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Nuclear medicine practitioners were keen to support a n e w reactor because their careers are dependent o n security of supply of radioisotopes. So too they have a financial stake in the matter: they are concerned that in the absence of a domestic reactor, radioisotope prices might increase but Medicare Schedule fees would not reflect the increased costs. T h o u g h supply might be equally secure and inexpen-sive in the absence of a domestic reactor, there seems to be a genuine belief a m o n g nuclear medicine practitioners that it is very m u c h in their interests for there to be a domestic reactor source. A N S T O has played a major role in cultivating that


this problem is essential and necessary well prior to any future decision about a new reactor It would be utterly wrong to decide on a new reactor before progress is made on identification of a high level waste repository site.

The Review (p.xx) noted that the costs of HLW disposal will be very high, and will include identification of a suitable site, construction of a repository, and transport of H L W . T h e Review (p.xxiii) also laid to rest A N S T O ' s notion that 1600 or so spent fuel rods stored at Lucas Heights are a financial asset:

The spent fuel rods at Lucas Heights can only sensibly be treated as high level waste. World opinion is moving in the direction of favouring the

conditioning and direct disposal of spent fuel rods in preference to

reprocessing. In any case, maintenance of the view that reprocessing is the best option inevitably involves return to Australia of by-product high level liquid wastes, making a national high level waste repository an inescapable concomitant of having any kind of nuclear reactor. The pretence that spent fuel rods constitute an asset must stop.

Apart from the environmental and financial aspects of waste storage, there are also w e a p o n s implications. A s discussed previously the spent fuel at Lucas

Heights contains over five Significant Quantities of uranium-235. H E U extracted from the spent fuel rods could conceivably find its w a y into nuclear weapons. A related issue is safeguarding - there are ongoing debates around the world over the safeguarding of radioactive wastes, concerning for example w h e n wastes pose a sufficiently small proliferation risk that it is appropriate to terminate

safeguarding procedures. That debate has financial implications, and it also has public health and safety consequences relating to the logistics of safeguarding procedures. (Linsley and Fattah, 1994.)

Of particular relevance to this thesis is the extent to which radioactive waste generation at Lucas Heights is associated with radioisotope production and

processing. A N S T O w a s keen to advertise to the R R R the connection between medical radioisotope production and processing and waste: the first sentence in its submission o n radioactive waste announced that the principal source of radio-active waste at Lucas Heights is from the production of radiopharmaceuticals.

( A N S T O , 1993J, p.5.1.) A N S T O (1993P, p.9.1) w a s also at pains to point out that increased rates of waste generation from a n e w reactor w o u l d result solely from increased radioisotope production and processing.

Presumably A N S T O imagines that making the connection between waste

generation and nuclear medicine will quell concern - waste generation serves a good purpose, it is a necessary evil. This tactic seems not to have had any effect on the Review panel. It is notable that, in early 1997, the same tactic w a s deployed by the Minister for Science and Technology, Peter McGauran. H I F A R is fuelled with 30-40 fuel rods each year, and M c G a u r a n said that "During this year more than 260 000 Australians will have a nuclear medicine procedure A s a result of these procedures, some 35 spent fuel rods are generated by the Lucas Heights research reactor every year."58 The main point here is McGauran's linking of waste and medicine; in addition he would have us believe that all of the spent fuel rods are the result of radioisotope production despite the m a n y other uses of HIFAR.

With respect to HLW, about 5-10% of the 1600 or so spent fuel rods can be attributed to medical radioisotope production.59 In addition, some H L W is

generated during the production and processing of uranium fission-product radioisotopes such as molybdenum-99 (Mo-99). According to Egan et al. (1993;

1994), H L W is produced in radioactivity quantities 20 times greater than the Mo-99 yield, and the total volume of H L W at Lucas Heights from Mo-99 production is estimated to exceed 370 000 G B q (about 10 000 Ci).60

As for LLW and ILW stored at Lucas Heights, the majority of these wastes result from radioisotope production and processing: all the liquid I L W , 7 0 % of the solid

ILW, 9 0 % of the liquid L L W and 8 0 % of the solid L L W ( A N S T O , 1993J).

ANSTO claims that improved reactor technology would minimise the generation of waste by a n e w reactor. H o w e v e r the fact remains that a suitable long-term

repository for any form of radioactive waste has yet to be established and

producing more waste will only add to the problem. In relation to the improved technology of the proposed n e w reactor, A N S T O (1993P, p.9.1) said "The clear conclusion from this is that waste management is a favourable factor as regards any potential public impact from a n e w reactor." Such an argument is a nonsense and an obfuscation. O n e wonders what A N S T O ' s response might be to a serious H I F A R accident - that m u c h experience w a s gained in disaster management and the accident w a s clearly a favourable factor as regards a n e w reactor?

