Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Decommisioned toxic nuclear reactor parts to be dumped in Australian desert?

JAN 30 2007: Used reactor parts: Environmentalists have warned against dumping radioactive waste from Australia's Lucas Heights old nuclear reactor parts in the Northen Territory. Federal Science Minister Julie Bishop says its not yet known which site in the NT will be chosen as Australia's first central nuclear waste dump. The 50-year-old HIFAR reactor in Sydney's south is being decommissioned. Minister Bishop shut down Australia's first nuclear reactor today...

January 30, 2007 marks the end of the Sydney's Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in the city's south, after almost 50 years of operation. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) says it is confident ongoing problems with Australia's next nuclear reactor "will be fixed by the time it is meant to come on line."

The work of the reactor will be taken over by the new Argentinian-designed research reactor called OPAL. The new $350 million OPAL reactor replaces the old facility, which opened in 1958 as Australia's first nuclear reactor.

ANSTO chief executive Ian Smith says he expects the new reactor to be up and running by April, despite some teething problems in the commissioning phase - citing certain leaks as one of the problems.

The federal government plan to build a nuclear waste dump in the NT. But critics have warned against dumping the Lucas Heights reactor's old radioactive parts in the desert. But Arid Lands Environment Centre spokeswoman Natalie Wasley says it would be much better for the old parts of the reactor to remain at Lucas Heights. "The Australian Nuclear Association have all said that there is room here, they have the technology, they have the capability and they have the storage room," she said. "Also there are trained personnel here who deal with radioactive material, and they'll be on site all the time. So that's definitely a lot better option than sticking it out in a remote area in the desert."

Wilderness Society nuclear spokeswoman Imogen Zethoven says the Federal Government should say where it is planning to dump radioactive waste from the decommissioned site. "We don't believe that the dismantled reactor should be shifted across Australia, through local communities, past people's homes and put in someone's backyard that doesn't want it," she said.

"We actually think that the reactor, now that it's shut down, should stay where it is and be managed locally."

The $50 million decommissioning process has begun with the official shutdown of the facility. Fuel will then be removed and fluid drained from the facility, before radioactive materials within the reactor are left there to decay.

NSW Greens senator Kerry Nettle said she feared the decommissioning process of the old facility would not be as successful as hoped. Science was not far enough advanced to safely dispose of nuclear waste, she said.

"Not one single commercial nuclear power reactor around the world has been successfully decommissioned," Ms Nettle said. "We know from the evidence this nuclear site may never become safe, regardless of any new reactor. We don't have the technological and scientific answers of how to dispose of this waste."

The Wilderness Society called on the Federal Government to fully outline its plans for the disposal of radioactive waste from the reactor. "The Federal Government must make clear to local communities where they plan on storing this nuclear waste that remains toxic for millions of years," said society spokeswoman Imogen Zethoven. "Local communities along transport routes will also be concerned about the tonnes of dangerous nuclear waste that will be trucked past their homes."

Over its 40-year life, OPAL will generate several cubic metres of high-level waste, which it intends to store in a remote location in the Northern Territory.


Nuclear group says new reactor ready soon - ABC
Science Minister turns off nuclear reactor - ABC
Nuclear reactor's life coming to an end - ABC
Curtains for Lucas Heights after nearly 50 years - SMH
New nuclear reactor fires up energy debate
Where are they planning to dump radioactive waste? - MIM
Arid Lands Environment Centre

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