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Byron Shire
March 8, 2021

Radioactivity concerns over Byron carpark plan

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A major facelift would see the rear carpark at the southern end of Byron Woolies replaced by a two-storey retail building, supermarket and underground parking.
An artist’s impression of the completed Mercato project in the existing Byron Plaza. Locals fear excavation for the underground carpark could expose long-buried radioactive tailings.

Chris Dobney

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.


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  1. Perhaps we should let an independent expert consultant on the issue provide comment following detailed investigation, rather than a local business owner not wanting to be identified nor qualified.

  2. I think what is more disturbing is the actual building itself that they are planning on putting there. It doesn’t assimilate with Byron at all? There appears to have been no attempt at all to make it fit in? Would this really get the ahead? It’s one of the ugliest buildings I have seen. This is not the Gold Coast…..?

  3. A short quote from the architects statement really says it all:

    “There is little that can be done to the functional design and technical parameters of a Supermarket but there is much that can be done about the building envelope of such a bland and pre-determined function, as important as this function may be to our community.

    So, the challenge in the design for a building which has a prominent position in a town which itself has a prominent position geographically and socially, is not only to reflect its many existing attributes but principally to reinforce its fundamental psychological and moral attitudes in ways which are uplifting for all the users and stakeholders of the building, the community and as much of the ground it stands on.”

    The more scary points are in the architects wish list, where they propose to extend the 11.5m high entrance by another 9 metres to create an over 20 metre high ne ICON in Byron Bay … and I thought the Big Prawn was a lesson enough … we’ll be known for the Big Shiny Shell if the architects have their wish.

    See quote below:

    5.0 Architect’s Wish List
    The new shopping Centre and the upgrade to the existing cinema building have been designed on the basis of full compliance to Council’s Planning Instruments. There are 2 areas which could be significantly improved visually as well as enhancing the public amenity and these are:
    Shell / Atrium: In order to remain on the maximum 11.5 meters height limit, the Atrium has been severely truncated at its top. To restore the natural shape of the spiral shell, the height should be increased by some 9 meters. The visual improvement would be considerable and there would not be any adverse effect on the public amenity as the transparency of the glass would very much limit the bulk of the shell whilst offering a view of the roof landscaping beyond.

  4. MOVE IT! YUK! Why leave there if we already know? Move the soil and leave it the way it is. Building a parking bunker will not improve Byron Bay especially right at the beach!

  5. Come on Byron, let’s do this properly. Surely all residents and shop owners need a deserve a factual, transparent report by experts on this issue. After all, we all live here and would like to know as we sip drinks , eat food, shop and generally frequent in this area.

  6. That’s why we need a by-pass. The tourists can drive straight to the Myocum tip to dispose of the goods they just bought, it will save them taking it home and make a trip to their tip. The locals can then be disposed off with radiation since they are not needed any more. Like The Eagles obserevd some decades ago “They call it paradise, I do n’t know why”.

  7. ‘Ere we go again, same old bunch of Neanderthals who’ll do anything to stop any and all development. Maybe they’re happier in their humpies in Nimbin with their unvaccinated toothless kids.

  8. Phew, I was getting worried that no one would come up with a reason not to build something there!
    Not that he is willing to give his name though!
    If it’s a legitimate concern then lets get it checked by an independent body and move on. Does everything in Byron take 10 years to get done? sigh….

  9. I was born in the radioactive Byron Bay hospital in 1964 and spent 6 years at the BB Public School playing in the radioactive grounds,could this explain why the Great White Shark didn’t want to eat me a few years ago while I was swimming across The Bay!
    If thorium is found we could use it to to generate electricity in a Thorium Reactor,we would be the first shire in Australia to have one.

  10. I wonder how many of your readers know that most beach sand contains radioactive particles. I guess if they found out they wouldn’t lay about on the beach anymore. The levels of radiation are minuscule and clearly not dangerous or we would have closed all the beaches years ago. Ryan is right. Get a report from ANSTO.

  11. I was here in the 80′s when so called “remediation” work was done. Some people were so scared they left town. It was serious then and it should be further investigated now! I see the artist impression but I am not sure where it fits. Which pedestrian crossing is that and where is the cinema? It looks ginormous! Doesn’t look like Byron Style to me! I would definitely oppose this development, dangerous sand or not!

  12. Try this for size. .I sold up in Byron Bay when investigations revealed the prevalence of Radio Active cancers was
    Australia highest clusters – These included :

    Lung cancer
    Skin cancer
    Thyroid cancer
    Multiple myeloma
    Breast cancer
    Stomach cancer.

    Please yourself but I wouldn’t return there no matter what the Opportunist published reports said.!


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