Chance to discuss nuclear medicine

31 March 2017

Photo of the webinar

The recent webinar on nuclear medicine in Australia provided an opportunity to rebut recent claims made by the Medical Association for Prevention of War.

None of what MAPW argue for would deliver a positive outcome for Australians or support our world-class health system, nor would it be consistent with our responsibilities as a critical part of the global health network.

The fact is reactor-based medicines are important and will not be replaced in the foreseeable future.

Leading medical and scientific experts on the panel agreed technologies such as cyclotrons will play a growing role, but will only complement and not replace the range of services and research provided by our world-class reactor.

One of the lines of argument made by MAPW president Margaret Beavis was that Lucas Heights receives massive government subsidies and implying therefore that production of medicines should cease and be replaced by imports. It is irrational to suggest we should cease or scale back public health activities that are government subsidised.

Like the CSIRO and other research bodies, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) receives funding from the government to undertake and facilitate research into major health, environment and industrial challenges Australia faces. As well as its research function, ANSTO also produces nuclear medicine – at no net cost to the taxpayer. The government does not subsidise the production of nuclear medicine at ANSTO.

The call for Australia to import rather than produce nuclear medicines ignores the fact that Australia’s state-of-the-art reactor is more efficient and cost effective than other similar reactors and it would simply shift our waste onto someone else. An imported supply would be less reliable and more expensive than medicine produced here.

ANSTO’s Low Enriched Uranium OPAL reactor is the envy of the world. The suggestion from MAPW that we swap our advanced production for nuclear medicines produced in older, less reliable reactors that likely use High Enriched Uranium, whose fuel could potentially be diverted for use in weaponry, and which produces higher level waste is not a good option.

Dr Beavis also remains opposed to Australia using its world class and highly efficient reactor to expand production of nuclear medicine production to supply other countries.

Because of newer and more efficient waste packaging processes ANSTO has developed, expansion will not lead to an exponential increase to our waste production, it will save lives and represents Australia giving back to the global community with a higher quality, less waste producing and proliferation-proof product.

MAPW says there is a global oversupply in nuclear medicines, ignoring that by 2030 a majority of international medical reactors will be closed.

Dr Beavis also says the department is “guilting” communities by linking access to nuclear medicines to the construction of a waste facility.

We never said this.

But it is a fact that we cannot leave the waste at ANSTO there forever, nor can we operate the reactor without a waste solution.

Even if we stopped nuclear medicine production, the 60 years’ worth of radioactive waste Australia already has would need to be sent to a better location.

We need to deal with our legacy waste and the waste from the future production of medicine, and its management needs to be done safely and securely, and to international best practice standards.

Assertions such as “the waste should stay at Lucas Heights”, “nuclear waste does not come from the nuclear medicine”, “the waste facility will damage communities” fly in the face of all available evidence and do not help communities, they scare and confuse them.

Australia’s radioactive waste will be managed safely and securely, and in a way that creates good jobs and a local industry in wherever the facility is eventually located.

Whether or not Kimba or Barndioota are the right places for that industry is a matter for those communities.

We will keep providing those communities, and any others where a site is volunteered, with the facts they need to make a decision, and we encourage other groups to do the same.