Australia

Sydney’s Lucas Heights nuclear facility fails modern safety standards: Report

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A report says the federal government's nuclear medical facility in Sydney fails to meet modern nuclear safety standards and should be replaced or rebuilt.

The federal government's ageing nuclear medical facility in southern Sydney should be replaced or rebuilt due to safety concerns, an independent report says.

The expert report published on Monday found there was a "make do and mend" culture at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation site in Lucas Heights.

The report found the 1950s-era nuclear medical facility failed to meet modern nuclear safety standards.

A replacement facility has been in the pipeline for several years but plans have been hindered because of federal government budget restrictions, the report said.

Sydney's Lucas Heights facility fails to meet modern nuclear safety standards, a report has found.
Sydney's Lucas Heights facility fails to meet modern nuclear safety standards, a report has found.
AAP

While several modifications have been made to the facility, the report found the upgrades can't resolve all issues.

In August 2017 a technician was exposed to radioactive material which contaminated his hands through two pairs of gloves after he dropped a vial at the Lucas Heights facility, exposing him to an elevated risk of cancer.

The incident was the most serious in the world last year - the only safety failure that was rated a "Level 3" event or above. It was followed by three other less-serious incidents within the next 10 months.

"It should be noted that Level 3 events are regarded as serious events in the nuclear industry and any additional events at this level may result in loss of confidence in the organisation," the report says.

ANSTO chief nuclear officer Hefin Griffiths says the report was confronting and challenging.

"This is an old facility ... it is entering the life cycle where it's becoming more and more challenging to maintain the sustainability of the facility," Mr Griffiths told ABC TV.

He insists the facility isn't dangerous but admits because of its age it doesn't meet modern standards.

ANSTO chief executive Adi Paterson said since the incident in August 2017 it was clear that safety improvements were needed.

"It's clear from the incident and this report that we have work to do on both accounts, and for that we are sorry," Dr Paterson said in a statement on Monday.

The report made 85 recommendations, including that the Australian government commit to a replacement facility as soon as practicable and provide additional funding or find alternative funding for the new site.

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