Australia’s first import of reprocessed nuclear waste has arrived at its temporary storage facility in New South Wales without incident, after being repatriated from France.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, a tank holding 20 canisters of what is called immediate-level waste, was taken to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANTSO) facility at Lucas Heights.
The canisters, each about one metre in height and with a 170-litre capacity, were carrying about 25 tonnes of nuclear waste.
ANTSO’s head of nuclear services, Hef Griffiths, moved to allay concerns the tanks and the BBC Shanghai ship, which was commissioned to transport the waste, were unsafe.
“[The canisters] have to be type-tested against a nine-metre drop, an 800-degree-Celsius fire for 30 minutes, a drop on a penetrating spike and the design basis was to withstand the impact of a fully laden fighter jet,” he said.
“French maritime authorities conducted a full safety inspection of the ship and in discussions with the captain, he told me it was the most thorough safety inspection he had been involved in, in 26 years.”
The waste will be stored temporarily at Lucas Heights until the Federal Government decides where to build the national dumping site.
Six areas have been named on its shortlist, including three in South Australia, where a royal commission is currently underway to investigate whether the state should become more involved in the nuclear industry.
Arrival of nuclear waste alarms environmentalists
The ship’s arrival at Port Kembla on Saturday attracted a number of spectators, including Greenpeace activists arguing the Australian public did not support the return of nuclear waste.
The environmentalist group commissioned a poll which showed nearly three quarters of Australians opposed plans to store nuclear waste for other countries.
Greenpeace spokeswoman Emma Gibson was on a boat following the BBC Shanghai and said it appeared unsuitable to transport the radioactive waste.
“It’s a right rust bucket of a ship which is what I was expecting,” she said on Saturday.
“It’s been banned by the US government from carrying any kind of government cargo at all, but the Australian Government has decided that this ship is good enough to transport highly radioactive nuclear waste from France to Sydney.
“[The Australian Government] is saying it’s intermediate-level nuclear waste like gloves, protective clothing, but the French authorities have told Greenpeace that this is high-level nuclear waste containing plutonium – that’s the most dangerous kind of nuclear waste you can get.”
ANSTO have said Greenpeace’s comments about the presence of plutonium were inaccurate, and maintain the waste is safe and medium level, and that high-level waste stems from weapons and energy production.
In the past two decades Australia has sent eight shiploads of waste overseas to France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, to be processed for long-term storage.
The waste sent to the UK will return in the second half of this decade and the shipments sent to the US will remain there.
The next shipment of waste to be brought back to Australia is expected to arrive in 2020, and will be a quarter of the size.