Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Science and Technology Studies


This thesis concerns a controversy as to whether Australia's one operating nuclear research reactor, HIFAR, should be replaced with a n e w reactor. HIFAR will almost certainly be permanently shut d o w n in the next 5-10 years, and there is considerable pressure on the federal government to make a firm decision, in the near future, for or against the replacement of HIFAR.

Much of the thesis is focused on a sub-debate within the broader HIFAR replacement controversy - whether a n e w reactor is justified for the production of radioisotopes used in nuclear medicine. Alternative radioisotope supply scenarios - involving greater reliance on imported radioisotopes and cyclotron-produced radioisotopes - are proposed and evaluated.

The medical radioisotope sub-debate, and the HIFAR replacement controversy more generally, are analysed in the context of civil and military nuclear development around the world and in Australia. This material serves two purposes - it provides context for the HIFAR replacement controversy and the medical radioisotope sub-debate, and it develops a set of arguments concerning the problems with research reactor programs, in particular their links to covert nuclear weapons programs.

In terms of situating the thesis in the context of Science and Technology Studies scholarship, the thesis draws on strands of the "new" sociology of technology literature but pays greater attention to structural analysis. The principles which guide most studies in the sociology of scientific knowledge tradition - such as reflexivity, impartiality, and symmetrical treatment of knowledge claims - are recast as practical problems within a social problem centred approach.