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In 1958 the first and only nuclear reactor of any kind was commissioned at Lucas Heights. Its stated purpose was to assess the possibility of nuclear power in Australia. The first years of the nuclear reactor's operations were during the "Cold War", so it also carried out some research on nuclear weapons. Around 1970 both areas of research were discontinued and five years later the reactor was described as being technologically obsolete.

From that time, at intervals of five years or so, requests were made to successive Federal Governments for a new reactor and, just as frequently, the requests were rejected. In 1992, following another try, the government set up the Research Reactor Review to investigate the request. The Review rejected the need for a new reactor on the grounds that the scientific effort alone could not carry the case - there was no prospect of commercial or industrial capital. The Review added that work should be commenced immediately to identify and establish a high level waste repository.

This Review was the only independent public inquiry that has ever been carried out on nuclear activity in Australia. The SSEC was heavily involved in it.

In 1997 the Federal Government arbitrarily announced that a new reactor would be built and that it would be at Lucas Heights. Since then the Centre has continued to oppose the proposal on the grounds of cost, safety, emergency planning, national interest, lack of access to insurance, waste storage and handling, and intergenerational responsibility. Detailed arguments on each of these points can be found in this website in the form of submissions to both Australian and international inquiries.

In co-operation with People Against a Nuclear Reactor (PANR) the Centre's policy is to:
  • Urge the HIFAR reactor be closed down urgently and eventually decommissioned in the safest way to prevent harm to workers and to members of the local community.

  • Oppose the building of a new reactor either at Lucas Heights or at any other location in Australia.

  • Support responsible waste management practices that will be sustainable to future generations. Passing on a problem to our descendants is unacceptable.

  • Support a major scientific establishment at Lucas Heights but without the use of a nuclear reactor. Such an advance would have the total support of the local community. It would erase the years of mistrust of the operator.

  • Encourage research into alternative methods of producing radioisotopes. In particular those of use for medical therapeutic purposes. Australia could become a world leader in the manufacture and use of accelerators, which do not produce intractable waste. This would ensure that employment increase to the level of a decade ago.

  • Urge the NSW Government to independently carry out a study on local residents' health, funded by the Federal Government. No serious study of local residents' health has ever been undertaken. The effects of radiation on health may take decades to show up. Because HIFAR has been operating for 42 years any adverse effects may now be evident.

  • Urge the Federal Government to ratify the international agreements on liability in the case of an accident involving any nuclear device in Australia.

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Nuclear Campaign Report 2001

The campaign against a new reactor at Lucas Heights is now in its fourth year - a huge stress on our team of extraordinary, ord04.02.08nst a Nuclear Reactor (PANR) the group has kept its core nucleus of dedicated people. At the same time it has gained others, each with different skills and enthusiasms. We received the Pulse of the Planet Environment Award for 2000 for an outstanding contribution to the environment from the Australian Geographic Society and Today FM, and this cheered us tremendously.

New Groups

SPANNR, Sydney People Against a New Nuclear Reactor was formed and it has groups amongst the wider Sydney community. Many are from the 'younger end of town' and can act more outrageously than we more conservative folk but we are all working towards the same result. Cooperation between PANR and the major national groups - Greenpeace, ACF, and FoE - is good and we are seen as a knowledgeable organisation.

Health and Emergency Planning

At the time of the last NSW State election the ALP promised the Greens an inquiry into feasibility of a health study of the local community. After much foot-dragging it is almost underway. At the same time it promised an investigation into the adequacy of the emergency plans in the event of an accident involving the reactor. This was done by an ex police officer with experience in the field. He found that "the NSW emergency management services were amongst the best in the world" and that only a few matters needed improvement. Recently three members of the community were appointed, by Council, to the Local Emergency Management Committee. After initially being treated with suspicion, the atmosphere has changed markedly. The ANSTO representative frankly admitted that the plans were "not user friendly, were contradictory and should be revised".


The 3 year-old nuclear regulator proved itself to be just another tool of government. Its independence is fatally flawed as it reports to the Minister for Health and his Department which is too closely allied to the nuclear industry. It granted a licence for the continuing operation of the obsolete HIFAR reactor. Its only qualifying comment was that a further application would be required should it need to operate it "substantially beyond 2006, the currently planned shutdown date".

