Residents concerned for Lucas Heights safety

Wednesday, September 25, 1991

By John Tognolini

SYDNEY — Lucas Heights, on the southern edge of Sydney, has become a national dumping ground for radioactive waste. More than 10,000 drums of radioactive soil were transported there from Victoria, and there is a proposal for Lucas Heights to take radioactive waste from a site at St Marys in Sydney's western suburbs.

Yet the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor, the only one in Australia, is running out of storage space for its own waste. It has almost run out of space for its spent fuel rods. The reactor creates one spent rod every month.

These rods are supposed to be enclosed in concrete and transported for reprocessing overseas. The Australian National Science and Technology Organisation, the federal government agency responsible for Lucas Heights, has stopped this treatment of the spent fuel rods, now accumulate in a "nuclear pond".

Directly opposite the reactor is the Lucas Heights land fill, which has had radioactive waste stored in it for a number of years. Liquid radioactive waste has been found in the local sewage system.

Len Kannar, who has studied the 30-year history of Lucas Heights said, "the reactor safety systems are not up to a world standard". The reactor was built in Harwell, England, in 1956 and shipped out here and assembled in 1958. In 1962, it began operating, creating isotopes for medicine.

Peter Hopper, from the Sutherland Shire Environment Centre, is critical of the Lucas Heights management's attitude to Engadine residents only 1.5 kilometres away from the reactor.

"They say they have an evacuation plan. But they have kept it a secret, so what's the point of it?"

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