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Australia's First Nuclear Reactor

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.
Year of production - 1962
Duration - 1min 30sec
Tags - energy, mining, nuclear energy, resources, see all tags


Australia's First Nuclear Reactor

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About the Video Clip


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.

Curriculum Focus


This Digital Resource can be used to achieve the following outcomes:
5.3 A student selects, uses, describes and explains how different technologies affect and shape meaning
5.9 A student demonstrates understanding of the ways texts reflect personal and public worlds

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more information.

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 Height 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.

Classroom Activities

  1. Discuss and define the terms; ‘nuclear reactor’, ‘nuclear waste’, ‘nuclear weapons’ and ‘nuclear energy.
    1. Describe the impression do you get from the video clip about the purpose of a nuclear reactor.
    2. Analyse Prime Minister Menzies’ speech and list all the positive points he makes about nuclear reactors.
    1. 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.
    2. Give reasons why you think that the weapons element might not have been mentioned in the clip.
  2. 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.
    1. Research the distribution of uranium in Australia.
    2. Create a five-minute oral presentation for or against increased mining on environmental, social and political grounds and present to the class.
  3. There has been a proposal to use remote and geologically stable areas of Australia to store the world’s nuclear waste.
    1. Research this proposal.
    2. Create a five-minute presentation for or against this proposal and present to the class.

Literacy Activity: Focus= Listening / Analysing

Listen carefully to the music on the soundtrack and write two paragraphs about the way it contributes to the information and ideas being presented. (5 marks)

Further Resources


Go to Australian Biography and select Sir Marcus Oliphant