80s crash story off the mark

80s crash story off the mark

I write in response to 'Rally against nuclear waste' (Ty Bruun, Letters to the Editor, January 31).

This story about a truck crash that was carrying radioactive material which then irradiated people in the 1980s is completely off the mark.

Here are the facts, as verified by both ANSTO at Lucas Heights, and NSW Roads and Maritime Services.

First, the truck involved in the crash at Herons Creek on December 4 1980 was carrying two of the most common types of isotope used in the industry - Cs-137 and Am-241 which is used, amongst other things, in smoke detectors.

Secondly, there was "no evidence to suggest that radioactive material spilled from the containers which fell from the overturning semi-trailer," as found in 2013 in an independent review of the accident by then state roads agency, NSW Roads and Maritime Services.

And thirdly, as claimed in various online forums, the material was not coming from, nor going to, Sydney's Lucas Heights.

Radioactive material has been safely transported for around 60 years and there has never been an accident resulting in a significant impact on the health and safety of people or the environment.

In Australia, some 10,000 doses of nuclear medicine are distributed to 250 hospitals and medical centres in the country and regions each week on public roads and commercial flights, without incident.

And around the world, 20 million packages of radioactive material are safely transported each year on public roads, railways and ships.

The in-built safety features of the packages, regulatory controls, and response procedures have always worked to ensure safety.

I have seen the videos and social media posts making claims that are not based on any facts and I can confirm that they are incorrect.


Chief nuclear officer, ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation).


I write in response to 'Nuclear questions yet to be addressed' (Leon Ashton, Letters to the Editor, January 23 2020), and am happy to answer the questions raised.

"We still don't know if Intermediate Level Waste (ILW) is going to be actually stored at the dump."

As we have said for several years, the ILW is likely to be stored at the facility we are currently proposing for several decades.

The facility is being purpose-designed to achieve regulatory approvals to permanently dispose of low level waste (LLW), and temporarily store ILW.

"We now know that if ILW is not given a licence for temporary storage at a dump site, then there are no economic benefits to any region apart from the initial construction.

We have looked at the government's claim of 45 jobs and it will not be ongoing. Once all legacy waste has been stored or disposed of, it will not take 45 full-time jobs to unpack and process 2.45 containers of Low Level Waste (LLW) per year."

These statements are incorrect and based on a false premise.

The long-term economic benefits of the facility are not dependent on ILW storage, noting that based on April 2018 figures, the commonwealth has some 4,967m3 of legacy LLW and another 4,843m3 to be produced, compared to a much smaller 1,771m3 of legacy ILW with another 1,963 m3 to come.

The details of those 45 jobs in areas such as security, administration, waste handling and management, are contained in a fact sheet and organisation structure at radioactivewaste.gov.au.

In July 2018, Cadence Economics estimated that when fully operational the facility will generate an additional $8.3-$8.4 million in annual benefits to the local economy.

"Why won't the department tell us that in France, what is being returned to Australia as ILW at this end is indeed classified as high level waste?"

Each country can categorise radioactive waste differently (countries like Japan can classify all reprocessed fuel as high level waste for convenience, even though it would be classified as intermediate level in Australia).

High level waste is a by-product of nuclear power generation or nuclear weapons production - Australia does not produce high level radioactive waste and this facility could not store it.

The heat output of the returned waste from France is approximately 0.3 kw per m3 - many times under the 'high level' threshold (2kw per m3).

"When will the government acknowledge that their process has not worked?"

The Senate Economics References Committee independently inquired into the selection process in 2018, and found it to be sound.

The department has put the community at the centre of this process, which involved more than four years of deep consultation and technical assessments.

Some 61.6 per cent of voters in Kimba supported the proposal in the November 2019 ballot. In addition, 59.3 per cent of surveyed local businesses and 59.8 per cent of local submission writers supported the proposal.

And 60 per cent of neighbours within five kilometres of Napandee, and 100 per cent of direct neighbours that share a boundary with the site at Napandee, supported the facility proceeding.


National Radioactive Waste Management Facility Taskforce

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