Australian police consider the Lucas Heights nuclear facility to have been the potential target of a terrorist attack. Three men recently charged with terror offences had previously been stopped by police near the facility.

Lucas Heights hosts two reactors, HIFAR, used for nuclear research as well as medical and industrial isotope production, and Opal, which will replace HIFAR after commissioning in 2006. The facility is 30km southwest of Sydney. Both the reactors use low-enriched uranium and operate under the Australian Nuclear Science Technology Organisation (Ansto).

Seventeen men were seized by authorities on 8 November in Sydney and Melbourne, eight of whom have now been charged with ‘conspiring to do an act in preparation/planning for a terrorist act.’ The police claim the group was stockpiling hundreds of litres of chemicals in order to make a large quantity of the explosives TATP (triacetone triperoxide) and HMTD (hexamethylenetriperoxidediamine).

A police Statement of Facts had been suppressed by the prosecuting authorities, but media requests forced its publication and in a Sydney court it was revealed that three of the eight charged men had been stopped by police near Lucas Heights some time ago: “The men had in their possession a trail bike which they claimed they were in the area to ride. When interviewed separately, all three persons gave different versions of the day’s events.”

It was also revealed that the lock on a gate leading to a water reservoir adjacent to Lucas Heights had been cut. An Ansto statement reads: “The fencing was around Sydney Water Board reservoir and not part of the Ansto site. The water reservoir is located within the Ansto buffer zone but some hundreds of metres from the Ansto site and is not owned or operated by Ansto.”

Ansto says that it was informed by police when the men were stopped and that police did not consider them to be a threat either to Ansto or to the community as a whole at that time. Further, police advised Ansto that they had no information of a specific attack and have not advised the organisation to increase security levels.

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