up and have not even told the staff that this incident occurred. Many staff believe that a site emergency should have been declared." ANSTO management claims that the radiation releases posed no environmental or health risk. Who is to be believed? The February accidents require detailed investigation. A Royal Commission will also have the power to determine if there have been other accidents and other cover-ups.

Radioactive waste - where is the promised solution?

A major increase in radioactive waste production is projected by ANSTO if a new reactor is built. In the words of a senior bureaucrat quoted on ABC radio, waste management is "an issue for another generation", "someone else can worry about it".

Of particular concern is the government's failure to develop a strategy to manage spent fuel from the Lucas Heights reactors.

ANSTO plans to send most of its spent fuel for reprocessing in Europe by the French nuclear agency Cogema. But where will the long-lived intermediate-level wastes arising from reprocessing spent fuel be stored when returned to Australia?

In 1997, the Commonwealth/State Consultative Committee on the Management of Radioactive Waste decided that "co-location" of an interim, above-ground store for long-lived intermediate-level wastes with the planned underground dump for low-level waste "should be considered as a first siting option." The Government plans to establish a low-level dump in South Australia. ANSTO said in the Draft EIS in 1998 that it is "expected" that long-lived intermediate-level wastes will be stored adjacent to the proposed nuclear dump in South Australia.

However, South Australian Premier John Olsen said in state parliament on November 19 that while the SA Government supports a low-level dump: "the storage of long-lived intermediate-level waste, such as reprocessed fuel rods from Lucas Heights, is an entirely separate issue. ... I wish to make it very clear that I am opposed to medium- to high-level radioactive waste being dumped in South Australia."

Will the Government attempt to co-locate a store with the dump in the face of opposition from the South Australian Government? Will any other State or Territory Government accept spent fuel wastes originating at the Lucas Heights reactor plant? Or is ANSTO's Lucas Heights site destined to remain a de factor nuclear dump?

No progress whatsoever has been made towards establishing a deep underground dump for long-lived intermediate-level wastes. The Government and ANSTO claim that the volume of existing long-lived intermediate-level wastes is insufficient to warrant construction of a deep underground dump. What volume would justify a deep geological dump? The Department of Industry, Science and Resources says that no decision has been made on what "magical volume" would trigger moves to establish a deep underground dump. Will the deep geological dump be sited in South Australia? What are the environmental and public health implications?

With so many waste management issues unresolved, it is irresponsible for the government and ANSTO to proceed with a plan for a new reactor which will generate another 1500-2000 spent fuel rods and which will also result in a 12-fold increase in the production of intermediate-level liquid wastes and a four-fold increase in other wastes according to ANSTO documents.

These ad hoc, politically-expedient waste management plans fly in the face of the 1993 Research Reactor Review's statement: "A crucial issue is final disposal of high-level wastes, which depends upon identification of a site and investigation of its characteristics. A solution to this problem is essential and necessary well prior to any future decision about a new reactor. ... It would be utterly wrong to decide on a new reactor before progress is made on identification of a high level waste repository site."

Nuclear waste is just one issue that needs to be tested by public debate - a debate which cannot occur in the present atmosphere of secrecy and deception.

For the above reasons we call upon the federal government to establish a Royal Commission to independently investigate the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor proposal with the aim of returning public confidence and trust, encouraging informed public debate, and making possible Parliamentary oversight of the proposed project.

 


Proposed new reactor at Lucas Heights: decision-making processes

Jim Green
October 2000 (updated May 2002)

"[C]atch them totally unawares, catch them completely off-guard and starve them of oxygen" -- Senior Canberra bureaucrat involved in the reactor push. ABC Radio National, March 29, 1998

1992 ASTEC REPORT

ANSTO’s reactor Draft EIS (1998, p.3-14) refers to the 1992 Australian Science Technology and Engineering Council (ASTEC) report on major national research facilities in support of the new reactor proposal. DISR and Hughes MP Danna Vale have done likewise. However the 1992 ASTEC Review was a preliminary sifting of almost a hundred proposals for science funding; it was anything but a searching analysis of the cases for and against a new reactor. This can easily be confirmed by consulting the flimsy ASTEC report.

The ASTEC report itself says (p.xiii), in bold type: "It must be emphasised that, while the present study has identified a number of timely proposals for major national research facilities, ASTEC has not employed peer review, on-site visits or other steps necessary for a full evaluation of proposals. It will be essential for this to be carried out rigorously before final decisions are taken about which facilities should be given the highest priority for funding."

Prof. Anne Henderson-Sellers, an ASTEC member (and now an ANSTO division manager), expressed serious doubts about the medical, scientific and commercial reasons for a reactor in the 1993 Research Reactor Review (RRR) report. Henderson-Sellers was one of three members of the RRR panel,

During the 1993 RRR, ASTEC said a decision on a new reactor ".... must not be based solely on the needs of scientific research and industrial production. It must also take account of a number of social, political and cost factors. .... The detailed, rigorous evaluation advocated by ASTEC has yet to be made - ASTEC sees this as the responsibility of the Research Reactor Review."

If built the reactor will be the single biggest investment in a science facility in Australia's history, yet the Government did not consult its science advisory bodies - the Office of the Chief Scientist, ASTEC, or the CSIRO - before the 1997 decision to build a new reactor. The CSIRO said in its 1993 submission to the Research Reactor Review that "more productive research could be funded for the cost of a new reactor".

ASTEC, 1992, Major National Research Facilities: A National Program, Canberra: AGPS.

 

1993 RESEARCH REACTOR REVIEW

ANSTO/DIST (submission to Senate Economics References Committee, May 1998, pp.497-498) state that the 1993 Research Reactor Review (RRR) "identified the necessity for a replacement research reactor." That is a lie.

In 12 August, 1996 letter, then science minister Peter McGauran said: "Although the Research Reactor Review recommended that a decision on a new reactor be made 'in about five years time', it did not recommend that a new inquiry be undertaken." That is false. The 1993 Research Reactor Review (p.4) specifically said that "if, at some later stage, a new reactor is envisaged, it should be assessed by a new panel possibly operating within the Environmental Protection Act 1974". The RRR clearly had in mind a public inquiry, conducted by a panel such as that which conducted the RRR, not a sham Environmental Impact Assessment which was conducted not by "a new panel" but by ANSTO itself.

