New reactor bill doubles to $530m
TAXPAYERS will have to foot a $530 million bill for the new nuclear reactor in Sydney's southern suburbs – almost double the amount the Federal Government has previously claimed would be needed.
The revelations, contained in documents obtained by Sutherland Shire Council from the Federal Department of Finance, show that the total cost of a new reactor will be $527 million – not $286 million as has been claimed.
As contracts between the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and the recently announced builders – Argentine company INVAP – are due to be signed, new doubt has also been raised over the issue of a licence to operate and even build the reactor.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Safety Agency has claimed that licences would only be issued on the basis of a nuclear waste storage facility being established – a political minefield the Government has so far failed to negotiate.
A briefing note from the Finance Department to the Department of Industry Science and Technology obtained under Freedom of Information laws, reveals that as early as April 1997, Cabinet was made aware of the cost of replacing the research reactor at Lucas Heights. A joint parliamentary Public Works committee inquiry into the reactor – due for construction in 2002 – approved the construction of a new facility last year based largely on the figures provided by Cabinet. "The committee recommends the construction of a replacement research reactor at Lucas Heights at an estimated cost of $286.4 million at 1997 prices," the committee concluded.
However, the Finance Department document estimated the cost at twice this price: "The total cost of a replacement reactor is substantial," it said. "It involves not only the construction of a new reactor but decommissioning of HIFAR (the existing 48-year-old reactor) and a strategy to manage nuclear waste from the new reactor. "Government capital injection is some $527 million plus annual operating costs of $12.5 million."
The Australian Conservation Foundation yesterday called for a full public inquiry into the new reactor, claiming the Federal Government had misled the public and Parliament.
"We want a halt to any further negotiations prior to signing of contracts," said ACF nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney.
"This is the single biggest science expenditure in Australia's history and the process so far has been secretive and shabby. ANSTO are putting their ambitions ahead of democratic processes and the Australian community's right to know, and are driven by a political imperative of pushing through an unpopular project."
Scientists from the Sutherland Shire Council – which has been denied access to the majority of documents pertaining to the reactor project in its precinct – also claimed that environmental impact statements for the project approved by Environment Minister Robert Hill were conducted despite the fact a design for the new reactor has not yet been decided.
The chair of the public works committee which approved the finance for the project, Liberal MP Judi Moylan, was not able to be contacted yesterday to comment on claims the committee had been misled on the cost.