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Media Release
Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage

LUCAS HEIGHTS ENVIRONMENTAL CLEARANCE


30 March 1999

Environment Minister Robert Hill has decided there are no environmental reasons preventing the granting of Commonwealth approval for the replacement nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights.

Senator Hill said the decision was taken after extensive community consultation and more than 12 months of rigorous studies including three separate independent reviews of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

"All of the evidence before me confirms the proposed research reactor will be safe, with no significant risk to the environment or the community," Senator Hill said.

"The additional reviews have concluded that the new reactor will produce less emissions than the existing aging facility and the levels of radiation emitted will be many times less than normal background levels in Australia.

"They found that even in the event of a worst case scenario accident, there would be no need for any evacuations of nearby residents as the risk of radiation fallout is insignificant outside the 1.6km buffer zone.

"There are no environmental reasons, including on safety, health, hazard or risk grounds to prevent construction, subject to a number of conditions."

Senator Hill said the approval conditions were aimed at ensuring that the replacement reactor was built and operated in accordance with best international practice. Each stage of construction will require separate authorisation with the recently established Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency overseeing the implementation of the conditions.

The Minister has made several recommendations to improve consultation between the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, which will manage the construction and operation of the reactor, and the surrounding community.

The Government announced its intention to build a replacement reactor in 1997, at an estimated cost of $286 million. Construction is expected to commence in 2002 and it will replace the existing 40 year-old HIFAR reactor which is near the end of its useful operating life. It will be used to produce life saving radiopharmaceuticals and for international scientific research using neutrons. A reactor is also needed to maintain Australia's technical expertise and global support for non-proliferation and other nuclear interests.

The EIS on the replacement reactor was released for public comment in the second half of 1998. A supplement to the EIS, addressing the public comments, was prepared by ANSTO and submitted to Environment Australia for assessment in January 1999. The Department prepared an assessment report on the environmental impacts of the proposal for consideration by the Minister.

In the second half of 1998, three separate independent reviews were commissioned by Senator Hill to assure the public the process was consistent and complied with world's best practice.

The replacement reactor would be built on Commonwealth-owned land at the Lucas Heights Science and Technology Centre. It would be a 20 MW pool-type facility with a higher neutron flux than HIFAR and superior neutron beam handling facilities. The reactor would use low-enriched uranium fuel. The existing 1.6 km buffer zone to residential areas would be maintained.

Media contact: Rod Bruem (02) 62777640 or 0411128582

Attachment: Approval Conditions

Commonwealth of Australia