Safety Problems at ANTSO


ANSTO maintains that “the existing reactor has operated safely for over 40 years since it was commissioned in 1958.” It also states that “safety inspections of the reactor are carried out on a regular basis and have shown it to be in excellent condition.” (ANSTO Website:

On the contrary, the history of ANSTO is a litany of accidents – euphemistically termed incidents -in which workers and the general public have been put at risk. Two independent assessments of the facility have reported safety problems.


11 October 1978 a worker at the facility was irradiated due to inexperience. (Letter to Minister Newman 14.12.78)

23 November 1978 an electrician and his equipment were irradiated. (Letter to Minister Newman 14.12.78) The following day, a union meeting was held outside the front gates in which the members resolved “It is not in the best interest to work in Buildings 23 and 23A because of radiation and contamination problems in those buildings.”

29 May 1979 two workers carried radioactive material into their cars and homes.

4 December 1980 a truck carrying several radioactive sources crashed on the Pacific Highway near Laurieton. Dr John MacKay claimed that 16 people in and near the crash site suffered from radioactive poisoning subsequently and accused the AAEC and Health Commission of a cover-up.

17 November 1983 Bomb Alert. An explosive device was discovered in an electrical sub-station inside the AAEC compound. It comprised 9 sticks of gelignite surrounded by an estimated 25 kilos of ammonium nitrate that had been soaked in distillate. There were 3 detonators and a chemical/thermo igniter. (Letter to Minister, Press Statement and AAEC Annual Report 1983-4 p64)

15 May 1984 a ruptured pipe joint released about 100 litres of radioactive sludge into storm-water drains. Two operators were contaminated.

6 July 1984 2.12 kilograms of unenriched uranium hexafluoride were released into the atmosphere. When uranium hexafluoride reacts with the air it forms hydrofluroic acid. State Emergency Services were not notified; State Pollution Control Commission and staff were notified well after the event. A committee of enquiry was appointed to establish the cause of the release. (AAEC Annual Report 1984-5 page 67)

July 1984 A leaflet delivered to residents – and sent to media outlets – threatened to demolish the nuclear reactor using an aircraft packed with explosives.

1984 A driver transported isotopes through Sydney in an improperly sealed container. The driver was exposed to the maximum radiation dose considered acceptable for a year. The public was also exposed.

1985 “A radioactive substance called tritium has been flowing into two New South Wales rivers used for swimming and oyster farming for more than 10 years.” (SMH 30.1.85)

15 September 1985 Vandalism to a pipe resulted in radioactive liquid draining into the Woronora River. The accident was not reported for 10 days.

18 March 1987 a fire in the Radioisotope Processing Cell Building 54.The fire occurred in a charcoal filter in processing cell 500m from the reactor (HIFAR). The cell is used to process irradiated uranium to separate radioisotope molybdenum-99. Some radioactive contamination escaped into the operating area and three officers were found to be contaminated.

1989 A Report by Canadian nuclear engineers from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd found major problems at ANSTO.
o “Poor morale and poor management-staff relations”
o ” a deficiency in safety culture”
o key personnel not being trained
o out of date and unmaintained operating manuals
o no regular review of maintenance, testing and inspection programs
o poor health and safety practices
o improper management of high-level radioactive waste
o inadequate emergency arrangements
o efforts to improve safety were not properly planned and implemented
o review of the current refurbishment program was inefficient and ‘could cause the reactor to be exposed to risk unnecessarily”
o problems with contamination detection and control waste management, relations with regulatory bodies
o the emergency core cooling system had been compromised and the reactor exposed to unnecessary danger for two years.


23 April 1992 a radiation leak occurred while a spent fuel element has being handled inside a storage block (Leader 5.5.92).This resulted in 4 workmen being exposed to as much radiation in 20 seconds as they would normally receive in a year. (Committee Report investigation into abnormal occurrence at HIFAR 23 April 1992, May 1992) (See also the claim for compensation described below on 27 th July 1999.)

11 June 1992 a raid by the NSW Environment Protection Authority found that “drums of radioactive waste were leaking and vital safety equipment was out of order. Leaking waste may have washed into the stormwater system.” (Telegraph Mirror 12.6.92)

November 1992 a fire destroyed a laboratory. It cost $500,000 to clean up the laboratory.

21 January 1995 an accident while unloading a 400 milligram gallium arsenide irradiation target caused the spread of radioactive material. Two workers were contaminated, one of whom took home radioactive material on his clothing. (ANSTO memo to SSC 23.1.95)

2 May 1997 a radioactive item was stolen – and not recovered – from an ANSTO display at Menai High School, caused concern in the community. An ANSTO spokesman said the source could be handled ‘quite safely but shouldn’t be for long periods.’ (Leader 8.5.97)

28 May 1997 radioactive water dripped from a container being used to transfer two fuel rod elements from one building to another. A road inside the ANSTO grounds was closed for two hours while ANSTO health physicists identified spots of contamination. (Leader 3.6.97.) In its Annual Report for 1996-7, the Safety Review Committee suggested that rainwater had entered the underground dry storage tubes prior to 1985 and that alleged inspections since then had failed to notice the 90 litres of water! It said that monitoring and inspection arrangements have been inadequate.

