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 Post subject: Defence warned on waste
PostPosted: Sat Jul 28, 2007 12:15 am 

Joined: Sat Jan 14, 2006 4:13 pm
Posts: 1672
Location: South Australia
Defence warned on waste
Dennis Shanahan, Political editor
July 27, 2007

THE Defence Department has been forced to "significantly improve" its regulations and handling of radioactive material after a high-level inquiry into contamination at a Brisbane barracks.

Australia's nuclear watchdog told the review "that Defence's management of its regulatory requirements" needed significant improvement.

The review, conducted by Defence secretary Nick Warner, found ignorance, complacency and "poor work practices" contributed to a radioactive tritium contamination at the Bulimba barracks in 2003. More than 20 recommendations have been made for changes to Defence's handling, reporting and safety measures when dealing with radioactive sources.

The Commander of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston, accepted all the recommendations from the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson ordered the review after revelations in The Australian in April of the tritium contamination and a botched "clean-up" during which contractors used Chux Super Wipes to wipe down radioactive surfaces and left them in a tea room to dry.

The Australian also revealed that the British high commission and a British optics firm, which repaired the army compass and gunsights containing the tritium fluid as a light source, complained about tritium levels.

Safety equipment sent from Britain was not used for two years, until 2003, when the contamination at the Bulimba barracks workshop was detected.

Dr Nelson said that although tritium was a low-risk radiation source and the contamination levels were within "acceptable levels", there would be a full review. That review found a lack of knowledge about tritium, complacency and poor practices in Defence but no evidence of a deliberate attempt to cover up the contamination.

The incident initially triggered a shake-up within the army's radioactive substances division and scathing criticism from the nation's nuclear safety watchdog, which continues to monitor activities at the barracks.

Routine tests of contractors in 2003 revealed a higher than normal radioactive level on their clothing as well as in workshops and at workers' homes.

A nuclear safety inspector went to Bulimba after the detection of the radioactive contamination and found "a building, used for the repair of compasses and tritium sights, was undergoing work to remove contamination", the agency said.

Recently, a former employer at the barracks lodged a claim against the Defence Department in relation to a kidney cancer.

But the review found: "Tritium light sources present an insignificant health risk to personnel, provided operators and maintainers adhere to simple precautionary measures;

"Advice from specialists in Defence, ARPANSA and the Queensland Health Scientific Service is that the radiation dose to which the employees in the Electrical and Instrument Repair (EIR) workshop at Bulimba barracks were exposed in 2003 was well within internationally and nationally accepted radiation dose limits;

"There is no statistically significant evidence in the scientific or medical literature to suggest a link between exposure to tritium contamination and cancer at the low doses to which the employees at Bulimba were exposed;

"There is no evidence to suggest a link between exposure to tritium contamination and renal cell carcinoma."

Dr Nelson is expected to release the report soon.

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