Lucas Heights replacement

Proposed Replacement Nuclear Research Reactor at Lucas Heights, Sydney, Australia

MAPW policy statement adopted February 2002

The Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW) opposes the construction of a replacement nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney. MAPW supports the Recommendations of the Senate Inquiry (Chapter 11 - May 2001) for an independent public inquiry into the risks, benefits and desirability of a new reactor, and into alternative scientific projects that represent better value for money (over $300 million) and are less hazardous.

MAPW acknowledges the importance of satisfactory isotope supply for medical and industrial purposes, and recommends that if an independent public assessment were to favour a replacement reactor, the proponents be directed to site it well away from substantial populations centres, to obviate the need for large-scale emergency evacuation and potassium iodide distribution contingencies in the event of significant radionuclide dispersal.

MAPW calls for an urgent independent analysis of the radiological consequences of a loss of coolant and explosive nuclide dispersal from the existing HIFARi reactor (and any proposed replacement) whether by accident or sabotage. This must include an assessment of the current emergency procedures in the event of radiological hazard and the desirability of pre-emptive potassium iodide distribution - particularly to children living and studying in the reactor vicinity.

Even a relatively small nuclear reactor represents a major long-term health hazard. In addition to the inherent risk associated with the reactor itself is the continuing absence of a finalised process for the management of spent fuel and radioactive waste. Because of the essential prerequisite for secure and proven isolation of such toxins for millennia, any existing technology is by definition experimental. The first principle of best management practice is the absolute minimisation of waste generation.

Australia's requirements for isotopes for medical and industrial purposes can and should be met by

(a) local production in cyclotrons and spalliation sources, and

(b) importation of some isotopes such as technetium/molybdenum which currently require reactor production.

This approach is contemporary practice in many industrial nations including the USA, Japan and the UK - only a tiny fraction of radioisotopes used are produced in their own domestic reactors. A single reactor in Canada produces about sixty percent of the world's medical isotopes. Importation of isotopes via the well-established international isotope market served Australia satisfactorily during the three month "down-time" at the existing HIFARi reactor in Sydney during February -May 2000, and it is a viable option for the future. The world already contains sufficient reactors to meet global medical, scientific and industrial needs many times over. Expansion of the range of isotopes generated in local non-reactor facilities could be promoted through a dedicated R & D program.

MAPW calls on the Minister for Health to direct that:

  • the current RRR construction licencing process be curtailed whilst the recommended analyses are undertaken, and
  • the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSAi) revisit the Siting Licence application process