The RRR said (p.xv):

"If, at the end of a further period of about five years,
- a high level waste repository site has been firmly identified and work started on proving its suitability
- there is no evidence that spallation technology can economically offer as much or more than a new reactor
- there has been no practical initiation of a cyclotron anywhere worldwide to produce technetium-99m
- there is good evidence of strong and diverse applications of neutron scattering capability in Australian science, including many young scientists, and a complex of industrial uses
- the national interest remains a high priority
it would be appropriate to make a positive decision on a new reactor. The most suitable site would need to be identified.
If any one of these onerous requirements is not met, either a negative decision, or a decision to delay further, would be indicated."


1994 BAIN-BATELLE REPORT

ANSTO’s reactor Draft EIS (1998, p.3-16) attempts to justify the reactor proposal with reference to the 1994 Bain-Batelle report. The Draft EIS fails to note that this report was commissioned by ANSTO and thus its independence is open to debate. Moreover the report's treatment of substantive issues such as waste management is cursory; this can easily be proved by consulting the report.

Bain International Inc., Batelle Memorial Institute, and Pacific Northwest Laboratories, 1994, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation: Strategy Review Recommendations: Final Report, Lucas Heights: ANSTO.

 

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT

"If it is normal for the proponent to tell the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth, then ANSTO's presentation is normal. Sometimes the difference between the truth and the whole truth is quite remarkable." --Tony Wood, Former Head, Engineering and Reactors, ANSTO, 1998, EIS submission.

A substantive critique of the Final EIS was prepared by the Sutherland Shire Council. I can also supply a substantive critique of the Draft EIS and Final EIS on request. The following comments address process issues only.

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was an expensive bureaucratic whitewash. The fact that ANSTO prepared the EIS is completely unacceptable given its vested interest in a new reactor and ANSTO's demonstrated track record of secrecy and dishonesty. That this was within the parameters of the EPIP legislation does not make it any less farcical.

The Sutherland Shire Council (submission to 1997-99 Senate Economics References Committee) called on the Federal Government to put in place an environmental auditor to oversee the reactor EIS process. That call went unanswered.

ANSTO had millions of dollars of tax-payers' money to prepare the EIS whereas local residents and other opponents of the reactor plan had no funding whatsoever.

ANSTO hired PPK Environment and Infrastructure to help prepare the EIS. PPK was heavily criticised by an independent auditor during the Holsworthy airport EIS. The PPK project team has no expertise in nuclear sciences. PPK's "information stalls" were high farce: PPK distributed information on the EIA/EIS process but hardly any information on the reactor proposal per se.

PPK refused to organise a public meeting at which both proponents and opponents would speak.

PPK refused to publicly release research documents being produced by ANSTO and NNC (the sub-contractor) during the preparation of the Draft EIS.

Any number of other specific examples could be provided to illustrate problems experienced by the public during the EIS process. To give one of many examples,
Dr. Furzer’s (Sydney University) submission on the Draft EIS notes that he twice asked ANSTO to supply four papers listed in the Draft EIS. The papers were not supplied and Dr. Furzer said his submission was "limited in scope" because of ANSTO’s failure to supply information.

The fact that there was no opportunity for public comments to be made on the Final EIS was unacceptable.
 

THE REALPOLITIK OF THE SEPTEMBER 1997 DECISION TO BUILD A NEW REACTOR

The government’s Public Relations strategy in relation to the proposed new reactor was explained by a senior government bureaucrat, based in Canberra, on Radio National's "Background Briefing" program (March 29, 1998, www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/bbing/bb980329.htm): "The government decided to starve the opponents of oxygen, so that they could dictate the manner of the debate that would follow the announcement. Because they couldn't win it on rational grounds ... they decided, right, we'll play the game and in the lead up to the announcement catch them totally unawares, catch them completely off-guard and starve them of oxygen until then."

A Department of Industry, Science and Tourism (DIST) briefing paper, dated April 1998, obtained by Sutherland Shire Council under Freedom of Information legislation, says: "There is "no point in consulting with potential/hypothetical recipients of a new reactor. It was discovered through the course of inquiry into the new airport that such a course of action serves only to inflame the communities for no good reason."

 

1997-99 SENATE ECONOMICS REFERENCES COMMITTEE INQUIRY

The government has ignored the recommendation of the Senate Economics References Committee (1999) for a public inquiry into the reactor proposal.

The Committee’s majority report said the decision to build a new reactor was "premature and open to ongoing controversy" because of the failure to carry out a public inquiry into the proposal, to properly investigate alternative sites, to take into account community views, and to resolve radioactive waste management issues.

The majority report also said that the decision "relied largely on the vested interests of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and those involved in, and dependent on, the nuclear industry."

The majority report argued that no reactor should be constructed "until a permanent site for disposal of the Lucas Heights nuclear waste is determined."

The majority report recommended the establishment of a public inquiry "similar to the 1993 Research Reactor Review".

Report by the Senate Economics References Committee on a New Reactor at Lucas Heights, September 1999:
www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/economics_ctte/lucas/index.htm.


NO COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS

The federal Department of the Environment and Heritage (1999, p.42), in its assessment of ANSTO's EIS, said, "The Department accepts that a formal cost-benefit analysis for the proposal is not appropriate, in view of the comprehensive analysis by the Research Reactor Review (RRR)."

The Department (1999, p.34) also said that the "The RRR undertook a comprehensive examination of costs and benefits of a new reactor."

However, the RRR (1993) said that "a complete cost-benefit analysis of the case for a new reactor could not be done because of the inescapable arbitrariness of the financial values put on the national interest and benefits from science aspects."

 

1999 PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE

Senator Minchin describes the Public Works Committee as an "independent public inquiry". In fact, the Public Works Committee process was a rubber stamp and a complete waste of time. This can easily be confirmed by consulting the Committee’s report, which merely parrots ANSTO information/misinformation ad nauseum.

Public Works Committee (Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works), 1999, Report relating to the proposed Replacement Nuclear Research Reactor, Lucas Heights, NSW, Canberra: Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia.
www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/pwc/ansto/ncpindex.htm

Transcripts of hearings:
www.aph.gov.au/hansard/joint/commttee/j-pub-wk.htm

 

1999-2001 SENATE INQUIRY

A federal senate committee slammed the proposal in a report released on May 23, 2001. The majority report of thecommittee is a joint production of the Labor Party and the Democrats. The Democrats also wrote a minority report, taking a more critical line on the reactor project than the Labor Party, and a minority report from Liberal and National Party senators restates the government's support for a new reactor.

