• No results found

THE RESEARCH REACTOR REVIEW PROCESS

THE 1992-93 RESEARCH REACTOR REVIEW

4.3. THE RESEARCH REACTOR REVIEW PROCESS

On 30 September 1992, the then Federal Minister for Science, Ross Free, announced the establishment of the Research Reactor Review (RRR) which w a s to cost $1.2 million. The Terms of Reference for the Review were as follows:

1. Whether, on review of the benefits and costs for scientific, commercial, industrial and national interest reasons, Australia has a need for a new nuclear research reactor.

2. A review of the present reactor, HIFAR, to include an assessment of the national and commercial benefits and costs of HIFAR operations, its likely remaining useful life and its eventual closure and decommissioning.

3. If the finding on 1. above is that Australia has a need for a new nuclear research reactor, the Review will consider possible locations for a new reactor, its environmental impact at alternative locations, recommend a preferred location, and evaluate matters associated with regulation of the facility and organisational arrangements for reactor-based research.

In assessing the environmental impacts of the facility, the Review will take account of the objectives of the Environment Protection (Impact of

Proposals) Act 1974, as amended. In this regard the Review will schedule public hearings and call for submissions from any interested parties by advertisements in major newspapers.

The Review panel consisted of three academics. The Chairperson was Professor K e n M c K i n n o n , then Vice Chancellor of the University of Wollongong and a m e m b e r of the Prime Minister's Science and Engineering Council. The other panel m e m b e r s were Professor A n n e Henderson-Sellers, Director of the Climatic Impacts Centre and Professor of Physical Geography at Macquarie University, and Dr. Tor Hundloe, a Commissioner of the Industry Commission and a former Director of the Institute of Applied Environmental Research at Griffith

University.

Ross Free (quoted in Sutherland Shire Environment Centre, 1993) said that membership o n the Review panel of persons with k n o w n views "would totally distort the open-minded basis from which the Review is beginning." Thus it w a s a bone of contention that Henderson-Sellers w a s on the Review panel. A m e m b e r of A S T E C , she w a s a signatory to the 1992 A S T E C report which r e c o m m e n d e d the construction of a n e w reactor.

Although the terms of reference mentioned the 1974 Environmental Protection Act, the Review w a s not established under the Act. This aspect of the Review w a s criticised b y opponents of a n e w reactor because it lessened the scrutiny which the proposal for a n e w reactor would receive. In particular it allowed for the Review to proceed without identification of a specific proponent for the n e w reactor although A N S T O w a s clearly the major proponent. Without being identified as the proponent, A N S T O w a s not required to reveal detailed and specific

information relating to the project, which obviously put opponents at a

disadvantage. (Wallace, 1993.) T h e Sutherland Shire Council (1993B) asked the Review to direct A N S T O to place its case for a n e w reactor before the Review before asking for submissions from other parties. T h e Review refused: proponents

and opponents alike were required to forward submissions b y the s a m e date. The Council suggested that the Review gather government documents relevant to the H I F A R issue, and m a k e them available to the public; again the Review refused, suggesting that use be m a d e of the Freedom of Information Act.

Another bone of contention was the time allowed for the presentation of submissions. T h e closing date for submissions w a s given as 18 December 1992, allowing just t w o and a half months to prepare submissions. This w a s clearly disadvantageous to opponents of a n e w reactor. A N S T O , with far m o r e resources, w a s in a m u c h better position to submit a substantial submission in a short space of time.

Genevieve Rankin, a Sutherland Shire Councillor (and later the Mayor), voiced a n u m b e r of other objections about the Review not long after its inception. She

complained that M c K i n n o n w a s naive about funding and that other aspects of science w o u l d necessarily suffer if a reactor w a s built. She took issue with McKinnon's blaming of the Council for the existence of housing in the Reactor Buffer Z o n e surrounding H I F A R . She objected to the refusal of the Minister for Science to provide s o m e funding to the Council to help with its input into the Review. Rankin (1993) s u m m e d u p her objections thus:

It is distressing to find the supposedly objective Chairperson with very fixed views that cannot be changed by the weight of evidence, and to find him pre-empting the outcome of issues before hearing evidence Your (McKinnon s) determination to continue the Review with no requirement

for ANSTO to present detailed costings or specifications, and no resources to be made available to opponents of the proposal, and with a panel member

(Henderson-Sellers) who has an already stated public position in favour of another reactor, has made meaningful participation by the mass of the

Australian community who are directly affected by this proposal impossible. I believe these matters combine to a deliberate attempt to force another reactor on to our community as a fait accompli. Sutherland Shire Council's formal submission is an attempt to participate in good faith within the limits of local resources in your review on the assumption that there may at some future

date be some indication that this process is more than a bureaucratic whitewash.

