The late night transportation by road of nuclear waste from Lucas Heights to Port Kembla on the weekend was described as “routine” by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.
ANSTO said in a statement “the tenth routine export of spent nuclear fuel is underway, after a multi-agency operation”.
The material, the organisation said, had “enabled a decade of cutting-edge research and 5.5 million doses of nuclear medicine for Australian patients”.
“Nuclear medicine is used for diagnosis and treatment of a variety of heart, lung, and muscular skeletal conditions as well as cancers,” the statement said
“This fuel also enabled environmental and health research, and irradiation of 45 tonnes of silicon a year for use in high powered electronic devices like solar farms, hybrid cars and wind farms.”
ANSTO said the spent fuel was being shipped overseas in state-of-the-art cask for reprocessing.
“This will involve:
- “Extraction many kilograms of uranium and plutonium for recycling in energy and research programs only (in line with the relevant government-level treaties); and
- “Immobilisation of the remaining non-recoverable waste in glass, in a process called vitrification, which ensures safe and stable behaviour.”
The recycled materials would be able to power about 110,000 households for a year, the statement said.
“The fact is that Australia’s nuclear industry saves lives, strongly contributes to our industry and enables a state-of-the-art research program that makes a real difference,” Hef Griffiths, ANSTO chief nuclear officer, said.
“Alongside the many benefits enabled by our state-of-the-art OPAL nuclear reactor comes a responsibility to safely manage its by-products.
“Spent fuel export is a process that’s been undertaken ten times now in Australia and thousands of times around the world, safely and without incident, thanks to the dedication of the people involved and highly-engineered containers used.
“These casks are state-of-the-art and purpose-engineered to safely transport this type of material without risk to people or the environment.
“The valuable and useful materials will be recycled, and the remainder will be treated so that it is suitable for eventual storage back in Australia.”
Nuclear operations division group executive Pamela Naidoo-Ameglio thanked “the hundreds of people who were involved in ensuring a safe operation.”
“As with nine previous export shipments, this operation was conducted in collaboration with agencies including state and federal police, road and maritime authorities, and regulators,” she said.
“Over the course of more than a year, this multiagency, multidisciplinary team worked across all levels of government to achieve the safe outcome that we are confirming today.”
Nuclear waste from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) facility at Lucas Heights was moved by road to Port Kembla in a late night operation on the weekend.
The spent fuel rods are being shipped to France for reprocessing.
Unused uranium and plutonium will be removed, after which the waste will be returned to Australia for storage at Lucas Heights unless a permanent waste facility is established by that time.
No prior advice was given to residents or motorists of the high security operation on Saturday night and early Sunday.
ANSTO chief nuclear officer Hef Griffiths said on 9 News, while ANSTO liked to be transparent, other agencies asked for certain information to be withheld.
It was the tenth time spent nuclear fuel has been exported from Australia.
Fairfax Media reported in April this year another shipment of nuclear waste was expected.
OPAL reactor manager Dave Vittorio said at that time the spent rods would 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.”
The last shipment was from Port Kembla in December, 2015.