On the alleged need for a research reactor in Australia, the committee concluded that "... no conclusive or compelling case has been established to support the proposed new reactor and ... the proposed new reactor should not proceed."

The committee found that "the decision to build a new reactor was taken without a detailed investigation of Australia's present and future scientific and medical needs". It was not convinced that logistical difficulties constitute a serious obstacle to the importation of radioisotopes, and also noted the expanding medical and scientific applications of alternative technologies such as cyclotrons.

On the foreign policy agenda driving the Coalition government's plan for a new reactor, the committee found that "... the justification for the new research reactor solely on national interest grounds is not strong where national interest is defined on purely 'security' and non-proliferation grounds." The committee said the government's argument that a new reactor is required to facilitate nuclear disarmament and the implementation of nuclear safeguards is "tenuous".

The committee went on to say, "The argument for the new research reactor on national interest grounds is more convincing when all areas of nuclear technology are considered, including its role in the region as an educational, research and training centre. The Committee believes, however, that this reason alone is not sufficient to justify the new research reactor. If the reactor is to go ahead, then the main considerations in establishing the need for a reactor must be its place as a research tool providing a neutron source for Australian researchers and products for industry, the health care system and the potential impacts on the environment."

The committee recommended that before the government proceeds any further with the project it should establish an independent public inquiry into the alleged need for a new nuclear reactor and related issues such as funding for both medical and scientific research in Australia. The government rejected that recommendation on the same day the senate report was released.

The senate committee was particularly critical of the Coalition government and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) for their secrecy. It said, "The Committee is highly critical of ANSTO's attitude which seeks to make a parliamentary committee subordinate to the whims of a government agency and prevents that committee from exercising its responsibility to scrutinise the executive. The Committee therefore appreciates the frustration experienced by the Sutherland Shire Council and members of the public who have experienced a similar attitude."

The report also states, "The Committee is highly critical of ANSTO's approach to providing documents. Its attitude seems to stem from a culture of secrecy so embedded that it has lost sight of its responsibility to be accountable to the Parliament."

Even Liberal and National Party senators conceded that point, accepting "... that ANSTO could have been more helpful in providing certain less commercially sensitive information to the Committee and could have been more willing to seek a compromise when sensitive material was involved."

The committee recommended that Senator Nick Minchin, the minister for industry, science and resources, should be censured for his refusal to comply with an order of the senate to table various documents relating to project including the reactor contract between ANSTO and the Argentinean company Invap, and the spent fuel reprocessing contract between ANSTO and the French company Cogema.

The committee recommended that the Australian National Audit Office "consider examining the tender and contract documents for the new reactor" with a view to determining whether documents sought by the committee and the senate should be made public; whether the cost estimate for the reactor is accurate; and whether, during the tendering process, ANSTO ensured that there was adequate and appropriate independent verification and validation of the tenderers' claims.

The committee also expressed numerous concerns about the failure of ANSTO and the federal government to put in place plans to manage radioactive wastes arising from the existing HIFAR reactor or the planned new reactor.

2001 Senate Select Committee for an Inquiry into the Contract for a New Reactor at Lucas Heights, final report: www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/lucasheights_ctte
Transcripts of public hearings: www.aph.gov.au/hansard/senate/commttee/s-lh.htm

 

REGULATOR APPROVES REACTOR CONSTRUCTION - APRIL 2002

The head of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), John Loy, approved construction of a new 20-megawatt nuclear reactor in the Sydney suburb of Lucas Heights on April 5, 2002.

The approval came as no surprise - so much so that the Associated Press and The Australian reported it before it had even taken place. ARPANSA describes itself as the 'independent regulator' and the 'nuclear watchdog',  but it's a puppet regulator, more poodle than watchdog. The head of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) sat on the panel which recommended Loy's appointment to the health minister. Moreover, ARPANSA and ANSTO are linked by a revolving door - six ex-ANSTO employees now work for ARPANSA.

The announcement was accompanied with the usual propaganda about the 'need' for a reactor to produce medical isotopes. "The government had a clear choice", said science minister Peter McGauran, "do we save lives or pander to extremists?" No mention of the fact that few if any doctors noticed the three-month closure of the existing reactor from February to May 2000.

ARPANSA has back-tracked from previous 'commitments' that a licence to construct a reactor would not be issued unless ANSTO demonstrated progress on radioactive waste management. For example, Loy said in June 2000 that before issuing a licence, "there would need to be progress on the strategy to establish a store for intermediate level waste, including for the waste arising from the reprocessing of spent fuel".

All the 'progress' on storage of intermediate level waste has been in the wrong direction. The federal government has given up on its previous plan to store the waste in South Australia because of overwhelming public opposition and state legislation prohibiting such a store. With no other options available, the federal government has gone back to the drawing board with the establishment of an 'advisory panel' to suggest siting options later this year.

In a statement which purports to justify the issuing of a reactor construction licence, Loy notes his previous 'commitment' not to issue a licence unless progress had been made on intermediate level waste storage, he notes the abandonment of plans to store the waste in SA, and then he moves on to the next topic as if there was no contradiction to be explained. (ANSTO discusses storage of intermediate level waste in such a way as to imply that a store actually exists, while McGauran asserted on April 5 that plans for a store are “well advanced”.)

Loy says in his latest statement that a licence to operate the reactor (in or about 2005) will not be issued unless 'significant progress' is made on waste management plans, but this may prove to be as hollow as his previous commitments.

Plans for a national low level waste dump in SA also face fierce opposition, with 86-93% of South Australians opposed to the planned dump and the incoming state Labor government also opposed. The federal government will release an environmental impact statement justifying the planned dump in the near future.

Perhaps the greatest uncertainty now facing the reactor project concerns the Argentinian company Invap, which won the contract to build the new reactor. Invap is in a perilous financial situation and recently had to apply for a $10.5 million loan from the Argentinian government. Invap is also facing legal action over the constitutionality of the reactor contract, which contains a provision for conditioning of spent fuel from the Lucas Heights reactor in Argentina as a fall-back option if reprocessing contracts with the French agency Cogema fall through. This provision appears to breach Argentina's constitution, which explicitly prohibits importation of radioactive waste. ANSTO and Invap make the unlikely claim that spent reactor fuel is not radioactive waste and thus the constitutional prohibition does not apply.

