Uranium concerns over Yarra dredging

October 18, 2008

Environment groups are calling for the dredging of the Yarra River to stop immediately until there has been an investigation into whether there is radioactive waste in sediments of the river.

The Blue Wedges coalition, which has led the battle to stop the dredging of Port Phillip Bay, has raised concerns about two government reports that indicate that radioactive waste may have leaked into the Yarra River.

The first uranium processing facility in Australia was on the banks of the Yarra River, at a CSIRO research facility in Port Melbourne. From the 1940s until the '60s, uranium processing took place at the site, along with experimental research of other radioactive materials.

Since May, bucket dredging of the Yarra River has been carried out. The toxic sediments of the river bed are being dug up and dumped in the waters near Mordialloc.

Blue Wedges was contacted this year by a former worker from the CSIRO facility who has raised concerns about the number of former workers from the Port Melbourne site who have developed cancer.

A radiation survey of the site in 1989, carried out by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), found that radioactive waste had been stored on the site.

Blue Wedges spokesperson Jenny Wharfe told community radio 3CR on September 3, "There was evidence that radioactive waste was put into toilets and various disposal routes (down sinks and so forth) and the uranium was stored in an open area during the '40s to the '60s.

"The decontamination report recommended that decontamination of the site should occur, which it did in 1990."

A 1990 government report on the cleanup stated that "large deposits of contaminated material [were] found in the pipe ... the pipe may have been used as a waste disposal facility to dump contaminated waste into the Yarra".

An historic evaluation of industries along the Yarra, called for by a 2005 report into the channel deepening project and undertaken as part of the Subsequent Environmental Effects Statement (SEES), did not include assessing for radioactive contamination of the Yarra River sediments.

Wharfe stated: "It is irrefutable that there is a high risk that the adjacent sediments in the Yarra could well be contaminated with radioactive waste from this site. The state government, the Port [of Melbourne], and the federal government have been negligent in not properly assessing whether or not there has been contamination from radioactive waste."

Recent reports by the Australian Conservation Foundation's Bay Monitor have shown that the dredge plume is spreading 15-20 kilometres from where the dredging is occurring. The Bay Monitor includes scientists from the Australian Marine Ecology scientific organisation and Monash University.

The scientists are using water-quality testing and satellite image analysis to detect the spread of sediments from dredging.

[For more information visit http://www.bluewedges.org.]