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Thursday, 19 March 1987
Page: 1209

Ms McHUGH(10.52) —There has been another accident at the Lucas Heights reactor. Tonight I want to raise the legitimate concern of the residents of the Sutherland Shire who for years and years have asked unanswered questions of Lucas Heights and the Australian Atomic Energy Commission and who have a very genuine concern about the safety of the Lucas Heights reactor. What has happened on this occasion? The Atomic Energy Commission has said that there are no consequences for the public. It has said that the amount of radioactivity released during last night's fire at the Lucas Heights reactor would have `insignificant consequences' for the public. There appears to have been a small release of `noble' gases. I am not sure what that means and I am not sure that any resident of the Sutherland Shire knows what that means.

Mr Downer —Does it matter?

Ms McHUGH —Does it matter! It would matter if the honourable member were a resident of the Sutherland Shire. I am sick and tired of the residents of the Sutherland Shire being disparaged for their very legitimate concerns. I speak tonight for the rights of the citizens of Sutherland.

The Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) has been reported as saying that information available to the public about the fire at Sydney's Lucas Heights nuclear reactor was manifestly inadequate and insufficient. It always has been. Let us look at what happened last night when a resident tried to find out what was going on. Mrs Heather Rice, who realised that something was going on only when she heard about it on the radio, tried to find out how serious the situation was. She did not get much information. She discovered that neither the Department of Health, nor the Sutherland Shire Council, nor the State Pollution Control Commission knew anything about it. She said that the Atomic Energy Commission had decided alone that this was not an emergency and this was unacceptable to the residents of the Sutherland Shire. She said that those residents were quite alarmed about being left high and dry over the reported release of radioactive material during the fire. She heard about it on the radio and tried everything she could to see whether the authorities that are supposed to take control had done so and were able to inform the public about what was happening.

This matters because there have been 544 reported accidents in the history of this 28-year-old reactor. These accidents have involved workers and others inside the establishment. Let us have a look at what has happened in the past when there has been an accident. In July 1984 there was a release of uranium hexaflouride at Lucas Heights. I took a whole month for the public at large to be informed that there had been an accident at Lucas Heights. Last night people knew that there had been an accident because there were seven fire engines at the site. They knew that something was going on. The new Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation legislation was designed to see that this sort of thing never happens again. But it is happening now; it happened last night.

When the accident occurred in 1984 an inquiry was instituted by the Atomic Energy Commission itself-a self-regulatory inquiry. An analysis of the report on that inquiry has shown that a number of important issues related to accidents at the site were disturbing and had received little public attention. For instance, the investigating committee found at that time that there were serious breaches of procedure in setting up and operating the experiment concerned. What was the experiment being carried on at Lucas Heights yesterday? Were the procedures carried out properly or were there serious breaches? More importantly, will the residents of the Sutherland Shire be informed?

Another part of the analysis of the report in 1984 says that of the various actions taken by the Atomic Energy Commission following the release of hexafluoride, notification of authorities and the public was clearly deficient, although that, of course, was played down within the report. For example, it says:

It is reasonable to expect that the State Pollution Control Commission should have been alerted but in fact it was not.

I appeal to the Atomic Energy Commission, about to be ANSTO, that it informs directly, and in language clearly understandable to lay people, what is going on at Lucas Heights, because if anyone talks about removing that reactor to Jervis Bay or anywhere else the residents of those areas, just like the residents of Sutherland Shire, will demand to have accurate facts on what is going out.