 

 


ANSTO staff speak

ANSTO "Staff Representing Truth in Science" wrote to a Sutherland Shire Councillor on April 3, 2000. Their comments are transcribed below:

“The reactor HIFAR will be shut down from 7 February to 1 May, 2000. ANSTO’s radioisotope production has suffered no dislocation as a result of the shutdown, since bulk supplies of radioisotopes are purchased from the big international players in Canada and South Africa. Indeed it is understood that we can purchase bulk supplies of radioactive molybdenum (ANSTO’s major seller in the form of a ‘generator’) from one supplier more cheaply than ANSTO can produce it. If HIFAR was so essential to the supply of radioisotopes why has there been no effective production dislocation during the shutdown.”

“It has been heavily rumoured that ANSTO is financially in the red to the tune of $6 million. The radioisotope production group is in the red by $2.2 million. If ANSTO cannot manage simple finances, although it has a large number of staff devoted to the task, how can it possibly hope to manage a complex reactor.”

“Further, it is known that the reactor replacement costs are projected to blow out considerably more than the amounts told to the Federal Government, but once the project is started it will have to be completed irrespective of costs. A number of staff believe there should be an independent external review of financial management at ANSTO and the real costs of a new reactor.”

“Because of inept executive management there is no succession planning within the organisation. Although it will be strongly denied by ANSTO, it is well known by those in the field that the new reactor project is having difficulty finding sufficient nuclear literate staff to address the tender process. It is understood that the current full-time staff on the program had their origins in the AAEC and are up for retirement. Inept management, no succession planning? Who is going to safely operate a new reactor in Sutherland Shire.”

“The last 4 years have seen unprecedented industrial actions resulting in lost-time for ANSTO. The staff morale is exceptionally low ... because of unprecedented ineptitude at senior management level.”

“The ANSTO Board has a very limited idea of what is really transpiring at Lucas Heights. For instance, the radiation contamination scare last year was only brought to the staff’s attention because of a local newspaper. The incident was of such gravity, that the executive should have made an announcement over the site-emergency monitor about the incident to inform the staff. Instead the management practiced a culture of secrecy and cover-up, even to the extent of actively and rudely dissuading staff from asking too many questions about the event. The unions were outraged at the executive management concerning this incident but passively towed the management line because they wanted job security with a new reactor.”

“The ANSTO management appears to be endeavoring to muzzle staff comments external to the organisation (through the use of) Acknowledgment Undertaking (forms).”

“We understand that ANSTO has been obtaining supplies of samarium from South Africa since the HIFAR shutdown in February with no dislocation, this isotope is usually manufactured by ANSTO. It is further understood that ANSTO has stopped its importation of samarium from South Africa to “prove” the need for a new reactor. If this is the case it would appear that ANSTO is orchestrating its own circumstances to ensure a new reactor.” (Note: ANSTO and the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa have been asked to supply details of shipments of samarium-153 (and other radioisotopes) - but both organisations will not even say whether or not samarium-153 has been shipped to Australia let alone providing further details.)

 


Quotable quotes on the plan for a new reactor at Lucas Heights

Posted at:

http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/30410/20090218-0153/www.geocities.com/jimg...

 


Lucas Heights: Over Reaction?
Australian Broadcasting Corporation - Background Briefing

March 29, 1998.

Transcript of some of the most interesting comments below. Full transcript posted at

http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/30410/20090218-0153/www.geocities.com/jimg...


Senior government source: "The Government decided to starve the opponents of oxygen, so that they could dictate the manner of the debate that would follow the announcement. Because they couldn't win it on rational grounds, though they would happily engage anybody on that basis, but seeing as they couldn't they decided, 'Right, we'll play the game and in the lead-up to the announcement, get them totally unawares, catch them completely off guard and starve them of oxygen until then. No leaks, don't write letters arguing the point, just keep them in the dark completely."

Bronwyn Adcock (journalist): The benefits of the new reactor's role in nuclear medicine were "deliberately overstated".

Senior government source: "The government decided to push the whole health line, and that included appealing to the emotion of people - the loss of life, the loss of children's lives, and all that data was available to the government from the nuclear medical profession. So it was reduced to one point, and an emotional one at that. They never tried to argue the science of it, the rationality of it."

Adcock: The announcement on a new reactor was delayed for a month to minimise the political fallout. Senior government source: "When Cabinet finally made the official decision in August, it was decided that tactically, it would be a good idea to wait for the Minister for Transport, John Sharp's, announcement on Holsworthy, so that on the one day the people of Hughes would see a good and a bad decision. The strategy was to appeal to the people of Hughes on the day of the announcement especially, so you have the relief of their fears about Holsworthy, and supposedly confirmation of their fears about a reactor."

Senior government source: "I understand that Cabinet considered reprocessing, but decided it was an issue for another generation. They knew that they could dispose of the current spent fuel rods in the US and the UK and then not have a storage problem until the year 2015. You see the new reactor comes on stream 2005, the spent fuel rods have to cool down for seven years and then be stored for another five, so 2015 they've got to worry about their spent fuel rods. Someone else can worry about it. And reprocessing is a possibility then. The technology might be better, the costs lower, but that's 20 years away. So the government thought, we're not going to make decisions about reprocessing 20 years before we have to. But there was a strong lobby within the science community and even industry that said 'Its a legitimate technology. Its safe and relatively inexpensive. Do it.' In fact the reprocessing option was roughly the same cost as the repatriation of the spent fuel rods."

Senior government source: "The big ticket item was the new reactor and it was felt that politically you just couldn't win the reprocessing argument and the new reactor."

Jean McSorley: if Australia builds a new reactor, that encourages other countries to build reactors; reactors are part of the proliferation problem.

Prof. Ken McKinnon (Chair of the 1993 Research Reactor Review): "There is no way that a research reactor, a new one, built in Australia, would ever make a return on the investment for scientific, commercial and medical uses, which would even get towards a fraction of what it would cost for a cost-benefit analysis on the normal industry basis."

Prof. Barry Allen (former Chief Research Scientist at ANSTO): "We've now moved on and its a question of whether we move into the 21st century or whether we're committing ourselves to 20th century science and the reactor and all the things we can do on the reactor are quite clearly 20th century science."

