Nuclear rods secretly shipped out
BY JIM GREEN
Three-hundred and sixty irradiated fuel rods were secretly shipped out of the nuclear reactor plant in the southern Sydney suburb of Lucas Heights on January 22.
The irradiated (or "spent") fuel rods — vastly more radioactive than the original uranium fuel — are being shipped to France for reprocessing.
Despite the efforts of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) to keep the shipment secret, anti-nuclear campaigners and local residents were aware of the plan several days before and had time to organise protests.
On the day of the shipment, Greenpeace activists chained themselves to the gate of the nuclear plant in an attempt to prevent trucks entering to collect the fuel rods. Police unchained them.
In the evening, 200-300 people assembled in front of ANSTO, forcing the use of a dirt road to truck the waste out of the plant. Speakers at the protest included local residents and representatives from the Greens, the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Engineering Union, Greenpeace, People Against a Nuclear Reactor (PANR) and Sydney People Against a New Nuclear Reactor (SPANNR).
Shirley Collela from PANR said, "Despite the fuel transportation from ANSTO being driven out through an alternative exit, PANR was ecstatic about the demonstration. There was an enormous, Sydney-wide attendance. There is growing support and enthusiasm to put a halt to the nuclear industry in Australia."
At Port Botany, Greenpeace boats and swimmers attempted to disrupt the shipment and were met by at least six police boats. Six members of SPANNR evaded security to get within a few metres of the waste transport ship, the Bouguenais, before being arrested. Jim Johnston from SPANNR said this proved how lax security was.
Reprocessing is legally prohibited in Australia — but exporting irradiated fuel rods for reprocessing overseas isn't.
Protesters have numerous concerns about the irradiated fuel shipments, including the complete lack of consultation about the shipment, lack of knowledge about the route of the trucks carrying the rods, lack of knowledge about appropriate precautionary procedures and the inadequacy of emergency plans and liability arrangements.
Many local residents are glad to be rid of the toxic radioactive waste, but they do not wish it on any other community. Ironically, the reprocessing contract with the French company Cogema contains a "curie-for-curie" clause which means that waste every bit as radioactive as the irradiated fuel rods will be returned to Australia.
Reprocessing waste is destined for storage at Australia's national store for intermediate-level waste, and eventual disposal in a deep geological repository. Australia does not have a store for intermediate-level waste, nor a deep geological repository, but such details have not deterred the federal government or ANSTO from pushing ahead with the plan for a new reactor at Lucas Heights.
The removal of waste from Lucas Heights is designed to buy time and to reduce public opposition to the plan for a new reactor. The proposed reactor would generate another 1600-2000 spent fuel rods, each with twice the quantity of fission products as fuel rods from the existing reactor.
In addition, ANSTO documents reveal that, between 1993-2025, downstream waste generation from the planned new reactor would increase up to 12-fold, depending on the waste category.
About 850 irradiated fuel rods remain at Lucas Heights awaiting shipment to France and the US.
[Visit Jim Green's Nuclear and Environmental Research web site at <http://www.geocities.com/jimgreen3>.]