^Questions Without Notice, H o u s e of Representatives, 6 March.

52 Approximately 1 0 % of HIFAR's neutrons are used for medical radioisotope production, less in earlier years and decades, hence this rough figure of 5-10%.

G B q (gigabecquerels) and Ci (curies) are measurements of radioactivity. 1 G B q = 0.027 Ci.


There are several issues relating to radioactive emissions from routine operations at Lucas Heights. These include debates about the actual levels and nature of emissions, the public and occupational health implications, the environmental impact (which feeds back into public health issues), the adequacy of standards in relation to permissible emissions, and the methods by which standards are

determined and emissions are monitored. These issues are complex and hotly contested. S o m e of the issues are clouded by a paucity of data; the lack of

information is itself a bone of contention, with repeated calls over the years for studies into issues such as the public health impact of H I F A R emissions having mostly gone unheeded.

The Review (p.xx, 177) concluded that radioactive emissions from Lucas Heights are minimal and within international standards. The Review said that if there is a problem, it is simply one of a lack of trust and information.

As for occupational health, the Review's (pp.191-192) benign picture was at odds with claims m a d e by opponents of a n e w reactor. Opponents pointed to an article appearing in The Australian in 1990 concerning Dr. Arthur Tucker, w h o worked at the A A E C from 1964 to 1985. Tucker claimed that on numerous occasions his studies into staff health were obstructed or his findings kept secret. H e said that he had been directed to stop his studies into possible links between the use of metals such as beryllium and the lung disease sarcoidosis, and that his research results were not published. Tucker also claimed that his later attempts to reinforce his studies with similar w o r k were thwarted as funds, staff, and facilities were

withdrawn. H e also claimed that important reference materials were burnt by the A A E C . (Kennedy, 1990.)

The Review's (p.205) conclusion on the public health impact was that "it is very unlikely that any relationship exists between the current reactor H I F A R and

community health in the Sutherland Shire." The Review (pp.146-148) claimed that the risks of radiation-induced cancer are relatively low and are well studied and well documented and form the basis of all radiation protection standards and systems. Elsewhere (p.184) the Review acknowledged that the epidemiological research, and the radiation protection standards and systems, are hotly contested within and beyond scientific and regulatory institutions. In their submissions to the Review, the Sutherland Shire Council (1993B) and the Sutherland Shire Environment Centre (1993) pointed to overseas studies showing greater than expected numbers of cases of leukaemia around U K nuclear facilities at Dounreay,

Sellafield, Harwell, Aldermaston, and Burghfield. The Review (p.184) noted that other studies had found n o increased leukaemia incidence around nuclear

facilities, and then extracted itself from the debate by saying that "Clearly this debate a m o n g epidemiologists will continue." Given that equivocation, it w a s surprising that the Review w a s so confident as to say that it is "very unlikely" that H I F A R emissions have any impact on public health.

Leaving aside debates over the impact of routine emissions, a number of accidents have resulted in releases of radioactive materials to the environment, s o m e of

which also had consequences for public or occupational health and safety (see chapter 3.5).

A considerable proportion of the radioactive emissions associated with ANSTO's operations result from radioisotope production and processing. Liquid and

gaseous emissions result from reactor operation - one purpose of which is radioisotope production - and there are also substantial emissions from

radiopharmaceutical processing. (RRR, 1993, p. 17.) O f the total n u m b e r of A N S T O staff on the dosimetry service in 1991-92, the 1 9 % of total staff working in close proximity to H I F A R or working for Australian Radioisotopes (ARI) accounted for about 7 2 % of the aggregate whole body dose of A N S T O employees. A R I staff

accounted for 3 5 % of the total radiation exposure to all A N S T O employees although A R I has only 8 % of the total staff. For A R I staff the m e a n whole body dose w a s 4.84 m S v , and the aggregate whole body dose w a s 0.300 person-sieverfs.

(RRR, 1993, p.187.)

Just as ANSTO likes to link radioactive waste and nuclear medicine, so too Walker, then an A A E C employee, linked radioactive emissions to nuclear

medicine (Walker, 1985, italics in original):

Using the most pessimistic assumptions, it would take over a hundred years of routine emissions of radioactivity from Lucas Heights to produce one 'extra' cancer in the whole population of Sydney. Yet, each year m o r e than 70,000 Australians receive medical treatment using radiopharmaceuticals produced at Lucas Heights. Even a small success ratio for these diagnostic and therapeutic treatments puts the balance overwhelmingly in favour of Lucas Heights.

Walker's comments contain numerous debatable assertions; suffice it here to note that linking radioactive emissions and nuclear medicine is seen to be a useful

public-relations manoeuvre.