Spent nuclear fuel rods begin their journey, final destination unknown

Spent fuel rods from ANSTO’s Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in Sydney have just been sent to Europe in a highly regulated and secretive transport operation. Once these fuel rods have been reprocessed, they will be returned to Australia for disposal.  However, their final resting place remains a mystery.

The federal government is currently considering a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF) at two sites on agricultural land near Kimba on the Eyre Peninsula and one near Hawker in the iconic Flinders Ranges. All three sites are strongly contested by many in the affected communities.

Federal Resources Minister Canavan is determined to select a site by the end of the year, ahead of the next federal election.  The issue is heating up with Minister Canavan touring the sites this week, there is a Senate inquiry underway into the selection process and a ballot to gauge community sentiment starting next month.

One of the many concerns held by those opposed to the proposed facility is the lack of detail about the waste that will be there. The plan is for the permanent disposal of low level radioactive waste (LLW) and for “temporary” storage of intermediate level waste (ILW). There is no clarity around how long the ILW will be stored at the chosen site nor is there a plan for finding a solution for its permanent disposal.  Given that most of Australia’s ILW comes from Lucas Heights many believe that it should be kept there, at least until a final disposal solution is established.

Moving this ILW twice increases the risk and makes no economic sense. The spent nuclear fuel currently en-route to France is expected to be returned to Australia as long lived intermediate waste mid next decade but its long term future remains contested and uncertain.

Release ends.

contact: Mara Bonacci 0422 229 970

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