Gareth Hughes

Uranium yellowcake in nuclear-Free New Zealand ports

by Gareth Hughes

The Sunday Star Times today picked up on my research that tonnes of uranium oxide (yellowcake) come through four of our ports every year.

I think many Kiwis would be shocked to find out Nuclear-Free New Zealand is playing a role in the international nuclear chain but even more so in the aftermath of the Rena tragedy that consenting requirements and response strategies are woefully inadequate.

Both the Prime Minister and right wing blogs are trying to downplay it, as simply ‘Aussie dirt,’ and whilst I acknowledge it is actually more of a toxic hazard than a radiation hazard, the real concerns are the risks to our valuable brand of a spill, contravention of our nuclear-free spirit and apparent lax standards.

Documents released under the Official Information Act show that there is a great deal of confusion surrounding the contingency plans if something goes wrong. While the shipments have been authorised by the Environmental Risk Management Authority, they transhipped between 1996 and 2009 without any approvals from the authority.

The safety procedures appear sketchy at best regarding who is responsible and what is to be done in the event of a radioactive spill. Western Bay of Plenty Harbour Master Jennifer Roberts stated in a 2010 submission to Government that neither the Tauranga Fire Service, nor Port of Tauranga staff, had the equipment and training to detect and deal with a uranium yellowcake spill.

Given the two companies that ship uranium yellowcake through our ports use predominately Flags of Convenience ships we can introduce better regulation for coastal shipping that supports the use of local crews and ships that know New Zealand waters and hazards to minimise risks. Furthermore, we can invest in our emergency maritime services so that they have the capacity and resources to respond quickly if accidents do happen.

I support the use of nuclear science in medicine however I’m proud of our independent nuclear-free position and we think we shouldn’t be part of the nuclear trade given its risks in mining, power and nuclear waste disposal and ultimately its links with nuclear weapons and depleted uranium munitions.

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Gareth Hughes on Sun, October 30th, 2011   

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