Lucas Heights – cause for alarm

April 1, 2003

The following article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday. It refers to the submission that the Union made to the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), a copy of which can be downloaded by clicking here.

Anger at nuclear disaster plan
By Stephanie Peatling, Environment Reporter
Sydney Morning Herald – March 31 2003

A draft plan for managing an incident at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor has been described by the firefighters union as “breathtakingly inept”. The union suggested members would not work in a clean-up because of fears for their safety.

The nuclear watchdog’s radiation health committee has also criticised the plan, saying its attitude towards the concerns of people living in the area is “condescending and patronising”.

Bill Williams, a general practitioner and health committee member, said the draft emergency plan was inadequate and treated the public “as if they were idiots”.

“It is extremely condescending and patronising to the public and says they should be told as little as possible because they are stupid,” Dr Williams said.

“They are worried if they tell people too much [about what could happen in an emergency] they will start questioning why on earth they have a nuclear reactor in the suburbs.”

The committee told the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency last week that it should reconsider its decision not to predistribute iodine tablets to people living near the reactor.

The agency has been criticised for saying it would only give iodine tablets to vulnerable groups of people once radiation exposure levels reached a level three times the one set by the World Health Organisation.

The NSW Fire Brigade Employees Union is concerned its members would be exposed to potentially lethal doses of radiation in the course of dealing with an incident at Lucas Heights, in Sydney’s south.

Agency suggestions that “firefighters and other emergency personnel may be exposed to dose levels that are effectively without limit” meant the union would recommend that members’ participation be voluntary.

If the draft emergency plan was not revised, the union said, “it is reasonable to expect that the participation rate [in an emergency operation] may be extremely low”.

An agency spokesman said the nuclear regulatory body would consider the criticisms of its draft emergency provisions and incorporate them into a revised document.

The revised draft would be released for public comment later in the year, he said, and would take the concerns of the health committee and the firefighters union into account.

The agency was also preparing to reconsider its position on predistribution of iodine tablets and the level of radiation children and pregnant women could be exposed to before they were advised to take the tablets.

The Greens MP Lee Rhiannon said predistribution of iodine tablets was essential.

She urged the State Government to push a case for public safety.



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