Australian news, and some related international items

“Medical” uses do not justify Lucas Heights nuclear reactor, nor a Flinders Ranges nuclear dump

Solid forms of low-level waste include materials that have been contaminated – at Lucas Heights or in hospitals using isotopes, or in industrial firms using isotopes, and so on. Waste of this kind has accumulated at scores of places throughout Australia, but it amounts to only a tenth of all radioactive waste, the rest coming from Lucas Heights

A NEW REACTOR?  It’s the worst possible option! Nuclear Study Group  Sutherland Shire Environment Centre  1998 By R.D. (Bob) Walshe, OAM

Chairman, Sutherland Shire Environment Centre

  • Medical isotopes can be produced by non- reactor technology, such as cyclotrons, which are much cheaper and safer and are powered by electricity. 
  • Claims that a reactor serves Australia’s ‘national interest’ do not withstand scrutiny……


‘Medical uses’ don’t justify a new Reactor

Medical isotope production

Life-saving? In fact reactor-produced medicine won’t save many lives, if only because over 98% of it is used in diagnosis, not in life-saving therapy.

The Minister should have spoken more moderately. Reactor-based nuclear medicine is only one among many medical technologies used in diagnosis. The Minister didn’t explain why he was favouring it over all other diagnostic technologies by heavily subsidisingit through a new hugely expensive reactor. Nor, indeed, why a new reactor is needed when the bulk of nuclear medicine consists in the supplying of medical isotopes that can be obtained much less expensively from sources other than a Lucas
Heights reactor? Consider…

  • Most importantly, cyclotrons increasingly produce isotopes and so render a reactor unnecessary (see cyclotrons, p.13); they are cheaper and safer and produce only small quantities of low-level radioactive waste.
  • Nearly all countries in the world import the isotopes they need.
  • ANSTO, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, itself imports them when it shuts the reactor for maintenance.
  • ANSTO’s isotope operations are indeed heavily subsidised, and thus are not really competing economically with those of large overseas suppliers.
  • While ANSTO argues that its most-used isotope technetium-99m can’t be
    imported because it has a currency (technically, a ‘half-life’) of only six
    hours, ANSTO neglects to say that an equally effective, longer-lived
    isotope, molybdenum-99, is widely transported all around the world.

So, by using two cheaper alternatives – importation of some isotopes and production of others in cyclotrons – Australia would save itself the huge expense of this new reactor. It’s as simple as that. And safer too……

ANSTO has been stockpiling such waste for 40 years, and there it sits at Lucas Heights….

Not that ANSTO and the Federal Government haven’t tried to get rid of all this embarrassing waste. They have continually invited any and every state government to set up a dump-site (a ‘repository’) for it. But until 1998, no government would have it.

Only in February of 1998 did one government, that of economically troubled South Australia, hesitantly indicate it might accept it, at a site it considers to be ‘remote’ – but Aboriginal communities have expressed opposition. If established, such a dump would soon become ANSTO’s dump for all levels of its waste.

The long failure of the Federal Government to find a remote dump-site for radioactive waste is conclusive proof – though proof is surely not needed – of the dangerous nature of nuclear waste. So why go on creating such waste? No community wants to be saddled with the burden Sutherland Shire has carried for 40 years.

Three ‘levels’ of waste – and all dangerous

There are three general categories of radioactive waste. First, the high-level kind, chiefly the highly radioactive spent fuel rods; second, intermediate-level waste, such as results from reprocessing of spent fuel rods; third, low-level waste, such as the continual gaseous and liquid discharges from nuclear plants, and contaminated materials like gloves and instruments.

But ANSTO chooses not to follow this high-intermediate-low classification, arguing that high-level waste comes only from nuclear power-generating reactors, and since Australia’s reactor is the ‘research’ kind, its operation results only in intermediate-level and low-level waste. This is a semantic quibble which puts ANSTO at odds with US and Canadian terminology.

More than 1600 of the spent fuel rods, high – level waste, have accumulated at Lucas Heights in the past 40 years. ….. the resulting waste will be  returned to Australia as ‘intermediate-level waste’, which will again constitute a problem here. Such shipments are never trouble-free: they involve safety, health and environment risks; they spark anti-nuclear protest along the route, resistance from residents around the destinations, and charges of unethical behaviour for dumping what should be one’s own responsibility onto others….
An example of ANSTO’s domestic difficulties with intermediate-level waste can be found in Building 57 on its Lucas Heights site. Here, in stainless steel tanks, is liquid molybdenum waste, a by-product of medical isotope production; it is dangerously radioactive and has to be stored indefinitely. A Safety Review Committee declared in 1988 that the contents of Building 57 constitute ‘a hazard with potential for off-site consequences which must be corrected’, but ten years have passed and there has been no ‘correction’.

The wastes…….when returned, exactly the same amount of radioactivity as did the original rods – and it would then have been bulked up to 20 times the original volume! It would be returned in perhaps … packed and concreted in numerous drums.

Reactors produce large quantities of low-level waste, particularly in liquid and gaseous forms. ANSTO piped its liquid waste for decades into nearby Woronora River, despite continual protest from residents. Since 1980 it has poured it into the sewer, whence it is discharged into the ocean through Potter Point outfall near the northern end of the popular Wanda-Cronulla beaches. Solid forms of low-level waste include materials that have been contaminated – at Lucas Heights or in hospitals using isotopes, or in industrial firms using isotopes, and so on. Waste of this kind has accumulated at scores of places throughout Australia, but it amounts to only a tenth of all radioactive waste, the rest coming from Lucas Heights………

November 28, 2016 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Federal nuclear waste dump, South Australia

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