In the light of the appalling events in New York the attitude of ARPANSA's CEO is revealing. In his comments that accompanied his approval of the site and in reply to public submission he said, "Of course, it is possible to posit all sorts of simultaneous disasters and suggest superhuman powers to saboteurs or enemies; but that does not help the careful evaluation of a real life proposal ." The definition of real life has been changed.

At the same time that it is handing out licences, ARPANSA is still examining and revising its regulatory assessment criteria, its guidelines on intervention in the case of an accident and who knows what else. (It licensed HIFAR befor e the final report of the third or fourth inquiry on the effects of an earthquake affecting the site. The result of the earlier inquiry was described by some members as being "overly conservative". And we thought that this was what nuclear regulation was all about.

At present ARPANSA is examining the application from ANSTO to construct a new reactor. Its intention is to make its decision in February. A lot hinges on the upcoming Federal Election. All parties - except the coalition - have said that Lucas Heights is not the right site, even if a new reactor is seen to be necessary. How the ALP would act, if elected, remains to be seen but there would be intense pressure on it if it were.

The Senate Inquiry into the Contract for a New Reactor - May 2001

The Committee notes that the Government has failed to establish a conclusive or compelling case for the new reactor, and recommends that before the Government proceeds any further it undertake an independent public review into the need for a new nuclear reactor. Recommendation-Chapter 11, p. 224

This is the position that was taken by the Sutherland Shire Council and by PANR. A summary of the Committee's findings can be found on the SSEC Web Page

Alternative Technologies

Another area of great importance was that of alternative technologies. We were able to stress these at Senate Hearings. We are grateful that the Committee acknowledged this in its report.

Meanwhile Sutherland Shire Council commissioned a report from the US that examined alternatives to industrial/research nuclear reactors. It found that by investing and developing accelerators instead of reactors Australia could be a world leader in that form of technology. Its benefits would be a) cost, tens rather that hundreds of millions of dollars to build, b) provide similar employment opportunities, c) excellent prospects for research and training, d) better intellectual property opportunities, e) minimal radioactive waste and f) the plant could not be used for weapons research.

In summary, we know that the next six months will continue to be frantic and feel confident that we will win.
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Nuclear Report 2000

The last twelve months has felt like being strapped to a railway line and hearing the train thundering in the distance. But, ever optimistic, we know that rescue will come at the last minute and we will be able to get back to normal life. So what has been happening?

ARPANSA approved a licence for the Lucas Heights site for a new reactor. Predictably it had 'conditions' attached but the approval, like the EIS, was inevitable - government departments rarely deny a project to another member of the family. ARPANSA is responsible to the Minister of Health, Environment Australia to the Minister for the Environment and ANSTO to the Minister for Science - all members of the Cabinet that approved the project.

Severe criticism of ARPANSA's performance over its 15-month life from peak environment groups (and SSEC) caused it concern as to its perceived integrity. It delayed the licensing process for the ANSTO activities that have been unlicensed for the past 42 years, asking for further details before proceeding. It also wants to hold a meeting(s) aimed at improving its communications with the public. (A copy of our assessment is available on request.)

The Community Right to Know Charter fails to eventuate. The negotiations between ANSTO and community representatives that began in November 1994 finally collapsed in May 2000. After mediation by Mr John Woodward it was declared that, due to ANSTO's unwillingness to provide information outside the Freedom of Information Acts the negotiations be called off. It is now up to the Minister for the Environment, Senator Hill to intervene as it was a condition of his approval of the EIS that a charter be finalised.

Sutherland Shire Council has called for an independent, preferably Royal, commission of inquiry into those aspects of the approvals, contracts etc. that are contentious or secret. A large rally was held at Menai in March to support this action. The Council Reactor Task Force has worked mightily to prevent the project going ahead. SSEC and PANR attend all the meetings to give a community perspective.

The surprise winning tender came from INVAP of Argentina. As it has no experience of building a reactor in any advanced country the choice came as a surprise (although a local shopkeeper told us that it was certain several months ago). Its competitors were from Germany, France and Canada. Was it the cheapest offer? Who knows, it is a State Secret. It is deemed to be 'not in the National Interest' to release its content.