M a n y thought it inevitable that the Review would give unqualified endorsement to a n e w reactor. The Council had considered boycotting the Review, but went ahead and prepared a submission. Prepared in haste, the submission w a s flimsy.

Other opponents of a n e w reactor contributed first-round submissions which clearly showed the effects of a lack of time and resources. By contrast, A N S T O ' s numerous submissions totalled 1500+ pages. In addition, A N S T O hired a public-relations firm (Edelmans) to assist in the soliciting of submissions in favour of a n e w reactor.

Clearly the Review was not an even playing field. The federal government set the agenda, limited the time for submissions, and appointed personnel from the

upper echelons of academic and science institutions to conduct the Review. That there w a s high-level support within the government for a n e w reactor w a s

further indicated by pro-reactor submissions from almost every government department. The Review panel, in turn, seemed unwilling to alter the balance of forces.

The capitalist state does not speak with one voice: a number of local councils in the southern Sydney region were opposed to a n e w reactor (as were a n u m b e r of

local branches of both the Labor and Liberal Parties). Of particular importance w a s the active opposition of the Sutherland Shire Council. The Council and local community had been burnt before in accepting "expert" assurances: to give just one example, a meeting of the Council in 1955 w a s assured that there would be no release of radioactive material of any kind from a research reactor at Lucas

Heights, and thus the Council had voted to accept the proposal without raising any objections. Moreover the Council's political teeth had been sharpened in other disputes: the Shire hosts a toxic waste d u m p and Australia's largest capacity waste tip along with A N S T O . (Wallace, 1993.)

As well as being centrally involved in the Review itself, the Council was a focal point for a broader campaign against a n e w reactor. The Council w a s a source of

financial resources, administrative support, publicity, and technical expertise. The Council adopted a joint Council/community approach to the fight against a n e w reactor, which entailed a joint Council/community working group including groups such as the Sutherland Shire Environment Centre and the Lucas Heights Study Group. (Wallace, 1993.) M u c h m o r e alliance building went on in a less formal manner.

While the various strands of the peace m o v e m e n t subsided through the 1980s, a n u m b e r of social m o v e m e n t organisations remained. Groups such as Greenpeace

and Friends of the Earth (FOE) presented the Review with substantial (second-round) submissions and involved themselves in other aspects of the campaign such as media work. Dozens of other organisations and individuals contributed to the campaign. The arguments put to the Review by the Council, F O E , Greenpeace, and m a n y others, were notable in that they did not adopt a N I M B Y (not-in-my-back-yard) approach: they argued that there w a s no case for a reactor anywhere in Australia. (Wallace, 1993.) A s well as the social m o v e m e n t organisations, the mass movements of the 1970s and 1980s had also left a residue of anti-nuclear

sentiment in the public, and that sentiment w a s tapped during the Review.

It had seemed that a decision in favour of a reactor was a fait accompli, but the situation began to change. The initial deadline for submissions w a s pushed back to February 1993, and supplementary submissions were accepted for several months after that. Over 400 submissions were received, about 4 0 % opposed to a n e w reactor. The Council's second submission to the Review w a s far m o r e substantial than its initial submission, and included solicited papers from a range of

consultants including academics, accountants, lawyers, and scientists, on topics such as safety issues, radioactive waste, and alternatives to a domestic reactor for medical radioisotope production and supply. Other groups forwarded second-round submissions that are also likely to have influenced the outcome of the Review. The Review (1993, p.3) said:

Some of these submissions contained a great deal of helpful material,

especially those from ANSTO and the Sutherland Shire Council, both of which included consultant opinions. The Review also profited a great deal from the close attention given to ANSTO and Lucas Heights matters over a

long period by concerned citizen groups, including the Lucas Heights Study Group, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. This input gave the Review a feel for community concerns and suggested many of the questions which

were subsequently followed up through consultancies commissioned by the Review.

The Review travelled to all capital cities in Australia except Hobart and Darwin, hearing evidence from 150 people over 13 days of hearings.

The additional time also enabled opponents of a new reactor to mount a public campaign. The issue w a s taken u p by sections of the environmental m o v e m e n t , featuring prominently for example in World Environment D a y marches and

rallies in m i d 1993. This campaigning m a y have had s o m e impact o n the Review panel. Certainly M c K i n n o n , w h o had seemed inflexible o n a n u m b e r of issues, became m o r e inquisitive as the Review proceeded. Henderson-Sellers' critical questioning of A N S T O belied her status as a m e m b e r of A S T E C ; in fact her

performance as part of the Review panel w a s "not only entertaining, but highly confronting toward A N S T O " according to John Hallam of Friends of the Earth (1993C). The public campaign m a y also have had s o m e impact o n the federal government: it w a s clear that there w a s considerable support within the govern-ment for a n e w reactor, but ultimately it accepted the Review's recommendation to defer the decision for another five years or so.