Press release – 1 December, 2015Sydney, 2 December 2015 – Nuclear waste returning to Australia this weekend by ship from France has been classified as high-level waste by French authorities, contradicting Australia’s claims over its radioactivity, a Greenpeace report has found.Greenpeace’s
also found the waste still contains quantities of plutonium – highly toxic even in small quantities – despite reprocessing by French state-owned nuclear company, Areva.
“The Australian government is downplaying the danger of this shipment, saying it is intermediate-level waste that isn’t harmful unless mismanaged. But we know it contains plutonium and is classified as high-level waste by the French authorities,” said Emma Gibson, Greenpeace Australia Pacific’s Head of Programs.
“It’s clear on evidence the government is not being as straight as it can be about the nature of this shipment by insisting Australia only has intermediate-level waste. Australians have a right to know what is being stored in their backyard. The lack of transparency over this waste is highly problematic,” she said.
The nuclear waste was generated by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO)  and sent to France in 2001 to be reprocessed.
The French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) has revealed to Greenpeace that the waste has been classified as high-level (long-life) waste according to standards set by ANDRA, the French national radioactive waste management agency. High-level waste is ANDRA’s most severe nuclear waste classification.
Areva documents have also confirmed that the waste still contains low quantities of plutonium.
However ANSTO has classified the shipment as intermediate-level waste using an alternate classification system.
“The discrepancy is a significant concern as the French have much more experience of nuclear waste management than the Australians. We have written to Christopher Pyne, the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, asking him to clarify the exact nature of the waste,” said Ms Gibson.
She said the vessel carrying the waste – the BBC Shanghai – also has a worrying safety record and has been banned by a number of nations.
Official documents seen by Greenpeace show the BBC Shanghai has been detained by Australia, the United States and Spain in the past five years after failing safety inspections. The US has banned the ship from carrying government cargo, while 14 other nations have found deficiencies in the ship since 2002.
“The government is spending about $30 million to bring its nuclear waste back to Australia, but the management of this shipment has been a catalogue of mistakes and misinformation.
"American and Australian authorities have both detained this junkyard ship in the past two years after it failed inspections. While the US has banned it from carrying government cargo, the Australian government loaded it with tonnes of dangerous nuclear waste to transport around the world.
“The more you move radioactive waste around, the more you increase the likelihood of an accident which could spread radioactive contamination into the environment.
“The government is now saying Australia could be a nuclear waste dump for the rest of the world. Imagine the corners that could be cut when these dangerous shipments arrive regularly,” said Ms Gibson.
Endorsing Greenpeace’s report, Dr Helen Caldicott, veteran anti-nuclear advocate said:
“The fact France has classified this as high-level waste should send alarm bells ringing about what is actually coming back to Australia. The French have significantly more experience in handling nuclear waste than Australia does. That the two countries could have such different views on how dangerous this nuclear waste is should be a huge concern.
"There are enormously different safety regulations required for high-level nuclear waste compared with intermediate-level waste.
"Australia is conducting a dangerous radioactive exercise by transporting 10 tonnes of this high-level radioactive waste in a notoriously dangerous ship.”
The nuclear waste is due to be unloaded off the BBC Shanghai at Port Kembla in southern Sydney in the early hours of Sunday, 6 December. It will then be transported to Lucas Heights by road for interim storage.
Greenpeace’s report about the returning nuclear waste and the BBC Shanghai can be seen