AUSTRALIA'S nuclear research agency has been cleared of safety breaches and a culture of cover-ups in a report tabled in Canberra yesterday.
But the Government-appointed panel that authored the report said the Lucas Heights reactor in Sydney’s south was ageing, staff were worried that maintenance occurred only for the most urgent matters, and an even more open approach to reporting health and safety problems should be adopted.
"Good progress has made but there is still more to achieve," it said.
Science and Research Minister Kim Carr commissioned the review in February in the wake of allegations that the reactor run by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s radiopharmaceuticals facility had breached safety standards and failed to investigate workplace bullying of staff who raised concerns.
Senator Carr yesterday told Senate estimates that the Comcare documents that sounded the initial alarm bells had been misused for "political purposes".
Panel chair mark Paterson, who was appointed to the review while secretary of Senator Carr’s department, told the same hearing there was no evidence that ANSTO practices had breached safety standards.
"There’s a clear focus of attention on health and safety issues and the panel was satisfied that there was no gap in the culture of heath and safety at ANSTO," he said.
But the report also said staff were concerned that their managers lacked a good grasp of the plant’s production processes and that there was not enough long term or strategic maintenance work done at the facility.
Despite the existence of maintenance plans, "staff argue that maintenance is only undertaken for the most urgent matters," it said.
The report also recommended the organisation allow staff to report safety problems directly to the radiation safety watchdog and Comcare if managers failed to respond to their concerns.
In 2009-10, ANSTO Health had one breach of its licence and 56 radiology "events or near misses."
One employee, David Reid, who went public last year with the safety concerns that triggered the Comcare investigation, has been suspended from his job for about two years on full pay.
The facility is also the subject of other, ongoing review, including one by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency.
<a href="http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/lucas-heights-cleared-of-safety-breaches-report/story-fn59niix-1226065977069tag:news.google.com,2005:cluster=http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/lucas-heights-cleared-of-safety-breaches-report/story-fn59niix-1226065977069Mon, 30 May 2011 14:13:16 GMT 00:00″>Lucas Heights cleared of safety breaches: report