PROTESTERS have issued Santos a "please explain" after the discovery of radioactive material at its coal seam gas operation in the Pilliga.
A bright red box at one of the company's drill sites contains the radioactive isotope Caesium-137, which can be deadly at high exposure levels.-
Cs-137 is commonly used in the mining and construction industries to detect liquid flows in pipes, tanks or bore holes dug for coal seam gas exploration.-
But its uncovering, coming just weeks after it emerged that in 2012 a leaking storage pond resulted in high levels of uranium, barium and other elements in an aquifer, has some worried.-
"The revelations that Santos will be using radioactive materials in the Narrabri Gas Project will only add to community concerns about the trouble-plagued coal seam gas mining project in north-west NSW," said the Wilderness Society's Naomi Hogan.-
Those in the community following the development closely say they have never seen any reference to Cs-137 in the reams of planning documents relating to Santos' proposed $2 billion project at Narrabri.-
The Leader contacted Santos last week requesting a copy of any approvals relating to the isotope, but was referred on to the Office of Coal Seam Gas.-
The Office of Coal Seam Gas was not forthcoming with any documentation, however, it did say a "Santos contractor has a radiation management licence under the Radiation Control Act 1990".-
Further inquiries to the NSW Environment Protection Authority revealed that contractor to be Halliburton Australia Pty Ltd.-
In February, four drill workers at a coal seam gas operation in Queensland were reportedly exposed to potentially dangerous radiation levels after Cs-137 was left unsecured on the site by contractors.-
In a statement, a Santos spokesperson told The Leader that storage and handling of Cs-137 at its drill sites in the Pilliga were in compliance with the Radiation Safety Act and Radiation Safety Regulation.-
But local farmer Tony Pickard, whose own investigations exposed the cover-up by Eastern Star Gas of a large chemical spill in the Pilliga several years ago, said he did not believe there was adequate security around the box.-
"It might have every right to be out there at the site, but it shouldn't be in plain view - it should have a better security system on it than it has," he said.-
The Santos spokesperson also said that as the "element is contained at all times", it would not be found in waste water from the wells and was not responsible for the elevated levels of uranium found in the aquifer.-
"Uranium is naturally occurring in the soils surrounding our operations," the spokesperson said.-
Mr Pickard said the company owed it to the community to provide a better explanation of how and why Cs-137 is used at the site.