Australia

Workers exposed to unsafe radiation at Lucas Heights nuclear medical facility

A technician uses a hot cell which shields radioactive material at the Opal nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney. Source: AAP

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation has stopped production at a Sydney nuclear medicine lab after two workers were exposed to radiation.

Two employees at a nuclear facility at Lucas Heights in Sydney have been exposed to radiation in a contamination scare that halted production at a nuclear medicine lab.

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation says it stopped manufacturing the radioisotope molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) on Friday morning after contamination was detected on the outside of a container carrying it.

"Three ANSTO workers were attended to by radiation protection personnel, and initial indications are that two of these workers received a radiation dose above the statutory limit," ANSTO said in a statement on Monday. 

Mo-99 is the parent isotope of Technetium-99m, which is used in hospitals and nuclear medicine centres to diagnose a variety of heart, lung, organ and muscular-skeletal conditions.

Early indications show the radiation dose to the two workers was "equivalent to that of a conventional radiation therapy treatment".

An estimate of the radiation dose will be confirmed in coming weeks, and ANSTO said an investigation has started, while the nuclear regulator and Comcare has been informed.

"An occupational physician will continue to provide ongoing observation. All three workers involved are receiving ongoing support from ANSTO," the statement said.

An ANSTO spokesperson said radiation protection personnel attended to three workers, and two of them received a radiation dose "above the statutory limit".

"Early calculations indicate that the radiation dose received by two of the workers involved in medicine processing, was equivalent to that of a conventional radiation therapy treatment," the spokesperson said.

"An occupational physician will continue to provide ongoing observation. All three workers involved are receiving ongoing support from ANSTO.

“Vital supplies of Molybdenum-99 nuclear medicine are currently being provided through alternative facilities at ANSTO, while the investigation is underway.”

An estimate of the radiation dose will be confirmed in the coming weeks.

The incident comes just two weeks after ANSTO received approval to enter into full domestic production. 

The radioisotope Mo-99 is the parent of Technetium-99m, used in hospitals and nuclear medicine centres to diagnose a variety of heart, lung, organ and muscular-skeletal conditions.

ANSTO said vital supplies of the Mo-99 nuclear medicine are being provided through alternative facilities at ANSTO while the investigation continues.

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