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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1190

Senator CHILDS —Can the Minister for Resources and Energy explain the discrepancy between eye witness reports of the thin, dark coloured, fan shaped spiral of smoke in the vicinity of Lucas Heights on 18 March last and the statement made by Mr Jack Walker of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission on Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio when he said that there was no smoke outside of the buildings and that what people had seen was water vapour coming off the cooling towers? What was the direction of the wind at the time of the accident, and did the smoke contain any radioactive material? As the Commission routinely monitors for radioactive iodine at its boundaries, can the Minister advise whether these monitors were working at the time of the accident? If so, what was the reading? If not, why not?

Senator GARETH EVANS —It is not only Mr Walker of the Atomic Energy Commission who said that there were no visible fumes or smoke released into the atmosphere as a result of this fire; it was me also in my answer to a question on this incident last week. I stand by that answer on the basis of all the information that I have received, until then and since. I can only assume that people who claim to have seen smoke, or who thought they were seeing smoke, may have seen, as I said, water vapour coming from the Hifar cooling towers which, in the dusk and through the effects of the orange arc lights illuminating Hifar, could have been mistaken for smoke. The direction of the wind at the time of the fire was to the west, towards the Holsworthy military training area. I repeat: There was no smoke and, as I indicated in my answer last week, the radiation released was in the form of biologically inert noble gases--

Senator Ryan —Senator Durack.

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Messner-Evans gases, as we discussed last week-well within the New South Wales authorisation; in fact, it seems less than one-tenth of the weekly limit.

As Mr Des Davey, the Chief Environmental Scientist at Lucas Heights, was reported, accurately, as saying in the Sydney Morning Herald of 20 March, the average annual discharge of airborne radioactive material from Lucas Heights is equivalent to about 0.2 per cent of natural background radiation. He stated:

Statistically, the risk of getting cancer from exposure to a full year's emissions-

from Lucas Heights-

is therefore akin to one individual standing at the Lucas Heights boundary fence for five million years.

As to the last part of the question, monitors at the boundaries of Lucas Heights were operational at the time of the fire and no radioactive iodine was detected by those monitors. Let me add this: I expect to receive tomorrow a copy of the report of the committee of inquiry which is investigating the fire, and I will make that report publicly available.