Australian news, and some related international items

Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in disarray – costs and safety problems




Delays hold back nuclear medicine – SEAN PARNELL, OCTOBER 26, 2018

Australia’s production of nuclear medicine is in disarray, with a promised world-class manufacturing plant running two years behind schedule, unresolved questions over waste management, and broader concerns over ageing facilities and safety issues at Lucas Heights.

A conveyor breakdown in June at building 23 — where a ­series of safety incidents prompted a damning independent review — has caused ongoing supply issues throughout Australia and overseas.

The Weekend Australian has learned the existing plant will not be able to resume full domestic production of generators until next year. Amid the disruptions, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation has been forced to import generators and trade local ingredients with an American producer. It is refusing to detail how much the inefficient workaround is costing.

One of the safety incidents that prompted a rare intervention by the regulator was caused by a wheel falling off a trolley. It has now emerged the conveyor breakdown was caused by damage to the guide rails that other trolleys use and the conveyor chain guides themselves.

With nuclear medicine stakeholders expressing frustration at the ongoing delays, and a perceived lack of transparency by ANSTO, Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen ­Andrews has asked the agency to respond to the internal review as a priority.

“I’ve also sought assurance from ANSTO that they are supplying the market at normal levels,” Ms Andrews said.

Stakeholders had raised concerns with the minister’s predecessor without response and point to continuing practice ­restrictions.

A new $168.8 million plant, to be known as ANSTO Nuclear Medicine, was meant to be operational in 2016 and as much as triple the production of generators, making Australia a major global player. However, it will not be operational before early next year — ANSTO will not say if the budget has blown out — and license conditions set by the Australian Radiation Protection and ­Nuclear Safety Agency add to the challenges.

ARPANSA will not allow any overall increase in production until the existing plant is decommissioned, adding to delays, and is demanding more information on plans for a new waste-management facility — including contingency plans should it, too, be delayed.

The ANM would also rely on building 23 which, like the existing plant, was built in the 1950s and is past its use-by date. The independent review revealed ANSTO wanted to replace the building “but federal government budget restrictions have meant that this has not been progressed”.

“A number of additions and modifications have been made to the facility, but these cannot possibly resolve all of the issues associated with a facility not designed for its current use,” the review concluded.

Ms Andrews would not be drawn on the issue, saying it was a matter for ANSTO to respond to the independent review, which also raised concerns over culture.

ARPANSA is overseeing the independent review and has given ANSTO more time to respond to the recommendations.


October 29, 2018 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, business, safety

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