New reactor safety fears

May 29, 2003

Confirmation of serious safety breaches in the construction of the new nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights have alarmed community and environment groups, who are demanding an immediate halt to construction works and an independent inquiry.

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) has admitted in today's St George & Sutherland Shire Leader, that twenty crucial holes for pipework in 2 primary safety containments "do not line up." This problem was reportedly known to the contracted builders, INVAP, in February and the latest problem in a long line of incidents and irregularities at the site.

"INVAP are getting one of the most simple, yet highly critical stages of construction wrong, it sends a frightening indication of problems to come," said Greenpeace nuclear campaigner James Courtney.

"This basic construction mistake seriously compromises key radiation safety and containment measures at the reactor," said Australian Conservation Foundation nuclear campaigner, Dave Sweeney. "It is a serious public risk for workers, residents and the wider Sydney community and ARPANSA must act immediately."

The Australian Radiation and Nuclear Protection Agency (ARPANSA), has said that it will not approve the repairs unless the tank meets all the originally specified standards. The federal nuclear safety regulator also wants ANSTO to demonstrate that a thorough examination has been undertaken of the quality assurance process. Green groups believe this can only be done with an independent Inquiry.

"The community is entitled to the assurance of a full independent inquiry. ANSTO does not have the trust of the community to ensure these serious safety problems are dealt with fully and openly," said local resident and People Against a Nuclear Reactor convenor, Michael Priceman. "Our community and local Council do not want this reactor and news of cut corners and cracked construction makes us more determined to fight."

"We're now seeing that Argentinian company INVAP, can't meet the safety requirements to build a nuclear reactor in Sydney - Australia's largest population centre," said James Courtney. "Despite this the Federal Government continues to play russian roulette with the health and safety of locals and the Sydney community."

Environment groups feared just such problems based on INVAP's poor track record - their Egyptian ETRR-2 reactor has been plagued by safety and operational problems. A factor acknowledge by ARPANSA CEO John Loy as a concern when he granted the construction licence:

"There do appear to be contractual issues between Egypt and INVAP regarding the issue of completion and handover. There are also some issues that relate, at least potentially to safety, that are still the subject of debate between INVAP and the EAEA."

(Decision by the CEO of ARPANSA on application to construct the replacement research reactor at Lucas Heights ? Reasons for Decision 4 April 2002)

For more information contact:

Bruce Thompson
Friends of the Earth
Mob: 0417 318 368

Dave Sweeney
Australian Conservation Foundation
Ph: (03) 9345 1130
Mob: 0408 317 812