SYDNEY (Reuters) - Anti-nuclear protesters in rubber dinghies and water police shadowed a vessel carrying a shipment of reprocessed nuclear waste as it docked on Saturday at an Australian port after a two-month voyage from France.
Environment group Greenpeace questioned the safety of transporting the 25 tonnes of waste, which originally came from an Australian reactor producing radioactive isotopes for industrial and medical uses and was sent overseas for treatment.
Now embedded in glass and inside a reinforced protective container, it is the first such shipment to be returned to Australia after reprocessing to make it safe for long-term storage.
A small number of protesters were among those who greeted the ship, the BBC Shanghai, as it docked amid tight security and a heavy police presence at Port Kembla, south of Sydney, on Saturday afternoon, witnesses said.
Greenpeace spokeswoman Emma Gibson questioned the choice of vessel used for the journey from Cherbourg in northern France, and said details of the shipment from the Australian government did not tally with those released by French authorities.
“We followed the ship all the way in, as far as we can. We are going to be documenting its handling and following it all the way to Lucas Heights,” Gibson told Reuters.
Unloading is due to take place overnight and the waste will be transported by road to the Lucas Heights reactor in Sydney, where it originally came from.
It will be stored at Lucas Heights until Australia has a permanent storage site for spent nuclear waste. The country does not have the capacity to reprocess nuclear waste.
Australia’s nuclear regulators have rejected criticism of the shipment and said there was “no credible chance of any incident” during transport.
Australia produced the waste and had a responsibility to take it back, said Phil McCall, spokesman for the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).
“It is in line with international best practices that the countries that benefit have the responsibility to deal with the waste,” he said.
Australia is a major exporter of uranium ore.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull triggered controversy recently by suggesting the country should expand its role in nuclear energy by preparing and leasing out fuel rods to other countries and then storing the nuclear waste.
Reporting by Chris McCall; Editing by Richard Pullin