Port Kembla a possibility for secret nuclear shipment

Handle with care: Nuclear waste being transported through Wollongong on its way to Port Kembla in December 2015. Spent fuel rods could be delivered to Port Kembla in the middle of this year. Picture: Adam McLean
Handle with care: Nuclear waste being transported through Wollongong on its way to Port Kembla in December 2015. Spent fuel rods could be delivered to Port Kembla in the middle of this year. Picture: Adam McLean

Spent nuclear fuel may be heading to Port Kembla later this year as part of a top-secret operation.

In the middle of this year, spent fuel rods from the  Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) facility at Lucas Heights will be sent to France to be reprocessed.

The rods will have the unused uranium and plutonium removed and used over the course of several years.

Once all useful material has been removed, the waste will then returned to Australia for storage.

Sending the rods to France will involve the rods being transported by road to a nearby port and then loaded onto a ship.

The exact details of the operation – including the port, delivery route and dates – will not be made public until after the rods arrive in France.

Port Kembla would be an option for the secret shipment – both it at Port Botany have previously been used to ship nuclear waste in and out the country.

Under cover of darkness, a 95-tonne forged steel container carrying nuclear waste was lifted off a ship at Port Kembla and onto the back of a truck and driven through Wollongong’s streets to Lucas Heights.

Roads along the route were closed and hundreds of police were involved in the operation.

In 2009, spent nuclear fuel rods were secretly delivered to Port Kembla and loaded onto a ship bound for the United States.

Then Ports Minister Joe Tripodi said the nuclear convoy passed through “without incident” but a worker at the port claimed one of the containers holding the fuel roads hit the side of the truck as it was being loaded onto the ship.

Regarding the upcoming removal of the fuel rods, Lucas Heights' OPAL reactor manager Dave Vittorio said they will be stored in secure casks.

“These casks are purpose-engineered to safely transport this type of material without risk to people or the environment,” Mr Vittorio said.

“Even a jet plane strike could not penetrate them.”

This would be the 10th time spent nuclear fuel has been exported from Australia.

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