Australia's unwanted new reactor
by Peter Mac The Howard Government is still pressing ahead with its plan to build a replacement nuclear reactor at the site of the ageing existing reactor in the Sydney suburb of Lucas Heights. The facility and its locality have been the subject of objections from a wide range of community organisations. They have pointed out that it produces highly toxic radioactive waste with a half-life of 250,000 years, that it makes no contribution to Australia's energy needs, that it has high potential for attack by terrorists and that its medical and other by-products can easily be produced by other non- polluting means. Last Monday the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPNSA) was due to make a decision on whether to grant a licence for the proposal to go ahead. However, there has been considerable public debate as to whether the Agency is capable of making an objective decision on this issue. The selection panel for the employment of ARPNSA's members included a representative of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, which runs the Lucas Heights plant, and ARPNSA has been subjected to severe criticism over its cosy relationship with the nuclear industry. Protests against the new reactor proposal were staged last week in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth, in the run-up to the announcement of the decision regarding the granting of a licence for the reactor's replacement. ARPNSA then went to water and deferred its decision until an indefinite date, "for planning purposes". In the wake of the ARPNSA non-decision, the organisation People for Nuclear Disarmament has made a series of demands, which include a government investigation as to whether INVAP, the Argentinian company selected to build the new plant, has the financial resources to complete the project, given the collapse of the Argentinian economy. They have also demanded that a series of public lectures be held, to acquaint the people of Sydney with the potential dangers of the new reactor, and the procedures to be followed in the event of an emergency, such as a takeover or accident at the plant. (These procedures have yet to be formulated, even though the plans for the replacement plant are in an advanced stage.) They also want the public to be supplied with potassium iodine tablets, to be taken in the event of such an emergency, and they want the public to be acquainted with the normal operations of the plant, including any emissions. As Natalie Stevens, a campaigner for People for Nuclear Disarmament, stated: "the public have ... the right to full consultation and knowledge about the planning, possible effects and emergency procedures for this project. "Our nuclear regulatory authority is in bed with the nuclear industry and is not taking care of the public's interests. This is totally unacceptable and we call on ARPANSA to be more responsible to the public they were set up to protect from the harmful effects of radiation." The authority might also care to explain the real strategic reasons as to why the plant is to be replaced, in view of the shortcomings of such a facility for peacetime use, and the huge outlay necessary to replace the current plan In any case, the community groups are united in their opposition to the proposed new plant. As Lee Rhiannon, NSW Greens Member of the Legislative Council, commented bluntly this week, "[We] want the major parties to commit to closing down Sydney's reactor and not to build a replacement."