Plutonium waste to pass through Australian waters
By Lisa Renfrey
Greenpeace, the Tasmanian Greens and Greens (WA) Senator Dee Margetts are calling on the federal government to oppose a shipment of high level plutonium waste passing through the Tasman Sea and up the east coast of Australia.
The shipment, due to depart France next month bound for Japan, will contain radioactive waste which results from the separation of plutonium from Japanese spent fuel. The waste will be incorporated into 28 glass blocks which are so radioactive that a person standing one metre away from an unshielded block would receive a fatal dose of radiation in less than a minute.
"This shipment poses a grave threat to the environment and population of Australia", said Ben Pearson, national nuclear campaign coordinator for Greenpeace. "The Australian government cannot remain mute, as it did in 1992 when it was one of the few governments in the region which did not oppose the transport of 1.7 tonnes of plutonium on the Akatsuki Maru through the Tasman Sea and South-East Asia."
A recent report commissioned by Greenpeace International, the Nuclear Control Institute in Washington and the Citizens Nuclear Information Centre in Japan points in particular to the increased risk of leaks, fire and other potential disasters as a result of cost-cutting measures taken for this shipment.
Caribbean nations have strongly opposed having the shipment pass through their waters. In the absence of Australian government opposition, this makes it even more likely that the plutonium will pass near Australia.
Pearson noted, "The Australian government's response to the proposed shipment is compromised by the fact that nearly 50% of our uranium exports are to Japan ... the government will get caught in its own contradiction if it then objects to the [Japanese] waste being shipped back via Australia".