The Guardian June 14, 2000


Lucas Heights renewal, a sign of the times

by Peter Mac

Imagine building a nuclear reactor in the middle of a nation's biggest 
city. That, in effect, is what the Howard Government is doing by proposing 
to give a new lease of life to Sydney's aging Lucas Heights nuclear 
reactor. The facility, originally built in the 1950s, has reached a 
critical point where its continued operation is becoming unfeasible due to 
high maintenance requirements and superceded technology.

However, instead of closing down the plant, disposing of its components 
safely and rectifying site contamination, the Government now proposes to 
build another replacement facility on the same site!

Demonstrating a remarkable lack of sensitivity, the Howard Government 
announced its intention to replace the Lucas Heights plant on the same day 
that US President Bill Clinton granted $128 million to the Russian 
Government to shut down and seal the Chernobyl nuclear plant, subject of a 
disastrous explosion in 1985.

Even in the 1950s, when the Lucas Heights site was more isolated than at 
present, and information about the environmental implications of such 
plants more limited, the decision to build the plant so close to a main 
population centre aroused controversy over the possibility of contamination 
by radioactive nuclear waste.

The Lucas Heights site is now entirely surrounded by housing development, 
and constitutes a very nasty potential threat to a city of some three 
million people.

Since the post-war commencement of nuclear plant construction programs 
around the world, many accidents have occurred within nuclear plants, 
including those at Three Mile Island in New York, the Chernobyl site in the 
Ukraine, and the Sellafield plant in Britain.

As a consequence, the building of such facilities at all, let alone their 
construction in major population centres, is now increasingly rejected.

Many scientists and others have questioned the continued operation of the 
Lucas Heights plant, as its output is largely restricted to producing 
radioisotopes for medical purposes.

Dr Carmen Lawrence, convenor of the group Parliamentarians for a Nuclear 
Free Future, said last week that "The Government has ignored growing public 
concerns about the location of the reactor and doubts in the scientific 
community about the need for the reactor.

"This (new) reactor will cost well over $3000 million at a time when funds 
for science and research and development are stretched to the limit."

Greens Senator Bob Brown commented that: "The Australian public's sympathy 
will be with suburban residents living near the reactor site: it is 
dangerously absurd to build a reactor in suburbia."

Opposition to nuclear industry

There is increasing public opposition to projects involving the production 
or storage of radioactive or toxic nuclear waste material, and several 
state governments have already legislated to prevent the dumping of such 
waste.

The "Pangea" proposal for a nuclear storage facility on the border of 
Western Australia and South Australia, and the proposed new "Honeymoon" 
uranium mine in South Australia, which would involve pumping huge amounts 
of sulphuric acid into underground water reserves, have both recently met 
with fierce community opposition.

The public is learning the hard way that for the business community safety 
is secondary to profits.

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