Science minister approves reactor



Science minister approves reactor

By Jim Green

SYDNEY — On May 3, federal science minister Nick Minchin gave his approval for the construction of a new nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights. Minchin's announcement coincided with national science week. The reactor will be the biggest single investment in a science facility in Australia's history.

Yet the government failed to consult the chief scientist, or the Australian Science, Technology and Engineering Council, before deciding to replace the existing reactor. Nor was the CSIRO consulted, probably because the CSIRO had previously said that "more productive research could be funded for the cost of a new reactor".

A government bureaucrat has acknowledged that it is government policy to "starve the opponents of oxygen" by tightly controlling information about the reactor. However, information continues to leak from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).

Staff recently passed on information regarding a non-reactor isotope production technique in the US which can produce significant volumes of the most commonly used medical isotope, technetium-99. The US technology could supply Australia's requirements for less than 10% of the cost of a new reactor.

There appear to be splits within Coalition's ranks over the reactor proposal. Following public hearings by the federal Public Works Committee in Sydney on May 6, committee members insisted that ANSTO spend a day in Canberra answering questions rather than the one hour allocated. On his way out, a National Party committee member was heard to say, "Fuck ANSTO. We're not here to give them a rubber stamp. We're not giving them a fucking free kick."

A rally was held outside the May 6 hearings, attracting 150 people. Speakers included representatives from People Against a Nuclear Reactor, Green Left Weekly, the ALP, Democrats, Greens, and Sydney People Against a New Nuclear Reactor.