Environment

Second radioactive spill in 10 months at ANSTO’s Lucas Heights facility

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A staff member at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation facility at Lucas Heights has been involved in a spill of radioactive material, the second such incident in 10 months.

A quality control analyst working in medical production was involved in the spillage of about one millilitre of the radioactive isotope molybdenum-99 early on Thursday morning, an ANSTO spokesman said.

The nuclear reactor at ANSTO's Lucas Heights research campus.

Photo: Sahlan Hayes

“The staff member was wearing full protective clothing. An occupational health physicist checked the analyst and confirmed no skin contamination," the spokesman said.

The employee was then cleared to go home and returned to work on Friday.

A source told Fairfax Media, however, that employees at the site "are concerned with the most recent number of safety breaches and lack of management support".

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Medical production at the facility has ceased, pending a thorough investigation into the spill, the spokesman said. "ANSTO is working to minimise impacts on nuclear medicine production.”

ANSTO was keen to stress that Thursday's incident was "very different" from one last August, when a staffer reportedly spilled a quantity of the MO-99 isotope, causing a "significant radiation dose".

“Tests show the analyst involved in yesterdays incident did not receive skin contamination. ANSTO continues to provide support for the employee involved in last years incident.”

The site has had other radiation events, such as one reportedly involving four staff in 2012.

ANSTO said about one in every two Australians will need a dose of nuclear medicine in their lives, with the material used for diagnosis and treatment of various heart, lung, brain and bone conditions, as well as cancer.

Peter Hannam

Peter Hannam is Environment Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. He covers broad environmental issues ranging from climate change to renewable energy for Fairfax Media.

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