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Tuesday, 21 August 1984
Page: 8

Senator McINTOSH —I refer the Minister for Resources and Energy to media reports during the past 2 1/2 weeks concerning a recent incident at the Australian Atomic Energy Commission Research Establishment at Lucas Heights in which apparently there was an accidental release of uranium hexafluoride from a Commission building. Can the Minister provide any details of this incident?

Senator WALSH —On 6 July I was advised by telephone and also by telex that the incident-that is, the release of uranium hexafluoride to which Senator McIntosh referred-had occurred. The incident was described to me by the Commission as a minor incident. I was told then that the Atomic Energy Commission would be conducting an inquiry into it. The incident was next raised with my office by a journalist called Galvin Gilchrist on, I think, 5 August. A report was published in the Sun Herald on that day or the day after. Evidently-I became aware of this only today-there was some reference to the incident on a radio program in Sydney on the Monday after it happened. My office checked with the Atomic Energy Commission in early August about the progress of the report and the nature of the incident. The Commission advised again that the incident was minor, that the hexafluoride was released during work associated with uranium enrichment safeguards work, that no staff on the site or any persons off the site were likely to suffer any ill effects, that the State authorities had been advised and that the Commission's inquiry had not, at that stage, in early August, been completed.

The report of the Committee on the incident is now complete. It will be examined by the appropriate State authorities and by my Department. It is now, of course, available to the public. As this brief history demonstrates, no attempt has been made to cover up. The Atomic Energy Commission is satisfied, as the report says, that it did not attempt to keep the incident secret. I understand that all the staff on the site were notified virtually immediately the incident happened. I table the report.