Senior public servant rejects fears about radioactive waste handling at Port Pirie

HARBOUR: Port Pirie could be used for shipping of radioactive waste, according to a federal report.
HARBOUR: Port Pirie could be used for shipping of radioactive waste, according to a federal report.

Speculation about radioactive waste being shipped through Port Pirie has been described as a “storm in a teacup”.

IN THE DARK: Mayor John Rohde said his council was "none the wiser" about the proposed nuclear waste shipments.

IN THE DARK: Mayor John Rohde said his council was "none the wiser" about the proposed nuclear waste shipments.

“There is nothing to be concerned about,” said high-ranking Commonwealth public servant Bruce Wilson.

The Recorder was referred to Mr Wilson by federal Grey MP Rowan Ramsey who had earlier cast doubt on such waste being transported by sea.

Debate erupted in the Upper Spencer Gulf in the wake of a federal report saying waste could be shipped from Port Kembla through Port Pirie or Whyalla to a possible repository at Hawker or Kimba.

The newspaper has been told that potentially Port Pirie could be used in this way five times in 40 years.

Mr Wilson is principal advisor to the Industry, Innovation and Science Department regarding the creation of a national radioactive waste management facility.

He said it had not been determined which of the two sites at Kimba and one near Hawker would be used as the respository.

Low-level waste, such as surgical gowns and test tubes, would be packed in concrete and moved by road or train while intermediate waste would be put in cannisters and probably transported by ship, “but again that has not been confirmed,” he said.

“It could be railed or shipped,” he said, agreeing that it was a “possibility” that it would pass through Port Pirie’s harbour.

He said the intermediate waste would comprise “some from France, some from Lucas Heights and some from elsewhere”.

”Any movement is highly regulated and the community is consulted,” he said.

He said the cannisters containing the waste weighed 110 tonnes and had 20-centimetre-thick stainless steel walls.

“They will survive any potential transport accident that you can imagine,” he said.

He said that in tests the cannisters had been impaled, set on fire and submerged.

“These containers are incredibly safe,” he said.

“It is premature to be worrying anyone that one of these cannisters will be going through their port.

“It would be many years before any movement would happen, if it happened at all.

“It is a storm in a teacup … there is nothing to be concerned about.”

Mr Wilson spoke by telephone from Quorn where he was preparing for an information session on the proposed repository near Hawker on Tuesday.

Friends of the Earth environmentalist David Noonan believes the federal government could face “serious obstacles” to secure the use of a port to move nuclear waste.

“These targeted port communities are denied a say in Minister Matt Canavan’s pending decision on siting a federal dump in South Australia,” he said.

“They haven’t been consulted on use of their ports, and are excluded from ‘votes’ in the Hawker and Kimba districts between August and September on whether to locate a facility those areas.”

Mr Noonan claimed the government had been targeting ports to transport nuclear waste in South Australia for more than two years.

Mayor John Rohde said the Port Pirie Regional Council had not been approached about the possibility of the port being used for shipments,

“We are none the wiser. Until we are approached, we won’t be formulating a position,” he said.

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