A plan to excavate a section of the Byron Plaza shopping centre to build an underground carpark and two-storey shopping mall has drawn the concern of locals over its potential to expose radioactive materials believed to be buried beneath it.
Although a DA for the project has been lodged with Byron Shire Council, and a preliminary study conducted for the proponents, Azzura Holdings, no radiation report has so far been made on soil samples checked by ANSTO.
The preliminary site investigation, conducted by HMC Environmental Consulting, recommends that further investigation by a radiation expert be conducted before the plan proceeds.
Yet the DA is already on exhibition and submissions close on January 17.
A nearby business owner says he has calculated as much as 15,000 tonnes of potentially radioactive sands would need to be excavated for the project.
Between the 1930s and 1970s the site was used as a processing plant for mineral sands mined in the region and, according to a government report written at the time, some of the radioactive tailings from the mill were dumped at the site.
The sands included monazite and ilmenite, which contain thorium and uranium.
According to the study, the proposed two-level basement car park would ‘produce significant volumes of excavated material and this material would be transported offsite for final disposal.’
The report went on to state that while ‘surface radiation may not be a recognised risk with remediation of areas occurring throughout Byron Bay during the 1980s, excavating soil at depth has the potential to disturb buried tailings, if present’.
During the construction of the Woolworths supermarket in the 1980s, the loading bay required significant remediation work to reduce radiation there to acceptable levels.
A local business owner, who declined to be named, said he was concerned about potential exposure to himself and his staff during excavations.
‘This DA has a 160-car underground carpark. That is a massive amount of potentially radioactive soil and sand to be dug up and put somewhere else,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘By my calculations we are talking approximately 15,000 tonnes of potentially radioactive sand and the dust that will be released in its removal.
‘The big problem I believe is that they will be excavating huge quantities of sand that almost certainly have some level of radiation contamination, and this will be conducted over months in the CBD of Byron Bay. How can this be considered safe?
‘Monazite is pretty dangerous stuff as its dust can be easily inhaled and lodge in a person’s lungs and stay there releasing gamma radiation for years.’
According to the website earthsci.org, ‘dust control is the most important objective in radiation safety for the titanium minerals industry’.
‘The most significant potential radiation problem is inhaled thorium in mineral sands dust,’ it advises.
The report itself identified the sandy nature of the soil as a risk to occupational health and safety of workers in and adjacent to the site, as it could potentially become airborne during excavation and landscaping activities.
Echonetdaily approached the proponents for comment but none was received by deadline.
Radiation exposure from mineral sands waste was a serious issue in Byron back in the 1980s.
Other parts of the town that had over the years taken fill from the site, and also had to be remediated, included the school, hospital, the Girl Guide hall, a church, the Masonic Hall, the Baby Health Centre, Railway Park and numerous private homes around Byron Bay.