Security upgrades at Lucas Heights nuclear reactor not influenced by trespasser scare

An aerial shot of Lucas Heights, in Sydney’s south west. Photo: Quentin JonesSecurity upgrades at Australia’s oldest nuclear reactor were not triggered by the arrest of five men caught loitering outside the site last year, according to officials.

The men were arrested and questioned in September after parking their vehicles within 100 metres of the security gates to the Lucas Heights reactor in southern Sydney.

The group were eventually released without charge but their actions led police to question why they had strayed onto restricted Commonwealth land.

In response to a question on notice, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation chief executive Dr Adrian Paterson said security upgrades in October were not prompted by the scare.

“Control room operations were outsourced to one of Australia’s largest security firms with significant expertise and experience in control room monitoring,” an ANSTO spokesman said.

“ANSTO’s first responder safety function was also outsourced to a private company.”

The spokesman said both changes were made after a detailed review of security arrangements and after consultation with the Australian Federal Police.

“The changes have been successfully implemented and are delivering improved operational outcomes as well as cost savings,” he said.

“The AFP continues to be responsible for the 24-hour-a-day physical protection of the ANSTO site as well as armed first response.”

Dr Paterson said ANSTO received regular briefings from the intelligence community and their security posture could be strengthened quickly in response to specific threats.

During the Senate estimates hearing in June, he stressed the five men had not entered the Lucas Heights site and there was no suggestion they intended to do so.

In 2001, Greenpeace activists gained entry to the Lucas Heights complex and unveiled banners claiming nuclear power was “never safe”.

The Lucas Heights nuclear reactor is set to become a world leader in the production of nuclear medicine with plans to produce more than 25 per cent of the world’s nuclear medicine needs. The site currently produces 10,000 nuclear medicine doses each week which are then sent to more than 250 hospitals and medical practices around Australia. The Lucas Heights site will also receive a shipment of radioactive waste returned to Sydney from France this year, after being sent to Europe for processing in the 1990s.

According to legal requirements, the waste must be returned from France by December with more waste set to be returned from Britain in 2017.

In response to a Senate estimates question on notice, an ANSTO spokesman said the department had consulted with the community and information had been available to the public since 2012.

ANSTO marketing material states the returning waste is equivalent to one third of a shipping container.

The cost of transferring waste from Britain is expected to cost nearly $27 million over four years, while the return of waste from France has been funded in budgets since 2010.

ANSTO has emphasised Lucas Heights should only be an interim solution until the permanent national store is built.