'Fact and fantasy' at Lucas Heights reactor

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'Fact and fantasy' at Lucas Heights reactor

By Jim Green

SYDNEY — The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), which operates the nuclear reactor in southern Sydney, is distributing a document called "Lucas Heights — Fact and Fantasy".

Responding to widespread dissatisfaction with the environmental impact statement on its plan to build a new reactor, the ANSTO document says the EIS is comprehensive and was assessed by "independent experts".

The EIS was produced by ANSTO itself! It was a multimillion-dollar bureaucratic whitewash, a classic case of putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank. ANSTO and the federal government's real strategy was, in the words of a senior government bureaucrat, to "starve the opponents of oxygen" by denying them information about the project.

Even though the "independent experts" were hand-picked by the government, they raised many criticisms of ANSTO's EIS. The reviews commissioned by the anti-reactor Sutherland Shire Council were absolutely scathing of the EIS.

In response to the charge that the need for a new reactor has not been established, "Fact and Fantasy" says "Several major reviews, including that of the Australian Scientific and Technology Council (ASTEC Major Facilities Review 1992), establish the need for the replacement reactor".

In fact, ASTEC conducted nothing more than a preliminary review of major science facilities. ASTEC said in 1993 that the 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."

The 1993 Research Reactor Review said, "The case for a new reactor on science grounds cannot be sustained".

The ANSTO document mentions a number of scientific and medical organisations which have expressed support for a new reactor. ANSTO fails to acknowledge that, with few exceptions, the only scientists and doctors expressing support are those with vested commercial and/or career interests in a new reactor.

ANSTO fails to mention that the government did not consult the chief scientist, ASTEC or the CSIRO before deciding to replace the existing reactor. In 1993, the CSIRO said, "More productive research could be funded for the cost of a new reactor".

ANSTO claims that its operations have had "no impact" on the community. However, the nuclear industry (including ANSTO) acknowledges that there is no threshold below which radiation is safe. ANSTO acknowledges that it routinely releases radiation into the surrounding community.

Put these two facts together, and it cannot be denied that ANSTO's operations adversely affect the health of local residents. While there is room for endless debate on the degree of the adverse health impacts, ANSTO's claim that its operations have "no impact" is pure fantasy.

Sydney People Against a Nuclear Reactor was formed on April 16 to complement the People Against a Nuclear Reactor group in southern Sydney. SPANNR meets every Friday at the office of the National Union of Students, level 2, 9 Albion Place, Sydney. Phone Natalie on 9267 4462 for more information.