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About the Video Clip:

Video Clip Synopsis:
Prime Minister Robert Menzies opens the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor, and marvels at nuclear energy being a relatively new phenomenon in the world.

1min 30sec

Australia’s First Nuclear Reactor is an excerpt from the film Energy Unlimited (15 mins), produced in 1962.

Energy Unlimited: Inside Australia’s first nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, where scientists from the Australian Atomic Energy Commission “work to bring the power of the atom into the service of man”. This film records the construction and opening of the centre in 1958 and its ongoing work in atomic research and producing radioactive isotopes for industry and medicine.

Energy Unlimited was produced by the Commonwealth Film Unit for the Australian Atomic Energy Commission.

Study Module

Curriculum Focus: SOSE/HSIE
Year: 11-12
Theme: Environment & Work

Key Concepts

Nuclear; Energy; Resources; Mining

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Senior Geography — Global implications
NSW:Senior Geography — People and economic activity
NT:Senior Geography (1) — People, resources and development
Qld:Senior Geography — Managing the natural environment; People and development; Resources and environment
SA:Senior Geography (1) — People, resources and development
Tas:Senior Geography — Regions
Vic:Geography Unit 4 — Resources
WA:Year 12 Geography — Landscape and land use in Australia

Context / Background Information

In 1958 Australia opened its first (and only) nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, a southern suburb of Sydney.

The nuclear reactor produces neutrons, subatomic particles found in the nucleus of all atoms, through the process of fission – the splitting of a large atom, such as uranium, into two smaller ones. Fission occurs when a heavy nucleus absorbs a neutron and splits. Neutrons are given off in the process of fission and, after slowing down (losing energy), are used to keep the fission chain reaction going.

The Lucas Heights reactor was originally built to test materials for their suitability in use in future power reactors. With the decision not to pursue a power reactor program in Australia, there has been a gradual change in how the reactor has been used over the years.

The Lucas Heights reactor is one of only 70 reactors worldwide that are capable of producing much-needed medical radioisotopes. It also produces material or carries out analyses for the mining industry, for forensic purposes and for research.

The nuclear process produces dangerous waste that must be carefully stored and the Lucas Heights reactor has been named by the government as a potential terrorist target.

Discussion Pointers

  1. What is a ‘nuclear reactor’?
  2. What image or impression do you get from the video clip about the process involved?
  3. What impression do you get from the video clip about the purpose of a nuclear reactor?
  4. What image or impression does Prime Minister Menzies give in his speech?
  5. The Lucas Heights nuclear reactor was originally built as part of Australia’s attempt in the 1950s and 1960s to develop nuclear weapons, and possibly to develop nuclear power as an energy source. Why do you think the weapons element might not have been mentioned in the clip?

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. An internationally respected scientist has recently advocated the use of nuclear power as a way of reducing Greenhouse gas emissions which are widely believed to be causing global warming. Such a move would create pressure for Australia to mine more of its uranium. Research the distribution of uranium in Australia. Prepare a case for or against increased mining on environmental, social and political grounds.
  2. Australian governments have limited the production of uranium to selected sites. Research the policies of different parties towards uranium, present those policies, and hold an election to decide which policy you prefer. In your research you may need to ‘create’ a new party based on the development of the uranium mining industry to provide an alternative policy to those of the main existing parties.
  3. There has been a proposal to use remote and geologically stable areas of Australia to store the world’s nuclear waste. Research this proposal and prepare a case for or against that proposal.

Modules That Use This Clip

Science Year 7-8, English Year 9-10, SOSE/HSIE Year 11-12