Prof. Barry Allen: "One couldn't escape the conclusion that because you can't generate alpha-emitting radioisotopes on a reactor, then it wasn't core .... business of ANSTO. The question is really what the tax-payer of Australia' wants. Do they want new therapies or do they want the reactor to be the centre of all research."

Prof. Barry Allen: "Its reported that if we don't have the reactor people will die because they won't be getting their nuclear medicine radioisotopes. I think that's rather unlikely. Most of the isotopes can be imported into Australia. Some are being generated on the cyclotron. But on the other hand alot of people are dying of cancer and we're trying to develop new cancer therapies which use radioisotopes which emit alpha particles which you cannot get from reactors. And if it comes down to cost-benefit, I think alot more people will be saved if we can proceed with targeted alpha cancer therapy than being stuck with the reactor when we could in fact have imported those isotopes."

Prof. Barry Allen: "What worries me is that it might have an impact on the scientific development of new directions for the 21st century because at ANSTO for instance it will certainly require a lot of focussing of research to utilise the new reactor. That's absolutely inevitable. Nobody builds a $300 million new reactor and then lets people do non-reactor-based research. So there's really two aspects of it. There's the dollar cost and then there's the redirection of research interests into areas where the potential is already known I would say. There's no blue sky there on that reactor whereas with other approaches, they may or may not fail, but the other approaches have some blue sky and if you can't see blue sky, then you're not going to get alot out of it. The blue sky is the future. And I think the reactor is, you're just looking at a rain-cloud from the past, you can't see too far."

Prof. Barry Allen: "I don't see why these things have to be closed door. I mean this is science and technology. If there are better facilities which would demonstrably serve us better in the 21st century we should be looking at them and comparing them to a new reactor. And if it turns out the new reactor stands head and shoulders above everything else, OK ..... But I really don't think that would be the case so that's the real problem. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the new reactor; its just that its too late and its not taking us in the new directions we should be going."

Chief Scientist John Stocker didn't want to comment. He learnt about the plan to build a new reactor in the press and wasn't asked to advise the government before the decision to build a new nuclear reactor.

The government did not consult with the current head of the CSIRO about the plan to build a new reactor.

Full transcript posted at

http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/30410/20090218-0153/www.geocities.com/jimg...

 


Senate investigates Sydney’s Collins-class reactor

Jim Green

November 2000

A federal Senate inquiry into the plan for a new nuclear research reactor in Sydney has heard evidence about a string of problems surrounding the project in the past fortnight.

Numerous government departments made submissions in support of the proposed reactor, including the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), the department of industry, science and resources, the so-called radiation protection agency, the department of foreign affairs and the so-called Australian safeguards and non-proliferation office. The inquiry also heard evidence from numerous critics of the plan for a new reactor, including Greenpeace, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, and the Sutherland Shire Environment Centre Council.

The Liberal Party senators on the Senate inquiry - Ross Lightfoot and Grant Chapman - were a constant source of amusement. I am told that Chapman appeared to be asleep during hearings on October 25. Lightfoot - notorious for describing Aborigines as the lowest end of the colour spectrum when he was first appointed as a senator representing Western Australia - wavered between aggressive questioning of opponents of the reactor plan about their qualifications and sources of income, to complete disinterest. Lightfoot’s tactic of grilling opponents of the reactor plan on their qualifications backfired with Garry Smith, Sutherland Shire Council’s senior environmental scientist:

Senator Lightfoot: Dr Smith, could you tell us what your qualifications are.

Dr Smith: “I have a Bachelor of Science from the University of Sydney, a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Western Australia and a Master of Planning from the University of Technology Sydney. I am currently the honorary chair of environmental science at the University of Wollongong and I am on the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) committees. ... As Director of the New South Wales Cancer Council Carcinogenesis Research Unit at the University of New South Wales for 10 years, I used radionuclides very frequently - imported and local. For the last nine years I have been attending the ANSTO site four times a year and, based on my scientific, biochemical and toxicity academic qualifications, I have been participating on that Committee. I was appointed by the Commonwealth government to the Probabilistic Safety Assessment Committee and the Seismic Hazard Committee  on the basis of my expertise rather than my affiliation with the council.”

Smith told the Senate hearing:

    “Frankly, based on the evidence I have seen over many years and on the evidence presented in the EIS process, this [reactor] proposal is an ill-judged proposal. The benefits are highly inflated for this proposal. I have a serious concern that it is a Commonwealth bureaucracy attempting to promote a development under loose Commonwealth laws and very poor accountability criteria. It is not even producing a design at the EIS stage for a major hazardous facility. The economics are questionable as two totally independent and highly eminent economists have advised us - highly questionable.”

    “In a scenario where a Commonwealth government does not ask the right questions, does not allow testing of information at a public inquiry - as would occur overseas - and where two unsuccessful tenderers raise the same types of questions about the proposal that we have been raising for over eight years, I think to move ahead with this proposal is ill judged and highly risky commercially, on safety grounds and on nuclear waste management grounds. That is my professional opinion on this proposal.”

Dozens of medical organisations and doctors submitted form letters arguing the specious case that a new reactor is required for isotope production. The president of the Association of Physicians in Nuclear Medicine, Barry Elison, was asked to comment on reports that he did not know that the Lucas Heights HIFAR reactor was shut down from February to May for maintenance. “I’m not sure if I said that”, was his curious response.

The submissions from doctors and medical organisations were notable for their numerous factual errors, stemming from the fact that doctors have no direct involvement in radioisotope production and most have little or no knowledge of the subject. The medical submissions also made numerous misleading assertions, a reflection of the vested interest of sections of the medical profession in an ongoing supply of subsidised isotopes from ANSTO. As Garry Smith told the inquiry, the assertions made to justify a new reactor for isotope supply “seem very much unaccompanied by evidence”.

Just to give a few examples of the errors in the medical submissions from Volume 1 of written submissions:

* Dr. McCarthy says ALL therapeutic isotopes are reactor produced. Wrong. Therapeutics such as iodine-125 and palladium-103 are produced in cyclotrons.

* a medical physicist by the name of Martin Carolan says that molybdenum-99 (which decays to form technetium-99m, used in about 75% of all nuclear medicine procedures) “could” be imported; apparently he doesn't know that molybdenum-99 already is imported, by Nycomed Amersham from Europe on a weekly basis, by ANSTO from South Africa on a regular / semi-regular basis, and by ANSTO from South Africa and Canada during HIFAR reactor shut-downs.

