Despite the worker wearing two pairs of gloves, his hands were contaminated causing “tissue reactions”. The exposure was considered serious and reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In another case, a patient self-discharged from hospital after receiving radiotherapy involving nuclear medicine. After returning home he “urinated outside” and contaminated “the rear yard”. Turf and soil was removed to address the hazard.
Other incidents included a lung cancer patient who was given double doses of radiation, and a radioactive vial that broke in a microwave.
The report concluded that radiation use in Australia “is generally very safe” but unexpected events can occur “even with strict controls in place”.
Opponents of an expansion of Australia’s nuclear industry cite safety as a major concern.
But new Minerals Council chair Helen Coonan on Monday said a parliamentary inquiry into nuclear power would ensure issues such as safety were better understood.
“I think it’s time to give it a go quite frankly. There’s a long way to go, of course, because there are legislative barriers and there needs to be political will,” Ms Coonan told the ABC.
Federal and state laws currently ban nuclear power, and any push to develop a home-grown industry would need state support. However even state-based Liberal-Nationals have so far failed to back the prospect.
Queensland LNP Leader Deb Frecklington said in a statement that her party “does not support nuclear power in Queensland” and a spokesman for the Liberal South Australian government said it has “no plans to change its current legislation governing nuclear energy”.
Victorian Labor Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said it “makes no sense to build nuclear power stations in Australia. They present significant community, health and environmental risks”.
Queensland Hinkler MP Keith Pitt, one of two backbenchers spearheading the push for a nuclear inquiry, on Monday said despite the Queensland LNP’s position, the party’s members were “very strongly supportive” of nuclear energy.
He said discussions on the issue were ongoing with Energy Minister Angus Taylor and the office of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Mr Taylor said on Monday that the government has “no plans” to change the nuclear power moratorium.
Meanwhile, ARPANSA has confirmed that restrictions remain in place at the Lucas Heights nuclear facility after an incident last month when two workers were exposed to radiation.
Under the restrictions, the facility run by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation can produce enough nuclear medicine to meet domestic demand only. A spokeswoman said the ANSTO must provide evidence of safe operation in fortnightly reports, training records and evidence of satisfactory staffing levels and rostering arrangements before the restrictions are lifted, which could take “several months”.
Nicole Hasham is environment and energy correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.