The contract, for around $320 million, was signed in June without anyone seeing a technical specification. That will arrive next year after it is designed. The signing of such a contract shows a degree of faith of biblical proportions. The specification will be subjected to a provisional safety assessment followed by a (thorough?) examination by ARPANSA. Then, early in 2002, ANSTO will be asked to apply for a licence to start construction. It should be stressed that the Project is only half way round the track and although the other competitors are heavily handicapped, the race ain't over yet!

With outstanding help from the members of People Against a Nuclear Reactor (PANR) who have worked tirelessly since September 1997 we believe that we have achieved a lot. Jim mentioned that when he attended the Ambassador's reception in New York, the SSEC was known due to its activities on the reactor. It gave us a warm and glowing feeling for a few minutes and then we got back to work.

We still need more volunteers to man (person) the nuclear desk. We guarantee lots of work, plenty to read and people to annoy. Please give us a ring. For more details contact Michael Priceman Telephone 9520 3115, Email
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1999 - the Year of the Nuclear Industry?

1999 could be described as the Year of the Nuclear Industry in Australia. There has been a confluence of the uranium miners, the new reactor project and the national radioactive waste dump. In fact Australia has become so popular that it has been earmarked by the International Waste Producers Co-operative (PANGEA) as the ideal place for the permanent storage of the nuclear waste that countries such as the UK, USA, USSR have found impossible to deal with.

The year has brought us the Environment report on the suitability of Lucas Heights as the site for a new reactor. It found that it was perfect, based on what ANSTO described as its pessimistic assumptions that the frequency of a worst case accident was one in a million per year and therefore the maximum risk to an individual developing a fatal cancer was one in 6 billion per year. Armed with those sporting odds the Insurance Council of Australia still refuses to insure the public.

There has also been a report from the Parliamentary Joint Public Works Committee which gave its approval for the funding to go ahead, using abundant quotations from ANSTO which it used, not a proponent but as the Government's chief advisor on nuclear matters. It also pointed to National Security as a major reason for a new reactor. It claimed that Australia needed its expertise on the nuclear fuel cycle so that "it could assist developing countries in our neighbourhood and beyond on the peaceful use of nuclear science". 1 assume that this refers to China, Japan, North and South Korea, India, Pakistan and of course Indonesia.

One page later it quoted from the Department of Foreign Affairs, a strong advocate for our nuclear involvement, that "it is a fact that the possession of nuclear fuel cycle technology and facilities may shorten the time required to develop nuclear weapons". Having admitted last December in the release of 30 year government papers that weapons research had been carried out here (Lucas Heights?) until 1968 how would we be seen as the messenger for nuclear weapons non-proliferation in the region?

Another recent report came from the Senate Economics Reference Committee. As this was - not set up by the Government it was severely critical of the process so far, in that it had relied, not on the recommendations of the Research Reactor Review but on thevested interests of ANSTO. It called for an independent public inquiry before the matter progressed further. Minister for Science Nick Minchin told the Committee to forget it.

There were some bright spots during the year. First was the involvement of the Peak Environment Groups in opposition to the Reactor. The ACF has sponsored for six months a paid organiser for People Against a Nuclear Reactor, based in the Centre. Kooryn Sheaves has proved a great asset and we are now working in a more structured and hopefully way. She also forced us to have an AGM last week. Earlier in the year we has two very bright students from Scotland who helped us as part of their degree studies.

The other flash of light was the Council Election. It is still my opinion that, if the previous Council had not followed its meandering Party line, our fight would have been won and 1 would have been home catching up all those unread books. From the new Council the very least 1 expect is that it reads the reports of its Chief Environmental Scientist and follows their recommendations. But there are many things that the Council can do and we will be glad to co-operate with it.

We are keeping a close eye on the new nuclear regulatory body, ARPANSA. which was born in February after a six year gestation period. At the present time it is not obvious whether ANSTO or the regulator is pushing the buttons. The first licence application was not for the existing plant and operations which have been unlicensed for the past forty years but for the Lucas Heights site as being suitable for a new reactor.
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