The ABC News and Earthquake Faults at Lucas Heights

The ABC, our national broadcaster, once again starting from a false premise, decided to launch a scare campaign on the innocent citizens of Sutherland Shire and declared the existence of an “Earthquake Fault” traversing the district. Here is some of the correspondence. Ian Plimer’s response, a one-word expletive, has not been included here but feel free to insert it at will….

Following a broadcast by ABC dill Richard Glover and the subsequent 6.00pm news announcing the “Earthquake Fault” I felt compelled to e-mail the ABC. My first effort to ABC News was ignored so I contacted the ABC Science Unit….

At 19:45 21/06/2002 , I wrote:

Greetings. Could someone there who understands science (as opposed to tabloid hype), and specifically geology , please explain to the ABC News Department that not all faults are “earthquake” faults? The structure unearthed at Lucas Heights is, I suspect, literally one of millions in the Sydney Basin. I have suggested (to no avail) that they contact Prof. Ian Plimer at Melbourne Uni for comment but there may be another agenda in which case scientific ‘truth’ has been sacrificed by your journalistic colleagues for the sake of a scare campaign. I have no axe to grind one way or the other about reactor sites but I do object to the ABC subverting science, especially geology, to alarm the more gullible in our midst. Regards, Kim.

Bernie, at The Lab responded……

Thanks Kim

I’ve forwarded your comments to the editors of ABC Science News Online and ABC News Online, and asked the latter to forward it to tv and radio news.

Thanks for taking the time to write about this issue – feedback can only make our news service improve.

cheers bernie, the lab ____________________ Bernie Hobbs Science Writer/Broadcaster ABC Science Online (tel) ++ 61 2 9333 1409 (fax) ++ 61 2 9333 2713

Bernie – the Innocent Bystander – then sent this message – the classic!

Hi Kim,

This is what Mark Henderson, National Editor Radio News has to say in response to your email:

“There is no difference between an “earthquake” fault line and a fault line.


The report has not been released so we cannot be sure whether it used those words, but a fault line is a severance in the geology of rock that is extensive enough to “move” in the event of an earthquake. The presence of a fault line does not make the likelihood of an earthquake any greater, but then we did not say it did. However, if there is an earthquake where there are fault lines, then the earth around them will move.”

If you wanted to speak further with him about this, his email address is:

Thanks again for your comments, and please don’t hesitate to get in touch about any concerns you have over this or other stories.

cheers bernie, the lab

Bernie Hobbs Science Writer/Broadcaster ABC Science Online


Geoff Derrick’s views on these matters should always be sought….he may well have seen a few “Earthquake Faults”. More than Mr Henderson anyway….. Geoff chose to respond to Mr Henderson’s illuminating discourse on faults…..

Dear Mr Henderson

Could we be blessed with some facts about the recent news items concerning “Earthquake Faults” at Lucas Heights?

The whole exercise sounds suspiciously like the ABC aiding and abetting a social issue which it supports at the expense of its own integrity and appreciation of science. When are you trotting out your creation scientists to do an assessment of the coal industry in NSW? It all came after the Great Flood 7000 years ago, remember?

I have waited for some picture or some evidence to emerge regarding this fault structure, and the qualifications of the person responsible for the assessment. Faults are with us in every area of our geology and civilisation across the continent. The great Century mine near Lawn Hill is actually built across an old fault. The pipeline which carries zinc concentrate 300km to Karumba port probably crosses dozens of faults, any one of which, by your logic, could disrupt and break that pipeline and spread zinc concentrate into the environment. The same applies to the entire infrastructure at Mt Isa Mines, and to pipelines which carry gas from the gasfields to Sydney and Brisbane for example. They all pass over faults.

Let’s see the evidence, rather than the organised misinformation peddled by yourself and the anti-ANSTO lobby.


Geoff Derrick Consultant Geologist G.M.Derrick and Associates


and earned this pathetic response……


Dear Mr Gerrick (sic),

Thank you for your inquiry about our reporting of Lucas Heights.

May I assure you that neither myself nor any of my team at radio news and current affairs is pursuing any agenda here. We simply reported what had been said.

We are unable to provide any further “evidence” or information because the report has not been made public.

Yours sincerely Mark Henderson Network Editor

So, on the basis of a report that hadn’t been ‘made public’, the ABC News team felt compelled to announce to Sydney residents that an “Earthquake Fault” existed on the city’s southern edge – and then trotted out a seismologist to explain the forces that would be unleashed should the “Earthquake Fault” be activated. Unbelievable stuff. Feel free to let them know your views. On later reflection it occurred to me that what is an obvious definition to a geologist may not be the same as that required by the politically motivated ABC news team. It bears stating more clearly for their benefit. Some faults generate earthquakes – these are structures subjected to major compressive or lateral forces which, when catastrophic failure occurs, create earthquakes. I suppose, for the benefit of journalistic hype they could be called ‘earthquake faults’. The best-known is probably the San Andreas Fault of western North America. The forces required to create a major earthquake are not at work in, or below, the Sydney Basin and there is no reason to suspect that differential movement would occur on any of the faults or fractures in the Lucas Heights region. The recent earthquake in Newcastle was serious but minor in global terms. Most damage was as a result of buildings of insufficient strutural integrity being built on semi- or unconsolidated river gravels. Buildings with foundations in stone were virtually unaffected.

In September 2002, after more work had been carried out ANSTO issued this Press Release. ABC News “Voice of the Left” and self-appointed opponent of the Lucas Heights Reactor, ran with the “Earthquake Fault” approach again. I’ve checked with Sutherland Shire Council – it doesn’t have a specific earthquake contingency plan so one assumes the level of panic is, notwithstanding the ABC’s beat-up, still at acceptable levels. There could be some cheap real estate….it’s a nice area and if you can put up with the occasional Greenpeace infestation (sprinkle crushed uranium ore on the affected area – that generally clears it up) it will be a lovely place to live.

ABC’s Environment News Somewhat toned down from the strident shrieks of Richard “Panic Merchant” Glover. Radio National Breakfast Item Keep Calm! World Today The Voice of Reason…..?

ARPANSA Report to ANSTO The REAL Voice of Reason and a very comprehensive geological report in a 4.2Mb .pdf. Photos and maps, plans and sections are appended. It’s also a good refresher on Sydney Basin geology. ABC News reporters will be daunted by the use of words of more than one syllable and the complexity of the figures means this document is beyond their ability to comprehend. Too bad.