* Dr. Daunt is concerned that without a new reactor the isotope strontium-87 for the secondary bone cancer therapy will not be available. In fact, it's strontium-89 not strontium-87 (more precisely, strontium-89 chloride, marketed as Metastron), and it has never been produced by ANSTO because it is patented by Nycomed Amersham and is imported into Australia. Also, it's not for therapy but for palliation (pain relief), although to be fair, some define therapy to include palliation.

* Dr. Chatterton says without a new reactor in Australia we would be dependent on one overseas reactor (in Canada) for molybdenum-99. Nonsense, there are numerous overseas reactors irradiating targets to produce fission-product molybdenum-99. As the International Atomic Energy Agency said in IAEA Technical Document 1065, April 1999: "The present installed processing capacity [for molybdenum-99] is substantially larger than the demand (of about 6000 Ci per week (6-day precalibrated)), and the capacity for irradiation of targets is even higher. The large demand for Mo-99 has given it an 'industrial scale production' status." Chatterton has been one of the most vocal medical supporters of a new reactor - and he hasn't got his basic facts right. This issue of molybdenum-99 production is not a minor or tangential issue: on the contrary, about two-thirds of ALL nuclear medicine procedures around the world use technetium-99m drawn from imported molybdenum-99.

* Dr. Bibbo and Dr. Cain said in their Senate submission, “At present, there are no alternative modalities to nuclear medicine and it is envisaged there will not be in the future.” Rubbish. Compare that comment with this from Dr. A.F. Jacobson, "Nuclear medicine and other radiologic imaging techniques: competitors or collaborators?", European Journal of Nuclear Medicine, Vol.21(12), pp.1369-1372: "The future holds the potential for many unpleasant battles between competing imaging specialists as the need to obtain the maximum information in the minimum time and at the lowest cost intensifies. The applications of the radionuclide technique are not as broad as those of ultrasound, CT, or MRI, and this places great demands on the practitioners of our specialty to remain vigilant in the competition to retain a role in diagnostic imaging evaluations."

Some of the most interesting submissions to the Senate inquiry came from nuclear engineers including ex-ANSTO stock. Alan Parkinson, a nuclear engineer with over 40 years experience, including experience at ANSTO’s predecessor the Australian Atomic Energy Commission (AAEC) said in his Senate submission that he is “pro-nuclear and has no concerns about the construction of a new reactor at Lucas Heights”. However he provides detailed, first-hand evidence to substantiate damning claims about the competence, honesty and openness of the Department of Industry Science and Resources (DISR): “[DISR’s] record in project management and their lack of understanding of radiation and other technical subjects, as demonstrated publicly in recent months, leaves very much to be desired.”

Parkinson also provided ample evidence in support of his criticisms of the “independent regulator”:  “The newly formed Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) also has not performed particularly well in its first major assignment - the Maralinga project. Unless their performance as regulators improves, then the new reactor project will be a trail of compromises as is the case on the Maralinga project.”

Collins-class reactor

The choice of the Argentinean company Invap to build the proposed new Lucas Heights reactor was “risky” according to ex-ANSTO engineer Tony Wood, who likened Invap to “the new boy on the block”.

Wood told the Senate inquiry, “... the literature does not support the minister’s [Nick Minchin] claim that INVAP has a ‘solid track record’. It is not that it has a poor track record. It has no track record on the reactor of significance - that is, a 20-megawatt reactor. My fairly long exposure to the engineers of Technicatome, Siemens and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd leads me to the view that the INVAP choice, though possibly a good choice, was a risky one. When considered against the backdrop of the Collins submarine project, where we again chose to forsake experienced vendors in favour of the new boy on the block, I might even suggest that the decision was courageous.”

Another pro-nuclear Trojan horse to make a submission to the Senate inquiry was Dr Robert Turtle, a fellow of the Institution of Engineers Australia and a member of the Australian Nuclear Association. Turtle said he “strongly supports” the construction of a new reactor but he objects to the selection of Invap for the following reasons:

- “The Australian Contract is believed to be the largest contract undertaken by Invap. This violates financial and management criteria of prudential and sustainable development.”

- “It is not considered sound financial or management practice for an Organisation to undertake work greater than say 25-30% of its normal annual turnover. It is additionally imprudent to advance the scale and scope of work by large increments. Invap appears to be violating both these areas. ... Such companies are poorly placed to meet contingencies which arise, largely because of their lack of experience.”

- it has proved difficult or impossible to obtain Invap’s financial reports and accounts even though it is a government-owned agency.

Siemens, the German company which competed for the reactor project but lost, said in its Senate submission that Invap was the least experienced of the four short-listed tenderers. Siemens said the Australian government had allocated too little funding and that only a “highly subsidised” offer could comply with all performance and safety specifications and still come in on-budget.

Technicatome, the losing French tenderer for the reactor project, said in its written Senate submission:

- that ANSTO’s assessment of tenders was “mainly based on scientific calculations, and not on proven experience as asked by the tender documentation”;

- that ANSTO’s approach of having separate assessors working on different aspects of the assessment may have led to insufficient consideration of “the overall consistency of the concept proposed for the reactor, where the overall optimum is not the sum of each local optimum”;

- that ANSTO’s separate assessment of fuel and reactor issues was surprising “considering the strong dependence of both matters when designing a high performance reactor”; and

- that the reliance on theoretical assessment of performance parameters overlooks the “many technological reasons to decrease the neutron flux transmission at the point of use compared to the theoretical levels”.

Technicatome said, “We were surprised that the tender process ... led to the selection of the competitor which is generally considered to be the least experienced. For example, as far as we know none of the reactors built so far by the winning competitor have ... cold or hot sources or neutron guide hall installed, silicide fuel or containment.”

At a Senate inquiry hearing in Canberra on October 9, ANSTO admitted that it had not even visited Invap’s head office in Argentina. The May 16 Bulletin summarised a leaked report from a bureaucrat in Minchin’s department which describes a working tour of overseas research reactors. The report discusses taxi rides in Indonesia, wine making in Korea, the pyramids and a museum in Egypt, and the usual tourist haunts in France and Canada. As for the  research reactors, “I’m obviously at the foot of a very steep learning curve”, the bureaucrat said.

