A ship carrying 25 tonnes of reprocessed nuclear waste sailed from France for Australia on Thursday, October 15, despite protests from environmental campaigners concerned about "deficiencies" in the vessel.
The BBC Shanghai left the northern French port of Cherbourg after approval from local officials, who carried out an inspection on Wednesday, and was due to reach Port Kembla, south of Sydney, on November 27.
Image: Hartema / Heyken
The ship is carrying radioactive waste from spent nuclear fuel that was sent to France for reprocessing from Australia in four shipments in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) said.
The reprocessing involves removing uranium, plutonium and other materials, with the remaining substances stabilised in glass and stored in a container.
"The container will be placed on a nuclear-rated ship, brought to an Australian port, and trucked to Lucas Heights (nuclear facility) with an appropriate security operation," an ANSTO spokeswoman said in a statement.
"The ship was selected by (France-based nuclear company) Areva, and after a full inspection carried out by both French maritime safety authorities and by the French nuclear safety regulator on Wednesday 14 October, the ship's seaworthiness was confirmed and certified."
Image: Hartema / Heyken
Greenpeace, French environmental campaign group Robin des Bois (Robin Hood) and a leading green lawmaker called for the shipment, sent by Areva, to be halted.
"Areva, almost bankrupt, are using a dustbin ship to carry waste, without any serious inspection!" Denis Baupin a senior lawmaker with the French green party, tweeted shortly before the ship set sail.
Yannick Rousselet of Greenpeace France said the vessel "should not be used" to carry the nuclear waste, while Nathalie Geismar from Robin des Bois said other ports had found it had a "staggering number of flaws".
But authorities in the Manche (Channel) region, who inspected the 14-year-old ship, said they found no problems to prevent it from sailing or put crew or cargo in danger.
Areva's external relations director Bernard Monnot said some small flaws identified during inspection had been put right. The two containers of waste came from the company's reprocessing plant in Beaumont-Hague, near Cherbourg.
ANSTO said the material would be kept at the Lucas Heights facility in southern Sydney until a nuclear waste dump site, which has yet to be chosen, is found and constructed.
Lucas Heights houses Australia's only nuclear reactor, with the facility mostly used for nuclear medicine and research.