The Guardian August 23, 2000


Deadly dump

by Peter Mac

The Howard Government is pressing ahead with its plan to build a bigger 
nuclear facility at Sydney's Lucas Heights, despite community opposition 
and revelations that the company chosen to carry out the work is being 
investigated in Argentina over allegations of illegal testing of new 
technology. The Government's move is likely to open the way for the 
construction of a dump for Australian and international nuclear waste.

The Argentine company, Invap, which is also in deep financial trouble, 
expressed delight at being awarded the contract by the Howard Government, 
declaring it the biggest it has ever won.

The announcement has been greeted with some astonishment in Australia.

The Lucas Heights facility is officially described as a medical research 
reactor. Yet production of radioisotopes for medical purposes would hardly 
justify the construction of such a large facility: the five reactors Invap 
has built over the last 20 years have been substantial projects.

Federal Greens Senator Bob Brown noted that the logic is clear.

"Today a low-level nuclear waste dump despite 87 percent public opposition. 
Next a co-located medium/high level dump. Next a potential national toxic 
chemicals dump as well  with private corporate participation."

An international dump within Australia is certainly still on the cards. It 
appears that state legislation would only cover unauthorised dumping of 
radioactive waste, and would actually permit dumping of international waste 
under agreement with the relevant state government.

It would also permit dumping of international waste that had been subject 
to some processing within Australia, thereby allowing it to be classified 
as domestic waste.

Invap has admitted that the Australian contract is a financial godsend. It 
recently sought US$132 million worth of assistance from the Argentine 
Government, to continue research into new reactor technology.

However, this was rejected, and two years ago the company was charged with 
carrying out tests associated with the research program without 
authorisation from the provincial government. The case has now ground to a 
halt in a tangle of legal issues, because the provincial government is a 
major shareholder in the company!

The Invap contract for replacement of the existing Lucas Heights facility -
- situated in the centre of a densely populated built-up area  has 
coincided with discussion at government level regarding the establishment 
of a nuclear storage facility in either South Australia or Western 
Australia.

Multinational consortium, Pangea, last year floated the idea of locating an 
international waste dump near the border between the two states.

The Western Australian Government has now passed legislation prohibiting 
the unauthorised dumping of international nuclear waste within the state's 
boundaries, and the South Australian Government intends to press ahead with 
similar legislation.

However, both Governments have given support to the idea of a dump for 
nuclear wastes produced within Australia, in particular the new reactor at 
Lucas Heights.

The Howard Government is discussing the establishment of a low level waste 
dump near Woomera in South Australia, although it is possible that such a 
facility could also be established in Western Australia.

Western Australian Premier Richard Court stated recently that "The Western 
Australian Government supports the further consideration of locations 
within the Jackson region for the siting of a national repository for low 
to medium radioactive waste.

"This would be part of a program to secure the long-term future of 
Australia's nuclear research reactor and associated industries."

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