Numerous concerns about the operations of Invap were raised by Dr. Raúl Montenegro, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the National University of Cordoba, in his written submissions to the inquiry and in his phone link-up with the senators. Montenegro’s concerns span Invap’s experience, safety and performance records, and Invap’s ability to fulfill agreements it made during the reactor contracting process in relation to spent reactor fuel.

So why was Invap chosen? On paper, it probably had the best bid - but there’s a huge question as to whether it can meet performance and safety specifications. Perhaps Invap’s bid is subsidised or underwritten by the Argentinean government, an advantage which other tenderers may not have enjoyed.

Waste

Part of the reasoning for Invap’s selection is likely to relate to promises made about spent fuel. It may be necessary to use silicide fuel in the proposed new reactor until an alternative fuel type is available. Siemens said in its Senate submission, “It has been suggested to [Siemens] at the formal debriefing meeting that the successful tenderer has mitigated the risk to ANSTO should more than approximately two cores be required.”

One of the possibilities for spent fuel from the proposed new reactor is that it would be sent to Argentina for conditioning and then returned to Australia as long-lived intermediate-level waste for indefinite storage. However, Argentina’s constitution precludes the importation of radioactive waste. Invap may (or may not) be able to circumvent the constitution by defining spent fuel as something other than radioactive waste. Montenegro believes the reactor contract between Invap and ANSTO is null and void because of the constitutional breach. Another difficulty is that Argentina may not have the facilities to treat spent fuel.

Secrecy

Montenegro has received four letters from Invap threatening legal action and urging him to stop disseminating comments “injurious” to Invap. Montenegro has drawn this matter to the attention of the Australian Senate inquiry, in the hope that public scrutiny of Invap’s tactics will allow for an open, public debate.

The situation is no better in Australia. Several opponents of the new reactor plan have been threatened with defamation suits. A senior government bureaucrat has publicly gloated about the government’s decision “to starve the opponents of oxygen ... just keep them in the dark completely.”  Similarly, a Department of Industry, Science and Resources briefing document said there is “no point in consulting with potential/hypothetical recipients of a new reactor.”

ANSTO staff are also feeling the heat.  ANSTO “Staff Representing Truth in Science” said in their March 3 letter that “ANSTO management appears to be endeavoring to muzzle staff comments external to the organisation”. Even the president of the Australian Nuclear Association has recently complained about the “culture of secrecy” at ANSTO.

In October, the Sydney Morning Herald was told by ANSTO that it would cost $7099.78 to obtain two pages of information about the tender decision-making process following a freedom of information application. Greenpeace was told by ANSTO that it would have to pay $6,809.25 for 22 pages of information and that almost 1300 pages of relevant information would not be made available at any price.

The federal government claims to have conducted a study on potential siting options around Australia but refuses to release the study. The reactor contract is secret. Spent fuel reprocessing contracts are secret. Calls for an independent public inquiry into the reactor issue - from the Sutherland Shire Council, the 1993 Research Reactor Review, the Senate Economics References Committee, and many other organisations and individuals - have been ignored. The establishment of a “Community Right to Know Charter” has been stone-walled by ANSTO for several years.

Tony Wood told the Senate inquiry, “If I had to sum up my concerns in one sentence, it would be that for the first time in my long association with the AAEC and ANSTO I do not feel comfortable with what the organisation is telling the public and its own staff.” An ANSTO engineer with 25 years experience said in 1997, “(It is an) unfortunate state of affairs that dear old ANSTO, which lives off taxpayer's money, is feeding us all this propaganda and very little objective information.” On DISR’s handling of the Maralinga “clean-up”, Alan Parkinson says, “A very disturbing feature of the Maralinga project is the lack of openness about what was done. Even those who might be the future custodians of the land have not been kept truthfully informed on the project.”

 


Senate report slams reactor plan

Jim Green

June 2001

A federal senate committee which inquired into the plan for a new nuclear research reactor in the southern Sydney suburb of Lucas Heights has slammed the proposal in a report released on May 23.

The majority report of the committee is a joint production of the Labor Party and the Democrats. The Democrats also wrote a minority report, taking a more critical line on the reactor project than the Labor Party, and a minority report from Liberal and National Party senators restates the government's support for a new reactor.

On the alleged need for a research reactor in Australia, the committee concluded that "... no conclusive or compelling case has been established to support the proposed new reactor and ... the proposed new reactor should not proceed."

The committee found that "the decision to build a new reactor was taken without a detailed investigation of Australia's present and future scientific and medical needs". It was not convinced that logistical difficulties constitute a serious obstacle to the importation of radioisotopes, and also noted the expanding medical and scientific applications of alternative technologies such as cyclotrons.

On the foreign policy agenda driving the Coalition government's plan for a new reactor, the committee found that "... the justification for the new research reactor solely on national interest grounds is not strong where national interest is defined on purely 'security' and non-proliferation grounds." The committee said the government's argument that a new reactor is required to facilitate nuclear disarmament and the implementation of nuclear safeguards is "tenuous".

The committee went on to say, "The argument for the new research reactor on national interest grounds is more convincing when all areas of nuclear technology are considered, including its role in the region as an educational, research and training centre. The Committee believes, however, that this reason alone is not sufficient to justify the new research reactor. If the reactor is to go ahead, then the main considerations in establishing the need for a reactor must be its place as a research tool providing a neutron source for Australian researchers and products for industry, the health care system and the potential impacts on the environment."

The committee recommended that before the government proceeds any further with the project it should establish an independent public inquiry into the alleged need for a new nuclear reactor and related issues such as funding for both medical and scientific research in Australia. The government rejected that recommendation on the same day the senate report was released.

Secrecy

The senate committee was particularly critical of the Coalition government and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) for their secrecy. It said, "The Committee is highly critical of ANSTO's attitude which seeks to make a parliamentary committee subordinate to the whims of a government agency and prevents that committee from exercising its responsibility to scrutinise the executive. The Committee therefore appreciates the frustration experienced by the Sutherland Shire Council and members of the public who have experienced a similar attitude."

The report also states, "The Committee is highly critical of ANSTO's approach to providing documents. Its attitude seems to stem from a culture of secrecy so embedded that it has lost sight of its responsibility to be accountable to the Parliament."

Even Liberal and National Party senators conceded that point, accepting "... that ANSTO could have been more helpful in providing certain less commercially sensitive information to the Committee and could have been more willing to seek a compromise when sensitive material was involved."

