Ship laden with nuclear waste heading to Australia despite safety concerns

The Guardian
Oliver Milman 1 day ago

© AFP/Getty Images A transport storage cask for the return of high activity waste from reprocessing being loaded onto the BBC Shanghai cargo ship on 15 October in Cherbourg-Octeville.

A ship laden with nuclear waste is heading to Australia from France, despite concerns raised over its safety record.

The BBC Shanghai, flagged to Antigua and Barbuda, is on its way to Port Kembla in New South Wales from the French port of Cherbourg with a cargo of reprocessed nuclear waste.

The 25 tonnes of waste was originally generated by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and sent to France in 2001 for reprocessing.

Environmental groups have raised concerns over the safety of the BBC Shanghai, pointing out it has been blacklisted by the US due to its record.

Greenpeace and French environmental campaigners called for the shipment, sent by French nuclear company Areva, to be halted. But following an inspection, the vessel was sent on its way and is set to arrive in Australia on 27 November.

An Areva spokesman said some small flaws had been found in the inspection that had been corrected.

Once in Australia, the waste is set to be held at the Lucas Heights facility in Sydney.

“It’s outrageous that the BBC Shanghai is heading towards Australia and it is not outfitted to safely carry nuclear waste,” said Emma Gibson, head of program for Greenpeace Australia Pacific. “What we have is a vessel that will be ill-equipped to deal with any sort of accident involving the nuclear waste. It’s an environmental disaster waiting to happen.

“The last official inspection in August this year showed problems with shipboard operations and emergency preparedness. This is not the sort of ship that should be allowed to carry radioactive waste or anything hazardous, for that matter.”

Australia has the largest deposits of uranium in the world but does not have a domestic nuclear energy program, although the nuclear industry is pushing the energy source as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Australia does, however, generate nuclear waste from medical technology and successive governments have, unsuccessfully, attempted to find a new dumping site for this waste.

Dave Sweeney, anti-nuclear campaigner at the Australian Conservation Foundation, said the placement of the waste at Lucas Heights is the “least worst option”.

“It’s a purpose built facility that is secure and has the highest level of nuclear expertise,” he said.

“In the future we need a full, public process that looks at the full range of options. Australia has to take responsibility for its own waste but we strongly believe that Australia shouldn’t become an out of sight, out of mind dumping ground for the world’s nuclear waste.”