1980 truck crash: The original Port News report

The accident scene as pictured on the front page of the Port News in 1980.
The accident scene as pictured on the front page of the Port News in 1980.
Senior constables Terry Clifton and Bob Deards lift the drum of radioactive material from the highway to the shade of roadside trees.

Senior constables Terry Clifton and Bob Deards lift the drum of radioactive material from the highway to the shade of roadside trees.

With work suspended on a part of the Pacific Highway after workers uncovered potentially toxic material, links have been made to a 1980 truck crash.

The fatal crash, in the vicinity of the new work, involved a semi laden with poisonous chemicals and radioactive material.

From the Port Macquarie News, December 5, 1980 headlined 'Nuclear alarm in fatal crash’:

A drum containing highly radioactive material was flung onto the road in a fatal smash on the Pacific Highway near Port Macquarie yesterday.

Poliemen carried the padlocked drum into the shade of roadside trees and covered it with a makeshift tent to prevent the dangerous substance from leaking.

The fatal road accident involved a small panel van and a semi-trailer carrying the material about 6am.

The 23-year-old driver of the panel van, John Eric Parsons, of Taree, died instantly in the collision…

Ambulance officers had to get clearance from the Atomic Energy commission to bring the young man’s body into the Wauchope morgue, at the hospital.

A doctor from the commission gave the clearance by telephone from Sydney.

The heavy drum and a small cylinder containing two types of radioactive material – americium and ceasium – were thrown from the semi-trailer on impact.

The drum was fractured when it hit the roadside surface.

Mr Peter Gillespie, an Atomic Energy Commission employee holidaying in Port Macquarie, examined the drum at the accident site.

He said that although the exterior of the container had been damaged, the lead cannisters housing the two radioactive substances were intact.

Mr Gillespie said that it would be safe to handle and remove the two containers from the road.

But an hour later, about noon, Port Macquarie police relayed a message from the Atomic Energy Commission at Lucas Heights that there was a potential threat.

The News was at the accident site when the message came in on the radio of Senior Const. Bob Deards, of Laurieton.

“We have been told to put the drum in a shady spot and cover it with a heat-reflective sheet,” Const Deards said.

“Apparently there is a danger that the parrafin wax which encases the lead container in the drum will melt if it gets too hot.

“They say if that happens the radioactive material could escape.”

Const Deards and Sen Constable Terry Clifton … carried the 173kg drum to the shade of the roadside…

Both policemen had been earlier told by Mr Gillespie to go for a swim to wash off any radioactive particles which may have scaped.

The policemen also were checked over by a monitor which determines levels of radioactivity.

The semi-trailer also was carrying a load which included the poisonous insecticide DDT, another chemical, food and other goods.

It was discovered that a small bottle with a label saying ‘Strip-X fatal if absorbed through skin’ had smashed inside the metal box in which it was contained.

Local civil authorities were swamped with calls from worried residents concerned about safety…

The deputy regional director of health, Mr Lindsay Beattie, made a brief statement about the the incident, saying there was no danger to the public.

“The substances were packed according to International Atomic Energy Commission regulations for safe transport,” he said.

“There was no spillage and consequently no danger to the public.”