In Senate Estimates this week, Australia’s nuclear chief ducked and weaved when questioned about serious incidents at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor. Noel Wauchope reports.
I guess that we can rely on the mainstream media to give sympathetic coverage to Dr Adrian Paterson, CEO of ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation), who was very distressed after being put on the spot in the Senate this week.
At one point in the polite, but persistent, questioning by Senator Scott Ludlam, the discussion was interrupted by an interjection from David Reid. Reid, of course, was the whistleblower who alerted the public to a radiation incident at Lucas Heights ― and was sacked for doing so.
Anyway, the most recent KPMG report on the 2007 incident criticised ARPANSA (Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency) for its poor response to the incident.
This report was one of several reports on the matter. In February 2011, Australia’s workplace health and safety regulator, Comcare, found ANSTO had under-reported accidents and breached safety standards. Investigating radiation incidents, Comcare found that ANSTO breached health and safety laws. It also reported that Mr Reid’s suspension was “somewhat extreme” and that Mr Reid was substantially denied procedural fairness.
In the Senate this week, Senator Scott Ludlam got devious answers from Dr Paterson, who seemed hell-bent on asserting that the radioactive spill incidents never happened. No wonder that David Reid angrily interjected.
SENATOR LUDLAM: The KPMG report finds that ANSTO technical and supervisory staff and the executive management covered up the fact that three staff were contaminated by the beta emitter yttrium on the relevant day and that Mr Reid witnessed an incident between two men at the contamination barrier on the day in question n. He reported that one man had yttrium contamination, which is a beta radiation emitter, all down his clothes and in his mouth and that the other man’s supervisor was trying to clean him up and was telling him not to report the contamination….Mr Paterson, are you still contesting that these events even occurred at all?
DR PATERSON: We were not involved in this investigation in a way that would have allowed us to put all of the issues on the table this was a report that was, indeed, intended for ARPANSA. It was not intended to make any findings in relation to ANSTO, and I do not believe it has done.
SENATOR LUDLAM: It is your facility; it is your plant. It is a report about an accident involving your staff at your facility. I am not quite sure why we are creating this distance. It was created for the regulator because they were extremely unhappy ― I will contest these contentions later on this morning with ANSTO — with ANSTO’S response to these incidents, which did indeed occur. These are not alleged incidents — these are a matter of public record.
DR PATERSON: I believe that we have been very clear on this matter. If indeed this incident did take place… [Interjection here from David Reid.]
SENATOR LUDLAM: So you contest the existence?
DR PATERSON: I can contest whether there was an incident of this nature at the time that has been outlined in the report.
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