Four incidents occur at Australian reactor in a week

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Friday, June 16, 2006

The Lucas Heights Science and Technology facility
Wikinews Australia has in-depth coverage of this issue: Australian nuclear debate

The Australian federal opposition has attacked the Howard government following four incidents in a week at the HIFAR nuclear research reactor in Lucas Heights, South of Sydney. The incidents come just a week after the Australian government announced an inquiry into the feasibility of nuclear power.

The first incident occurred on June 8, when a carbon canister containing radioactive material exploded, blowing out seals in a cell at the Lucas Heights site. The accident is believed to be an explosion in a carbon canister containing radioactive material, which blew the seals out on Hot Cell No 2 in Building 54 releasing small amounts of xenon and krypton into the atmosphere.

Jenny Macklin (Jagajaga, Labor), shadow science minister and deputy leader of the opposition accused science minister Julie Bishop (Curtin, Liberal) of misleading the parliament. Ms Bishop told parliament on Wednesday that "there was no measurable contamination found outside the immediate area where the incident occurred,"

Ms Bishop denied there being any radiation threat to the community. "According to ANSTO, there was absolutely no radiation threat to the health of the workers of ANSTO or the community."

Jenny Macklin said in a statement on Wednesday that details of the incident were being hidden. "The local community deserves to be told what actually happened at the Lucas Heights reactor last Thursday, and why the release of radioactive gases into the atmosphere was not made public," said Ms Macklin.

Following Ms Macklin's statement ANSTO said it was "surprised and disappointed" at Ms Macklin's comments. ANSTO refuted that it failed to adequately notify the community saying that they released a media statement the day after the incident. ANSTO said that radiation released during the incident was "so low as not to be directly measurable". ANSTO said that it could however calculate the amount of radioactive material released and it was a "very small fraction of the radiation dose received by everyone each year from naturally occurring sources of radiation".

ANSTO assured the public that the releases could not be detected off-site.

Following a statement by the science minister on Thursday that she was unaware of any incidents at ANSTO in the 12 months prior to the latest incidents, the opposition again questioned Ms Bishop's competence. Ms Macklin asked how the minister could not be informed about compliance reports issued by Australia's nuclear regulator ARPANSA that state there were 12 incidents at Lucas Heights in 2005.

Following Ms Macklin's removal from the house, Anthony Albanese (Grayndler, Labor), shadow environment minister questioned Ms Bishop about incidents at ANSTO on Wednesday. According to ANSTO, a worker received a low dose of radiation from Iodine-123 while packaging radiopharmaceuticals. ANSTO claims that the technician received a dose around four per cent of the annual limit for radiation workers and much less than a thyroid cancer patient would receive during a nuclear medicine scan.

In a statement, Ms Macklin later accused the science minister of being ill-informed of the incident at Lucas Heights, saying it was concerning the government had an "incompetent" science minister at a time when they were "pushing the benefits of nuclear power".

Responding to the opposition's questions during question time in the House of Representatives, the science minister accused the opposition of engaging in a scare campaign to close down a facility that provides "a medical service for cancer suffers across Australia.

ANSTO has said that the radiation dose received by the technician was so low he did not require medical attention once he had undergone several tests.

ANSTO admitted another two incidents occurred at its Lucas Heights facility on Thursday. The first occurred when a worker who was cleaning a production area burst a package of radioactive material. The second occurred when a worker packing a radiopharmaceutical dropped a small vial. ANSTO said that the amount of radiation received by both workers was extremely low.

ANSTO said that while it is uncommon for two incidents to occur on a single day, it was not uncommon for minor incidents to occur once a month.


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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.