No: 1

Autumn 2001

No new nuclear reactor for Lucas Heights!

by Andrew Lund
Last week, the Federal Government secured a deal to export nuclear waste to Argentina, bringing the new nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights one step closer to a reality. The Government's determination to press ahead with its construction ignores growing public anger and the risk to millions of Sydney-siders living in its shadow.

The main argument behind building a new reactor is that Australia needs it to produce radioactive material for our medical and scientific needs. However, the overwhelming opinion in the Australian scientific community says the new reactor isn't necessary.

There are new technologies that can produce medical isotopes without the need of a reactor. Such a facility could be built at a fraction of the price of a new nuclear reactor a more cost effective, not to mention safer option.

If the new reactor's main purpose is to produce nuclear medicine, why can't we just import our requirements from overseas, at a more cost effective rate?

A new reactor is a waste of money, money that could be used to fund the medical and scientific research the government says it is trying to help.

Dangerous proximity to Sydney

Another major concern is the dangerous location of the reactor in the middle of a suburban area, only 27km southwest of the Sydney CBD.

The unsuitable placement of the reactor means even a small accident could have a devastating effect on the surrounding area and population. Experts recommend a safety buffer of at least 100km or more for a reactor the size of the new reactor being proposed. Lucas Heights has no effective safety zone at all.

Nuclear pollution has been an issue with the current reactor. When radioactive gases have escaped in the past the public wasn't informed.

If people had been notified of leaks they could have made an informed choice to stay indoors or take other measures to protect themselves. Chances are it would have also greatly increased local opposition to the reactor.

Health effects

Despite obvious need, there has been no long-term study into health effects of the reactor in the Sutherland shire. But it is becoming apparent that there is a higher incidence of some forms of childhood leukaemia, and adult cancer in the local population.

But as such a study could place the construction of the new reactor in doubt as an environmental hazard and could lead to compensation claims, it's very unlikely there will be a Federally funded study into the reactor now or in the future.

When the spent nuclear fuel rods are transported to the docks for shipment, they go via some of Sydney's busiest roads.

On most occasions, the roads en route to the dock were closed. However, on January 22, the fuel rods were transported without closing any roads. At 9.30pm they were driven down the "nuclear highway", Rocky Point Road and General Holmes Drive, both filled with cars and semi-trailers, to the Port Botany docks.

They were then loaded onto a container ship and transported to France. (A case initiated by Greenpeace has since resulted in a French court banning the waste being unloaded and being reprocessed there.)

The potential danger of transporting spent nuclear fuel via some of Sydney's busiest roads is obvious, and further highlights the poor location of the reactor in suburban Sydney.

Weapons-grade plutonium

In the absence of any useful scientific or medical need for the new nuclear reactor (that couldn't be achieved by more technologically advanced and cost effective means), it can be logically concluded that the real reason for the new reactor is to take advantage of a chemical process that occurs in the uranium fuel rods during their use.

The process increases the amount of plutonium in the uranium rods. The rods can then be "reprocessed", a technical term which means that the plutonium contained in the spent fuel rods is extracted, and then manufactured into concentrated form (just like the rods that have been sent to be "reprocessed" in France).

The plutonium is then suitable for use in manufacturing nuclear weapons.

The Communist Youth of Australia call for an end to the nuclear cycle. No nuclear reactors, no uranium mines or dumps, and the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and testing.

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