The committee recommended that Senator Nick Minchin, the minister for industry, science and resources, should be censured for his refusal to comply with an order of the senate to table various documents relating to project including the reactor contract between ANSTO and the Argentinean company Invap, and the spent fuel reprocessing contract between ANSTO and the French company Cogema.

The committee recommended that the Australian National Audit Office "consider examining the tender and contract documents for the new reactor" with a view to determining whether documents sought by the committee and the senate should be made public; whether the cost estimate for the reactor is accurate; and whether, during the tendering process, ANSTO ensured that there was adequate and appropriate independent verification and validation of the tenderers' claims.

Waste

The committee expressed numerous concerns about the failure of ANSTO and the federal government to put in place plans to manage radioactive wastes arising from the existing HIFAR reactor or the planned new reactor.

Arrangements for spent fuel are particularly tenuous. ANSTO has a contract with the French company Cogema to reprocess spent fuel from the HIFAR reactor, and the contract also has provisions covering spent fuel from a new reactor. However, Cogema's medium- to long-term future cannot be assured giving mounting political pressure to end reprocessing in Europe.

In March, a French court prohibited the unloading of a shipment of ANSTO's spent fuel at a French port. While the decision was overturned on appeal, and the spent fuel was transferred to Cogema's plant at La Hague, further court action is underway. Greenpeace France is awaiting the judgement of a French court as to whether Cogema's storage of spent fuel from ANSTO is legal under the provisions of the 1991 Waste Management Act which seeks to prevent La Hague being used as a DE FACTO waste storage site. ANSTO and the federal government hope that reprocessing wastes will not be returned to Australia for at least 10-15 years. Regardless of the outcome of the current court case, Cogema does not yet have the licenses required to reprocess spent fuel from ANSTO.

For the new reactor, ANSTO plans to use a uranium-molybdenum fuel type, but this fuel type is still under development. If the reactor project proceeds and the uranium-molybdenum fuel type is not yet available, ANSTO plans to use a uranium-silicide fuel as an interim measure. It is far from certain that Cogema could or would reprocess silicide spent fuel. The ANSTO/Cogema contract specifically precludes reprocessing of silicide spent fuel, although ANSTO claims to have subsequently obtained an in-principle agreement from Cogema to reprocess silicide spent fuel.

A back-up plan for silicide spent fuel - sending it to Argentina for 'processing' - is still more tenuous. This would generate a political controversy and, most likely, legal challenges, in Argentina. One basis for a legal challenge would be Argentina's constitution, which prohibits the importation of radioactive waste - unsurprisingly, ANSTO's claim that spent fuel is not radioactive waste is not universally accepted.

Moreover, Invap has admitted that there are no facilities to process spent fuel in Argentina despite ANSTO's statement in October 2000 that "Invap has satisfied ANSTO that they already have the basic facilities and technology that would be required should processing by Invap be needed." In fact, Invap has no processing facilities, while the Argentinean nuclear agency CNEA only has partly-constructed, partly-operational experimental processing facilities at the Ezeiza Atomic Center.

Because of the uncertainties surrounding spent fuel, the senate committee recommended that ANSTO prepare and fully cost a contingency plan for spent fuel conditioning and disposal within Australia, fully describing the technologies which would be used.

 

Even if ANSTO is able to send spent fuel overseas for reprocessing (or similar processes called processing or conditioning), the resulting wastes will be returned to Australia and there is no store to receive this material. The government is stalling on this issue, and does not plan to announce a site for a store for long-lived intermediate-level wastes (LLILW), including reprocessing wastes, until late 2002 at the earliest.

In 1998 and 1999, the federal government was attempting to fast-track plans for an underground dump for low-level nuclear waste in South Australia. However, planning for an underground dump for low-level waste has also been stalled, with the government deciding to hand-ball this problem to the next government.

In 1998, the government said it planned to begin construction of the dump in the year 2000. The current timetable is for a draft environmental impact statement to be released in 2002, with construction probably not beginning until the following year. With several polls indicating that 86-93% of South Australians are opposed to the dump, it remains doubtful whether the dump will ever be built.

Labor Party obfuscation

Although the Labor Party endorsed the majority report of the senate committee, it has not committed to stopping the reactor project if it wins the federal election later this year. Nor does the senate report commit the Labor Party to establishing an independent public inquiry into the project if it wins government.

Labor's public statements on the reactor have been contradictory. Environment spokesperson Nick Bolkus said in a March 16, 2001 media release, "Labor today stepped up its calls on the Government to abandon plans for a new nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights". In January 2001, Bolkus sent a letter to the People Against a Nuclear Reactor Campaign group in which he says, "A Labor Government will subject the contract to the closest scrutiny with a view to attempting to stop the construction of a new nuclear reactor." Industry spokesperson Carmen Lawrence said in a January 22, 2001 media release that the "the Federal Opposition repeats its calls on the Government to scrap plans for the construction of a $326 million new reactor at Lucas Heights" and recommended investing instead in "innovative technologies for a cleaner, greener future".

On the other hand, Labor was embarrassed by a report in the March 28 Sydney Morning Herald which said that Labor's science spokesperson Martyn Evans had admitted telling the Argentinean ambassador that Labor had "never been in the business of simply cancelling contracts". In 1999, federal Labor MPs endorsed a report of the federal parliament's Public Works Committee which concluded that "that a need existed to replace HIFAR with a modern reactor". In 1998, a letter from then Labor deputy leader Gareth Evans to ANSTO was released in which Evans said that Labor's stated policy of opposing the construction of a reactor at Lucas Heights (but not necessarily elsewhere) was due to "the realities of politics in an election year, and in particular our need to win [the federal seat of] Hughes".

Bolkus said in the March 17, 2001 Sydney Morning Herald, "We [a Labor government] will closely scrutinise the contract and the legal commitments and make an economic assessment ... but obviously we'll be looking ... to see how to get the Australian people out of it. ... If we found we have to pay $200 million in damages [to Invap] or something, it's a pretty hard decision." Cancelling the reactor contract would require payment to Invap and its sub-contractors for work already carried out plus penalties for breaking the contract - the total would probably be between $50-70 million if the contract was cancelled early- to mid-2002.

If elected, Labor will also assess the political costs of pursuing or cancelling the reactor project. The next government will also have to deal with the growing stockpile of spent fuel and other radioactive wastes - a problem which will be far more difficult to resolve if a new reactor is built.

The senate report can be downloaded at

http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/lucasheights_ctte