November 1998 an ANSTO worker received a dose to his fingers of 550mSv – above the international limit of 500 mSv. The report by nuclear regulator ARPANSA said that the investigation into the incident revealed similar incidents had occurred previously involving lower doses. Inadequate follow-up and management procedures had failed to prevent a recurrence. (“Leader” 5 th October 1999)

1 February 1999 a damaged and corroded spent fuel element (see report 28 May 1997 for reason) was slipped from its protective flask whilst being inspected. It was placed on the ground and the flask placed over it. There it remained for ten weeks until a means of recovering it was performed. Four operators were subjected to radiation exposure during the incident.

February 1999 the medical radioisotope production plant was closed down on two occasions due to accidents involving the release of gases to the atmosphere that were greater than the “normal routine” releases. The first allowed inert noble gases, Xenon and Krypton to escape due to the failure of an operator to check the position of a valve. The second involved the release of Iodine when a filter on a hot cell failed. (“Leader” 11 th March 1999)

May 1999 Contractors for Sydney Water struck a sewer pipe located 1 Km from ANSTO whilst using a backhoe. Some radioactive material escaped from the resultant crack. (“Leader” 27 th May 1999)

23 June 1999 Again in the medical isotope production plant a filter “failed”, allowing noble gases to escape to the atmosphere.

27 July 1999 Compensation claim appeal by former ANSTO cleaner. The claim related to 2 incidents, the first occurring on 11 th November 1991 when an isotope was dropped on the floor. The second took place on 23 rd April 1992 when a spent nuclear fuel rod was raised out of its protective casing, exposing staff to radiation. (“Leader” 27th July 1999)

March 2002 following a fuel rod cropping accident in the storage pool the pool was seriously contaminated. ANSTO spokesperson said that whole body radiation checks of staff in the vicinity had shown no radiation doses. (“Leader” 26th March 2002)

March 2002 a release of radioactive tritium was reported to the regulator ARPANSA. It occurred on March 26 th during routine maintenance work in building 57

1 April 2002 ANSTO sources told the “Leader” that ‘a cocktail of fission products’ contaminated the clothing of 4 to 6 workers involved in the clean up. This was subsequently carried into their cars and homes. (“Leader 30 th April 2002)

11 April 2002 local fire fighters were called to a fire in an electrical sub-station believed to have been caused by an electrical fault. ANSTO emergency teams had initially attempted to extinguish the fire. (“Leader” 11 th April 2002)

2 July 2002 the regulator ARPANSA confirmed that bores had been sunk around building 23 that houses the cropping pond in an attempt to establish whether water may have escaped into the surrounding environment. Sources at ANSTO said ‘that despite extensive filtration, the quality of the water was still not of a standard that allowed more fuel rods from the reactor to be added. (“Leader” 2nd July 2002)

Lucas Heights nuclear reactor staff ‘bullied over safety concerns’

* Amos Aikman and Leigh Dayton
* From: The Australian
* February 28, 2011 9:48PM

At least six employees of Australia’s only nuclear reactor claim they were bullied by management and, in some cases, suspended from work after expressing concern about the safety of the plant’s operations.

Workplace regulator Comcare confirmed it had received submissions from three workers at the Lucas Heights plant in Sydney’s south, operated by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. “Comcare can confirm that investigations are underway into claims that three ANSTO employees were stepped down after raising safety concerns against ANSTO. The investigations are in their preliminary stages,” a spokesman said.

The Australian understands at least two more workers are preparing complaints in addition to those made by whistleblower David Reid, who went public last May with accusations of safety breaches, cover-ups and bullying.

Mr Reid is suspended on full pay.

A spokeswoman for ANSTO said the organisation was unaware of the new complaints and declined to make further comment.

Mr Reid, who has worked at ANSTO since 1981, made his initial public allegations following the disclosure through Freedom of Information of a report that criticised aspects of ANSTO’s safety procedures.

The report by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency described an accident in which a worker was irradiated after a colleague dropped a vial of radioactive Molybdenum-99.

“I find it disgraceful that ANSTO has so little concern for its employees,” the exposed worker told The Australian.

“It’s even more disgraceful the way they treat staff when they try to raise serious issues such as this.

“If you get on their bad books you’re out, regardless of your performance,” said the worker, whose contract was ended prematurely.

Mr Reid’s allegations triggered another Comcare investigation, made public last month, finding that ANSTO had acted prejudicially towards Mr Reid.

ANSTO dismissed the report. Results of an independent review commissioned by Comcare are expected this month.

Science Minister Kim Carr said last week that the issues raised in the Comcare report were serious enough to warrant the launch of an independent inquiry into practices at ANSTO, chaired by department secretary Mark Patterson.

Senator Carr yesterday announced the appointment of Professor Paul Greenfield as ANSTO chairman.

2 Responses to “Safety Problems at ANTSO”

  1. epa mact Says:

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    […]Safety Problems at ANTSO « Paul Langley's Nuclear History Blog[…]…

  2. History of Australian children exposed to nuclear radiation « Antinuclear Says:

    […] incident with child safety concerns occurred in May 1997 when a radioactive source was stolen from an ANSTO promotional display at Menai High School. An ANSTO spokesperson said the source […]

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