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Court fines university $61,000 for radiation breaches

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The NSW Land and Environment Court has fined the University of Sydney a total of $61,000 in relation to the disposal of a radioactive source contained inside a medical scanner, which ended up in the Hunter Valley.

The outcome followed a successful prosecution by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

In January 2019, a Positron Emission Tomography medical scanner owned by the university and containing the radioactive source was transported from its Camperdown campus to a scrap metal yard in Chipping Norton.

Radiation from the source was detected after the scanner had been broken apart and transported to another facility in Newcastle.

The EPA was subsequently informed and took custody of the radioactive source.

The university pleaded guilty to two offences – the first for failure to ensure the radioactive source was not possessed by a person who was not the holder of an appropriate licence (as the company who transported the source to Chipping Norton was not licensed to do so), and the second for disposing of the source without first obtaining the consent of the EPA.

In handing down her sentence Justice Pain noted that there were potential risks to public health and the environment as a result of the offences, and that general and specific deterrence were important factors in her decision to fine the University $61,000.

The university was also ordered to pay the EPA’s legal costs as agreed or assessed, and to publicise a notice containing details of the offences in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Quarterly Newsletter as published by the Australasian Radiation Protection Society, on its website, and on Facebook.

The university also agreed to pay the costs for lawful disposal of the source.

EPA director of environmental solutions Karen Marler said the fine reflected the importance of ensuring the safe and lawful transport and disposal of radioactive devices.

“The local community has an expectation that people who manage and use radioactive sources and devices will comply with the rules and their licence requirements and have the right practices and procedures in place to protect people and the environment,” she explained.

Prosecutions are one of the tools the EPA uses to achieve the best environmental or human health outcomes. Our regulatory approach includes a wide variety of options.

Find out more about them here https://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/about-us/publications-and-reports/regulatory-strategy.

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