Page 794
Previous/Next Page
Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 11

I The Present Energy Economy

II Australian Energy Consumption

III Research And Development

IV Coal

V Oil And Natural Gas

VI Solar Energy

VII Nuclear Energy
i Production of uranium
ii Australian Atomic Energy Commission

VIII Bagasse Firewood And Other Biomass

IX Electric Power Generation And Distribution electric Power Generation And Distribution

X Manufactured Gas

XI Industrial Process Heat



Contact us

Australian Atomic Energy Commission

The Commission came into being in 1953 with the objective of making the benefits of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy available to the Australian nation. By arrangement with the British government, the first staff appointed were sent to Harwell in the UK to gain experience in nuclear science -it is of interest that of the scientific delegations sent overseas from Australia and New Zealand to assist the war effort, the NZ group was attached to the atomic project and hence New Zealanders were prominent in the first senior appointments (the Australian group worked on radar, leading to the post-war strengths in radio astronomy). The Chief Scientist was C. N. Watson-Munro, who had been responsible for starting up the first nuclear reactor in Canada and the first in the UK and who was to 'complete the trifecta' in Australia.

The original site for a research establishment had been selected at Maroubra in Sydney, but when the decision was taken to build a large research reactor the present, more suitable 70 ha site at Lucas Heights was adopted. Work began in October, 1955, with Stephenson and Turner as architects and Hutcherson Bros as main contractors. A contract for a 10 MW heavy water research reactor similar to the DIDO reactor at Harwell was given to the UK firm Head Wrightson Processes Ltd and only minor changes were made to suit the Australian environment. As other laboratories were completed at Lucas Heights, the large team of Australians at Harwell began to return. HIFAR achieved criticality on Australia Day, 1958, and the Research Establishment was officially opened by the Prime Minister (then Mr. R. G. Menzies) on 18 April, 1958.

Although a further smaller reactor was to be built at Lucas Heights (MOATA, lOOkW), HIFAR has been and remains the main research tool for nuclear science in Australia and has given outstandingly trouble free service, apart from the repair of some shield cooling coils in 1970. As a source of neutrons (maximum thermal flux of 1014 neutrons per square centimetre per second), it has been widely used also by university researchers, aided by an imaginative organisation called the Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering (AINSE) linking the AAEC to outside users (one of the first models of the operation of a national research facility).

In the early 1980s, investigations were made of the possibility of replacing HIFAR at a cost of around $50 million, but the Government decided instead to refurbish HIFAR at a cost of around $5 m. A recent report Nuclear Science and Technology in Australia by the Australian Science and Technology Council (ASTEC) recommended that funds continue to be made available 'to maintain and upgrade HIFAR so that ... improvements [can be] made to the neutron beam instrumentation [and so] ensure a continued Australian capability in neutron beam research and application, and radioisotope production'.

The production of radioactive isotopes has been one of the major successes of Lucas Heights -since 1960, isotopes produced in HIFAR have been supplied throughout Australia and to overseas customers with a current (1985-86) annual level of shipments of around 26,000 (three-quarters of which are for medical applications), earning around $3.5 million. The annual reports of the Commission detail a remarkably wide range of industrial applications, such as harbour sediment studies, non-destructive testing of pipeline blockages, dynamic characteristics of blast furnaces, detection and destruction of termites, radioactive gauging, high energy radiation to preserve food and sterilise medical products, industrial radiography and the measurement of combustible volatile matter in coal. A Lucas Heights method of on-stream analysis of mineral ores is now used in most mineral processing plants in Australia and is licensed for world-wide marketing (it was the recipient in 1973 of the Prince Philip prize for Australian Design). On the medical side, the Commission's new sterile technetium -99 m generator, totally Australian-made, increased its share of the Australian market (1985-86) to 85 per cent, reflecting its high quality, reliability and competitive pricing.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Australian Atomic Energy Commission; Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering (A.I.N.S.E.); Hutcherson Bros.; Stephenson and Turner Architects

People in Bright Sparcs - Watson-Munro, C. N.

Previous Page Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering Next Page

© 1988 Print Edition pages 818 - 819, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher