Escorted by more than 400 police and Road Traffic Authority personnel, truckloads of nuclear waste were secretly transported through the streets of Wollongong on March 16, despite massive community opposition.
The waste was a shipment of 159 used fuel rods from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO); their ninth since 1963 but first to depart Australia using Wollongong's Port Kembla. The convoy directly violated Wollongong's status as a nuclear-free zone, declared by Wollongong City Council in 1980.
Concerned and angry residents had gathered at a public meeting on March 3, frustrated at the lack of information and potential danger surrounding the plans.
According to the March 17 Illawarra Mercury, "The community was told the shipment might come to Port Kembla anytime in the first half of the year. ANSTO said it could not reveal anything else for national security reasons."
Roads and bridges were blocked by police, and Port Kembla workers had their mobile phones confiscated to prevent any information being sent out.
It seems community concerns regarding safety were well founded. According to the Mercury on March 17, "Sources from the port also described an incident which caused workers to 'hold their breath' as the first of eight containers was loaded on to the Danish vessel MV Lynx.
"The small ship rolled sharply towards the jetty under the weight of the container as it was raised by the ship's self-loader. 'There were a few hearts in mouths, I'll tell you,' the source said. 'And then, as the truck carrying the container drove forward the container banged into its side and then either hit the ground or came extremely close to doing so.'"
Stefan Skibicki, Illawarra Socialist Alliance environment spokesperson said: "To violate Wollongong's position as a nuclear-free zone shows the respect the government has for local democracy.
"The council resolution specifically prohibits the transportation of nuclear materials, including waste. That resolution was fought for and won by the peace and anti-nuclear movement here in Wollongong, backed by the trade union movement.
"Given the toxicity of nuclear waste, the convoy's proximity to residential areas and the number of truck accidents on Illawarra roads, this decision should have been up to the community, not ANSTO and the national security agencies."