Greens keep fighting ANSTO on nuclear safety

The Australian Greens Senator Ludlam is not resting on his “wins” against the Australian Nuclear Science & Technology Organisation.  On 22 October 2009, Ludlam issued a media statement.  Some quotes are below:

“If ANSTO believes its record is clean, it should make public the incident reports rather than waiting for the issues to be raised in Senate committees,” said Greens spokesperson on nuclear issues, Senator Scott Ludlam.

Good point. If one places this incident in the realm of workplace safety, the incident still would not become public.  OHS authorities usually only make public incident details after prosecution for, probably, sound legal reasons.  On OHS principles, issues that have relevance to other worksites should be communicated and, in some cases and industries, safety alerts are issued, but should a public notice be made of each incident that is reported? Probably not as disinterest and complacency would soon emerge.

“The ANSTO statement confuses the issue by referring to imaginary claims of a ‘spill’ and seeks to downplay an incident by noting, “The quantity of medical isotope in the vial was 1/10 of a teaspoon”.  The quantity of material exposed is irrelevant: as ANSTO well knows, it is the level of radioactivity of a given sample that matters, not how many teaspoons may have been dropped.

Agreed to some extent.  Quantity does not equal risk.

“ANSTO is also aware that there is no safe level of ionising radiation… as confirmed by the National Academies of Science BEIR VII report on “Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation“.

There are umpteen instances of arguments over “safe levels” in OHS and environmental management.  It is likely that the Australian Greens will become more vocal when the determination of “reasonably practicable” becomes more widely applied throughout Australia.  Exposure levels are arguments that cannot be won in the short term and vary considerably as research continues


“ANSTO’s whistleblower policy states that disclosure of threats to the health, safety and welfare of staff, and/or the general public is in the public interest.”

The environmental sector has relied on whistleblowers for decades – Silkwood, Brockovich, being obvious examples – or at least, relied on those who persist or become obsessed.

The call here by the Greens is likely to have many companies reassessing the application of their whistleblower policy, should they have one.  OHS doesn’t usually work through such a policy but it is an approach that may require reanalysis in line with the expansion of OHS law into the traditional areas of public liability.

One would hope that a corporation’s sense of social responsibility would be applied in such worker and public health matters.  Given the secrecy over nuclear power leaks and spills at England’s Sellafield plant, an important part of England’s weapons program for many decades, the Greens’ suspicion can be easily understood.

Kevin Jones

Categories campaign, government, health, OHS, radiation, safety, UncategorizedTags , ,

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