Uranium yellowcake in nuclear-Free New Zealand ports

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.

18 thoughts on “Uranium yellowcake in nuclear-Free New Zealand ports

  1. I remember the previous Nat leader (now Act) saying that he would see nuclear-free “gone by lunch-time”.. maybe its time the media asked Mr. Key the same question (especially.. IF they get another term)

    Kia-ora

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  2. “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.”
    But the same is true of oil, which we’ve unfortunately been reminder of. Oil spills would also be far more likely and far more devastating because of the sheer quantity of oil ships carry. There are plenty of other dangerous chemicals that could be passing through our ports as well. Why are you singling out uranium?

    A search on google doesn’t seem to bring up any past “uranium spills” off transport ships. Do you know of any? The only mention I can find is this:
    “Although environmentally “non-ideal”, the damage done by radioactive spills at sea is probably far less than damage done by equivalent spills on land, or by other forms of chemical and physical pollutants spilled at sea.” — Dr. Ken Rubin, Professor
    http://www.soest.hawaii.edu/GG/ASK/waterpol2.html

    If you had just come out and criticised the government for lax safety standards I would have been fine with that. But don’t come out with this OMG uranium stuff. It’s just a big headline and no way to start an intelligent discussion about safety standards.

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  3. I agree that being Nuclear free and also being a part of the supply chain for the Nuclear industry could be something to be discussed.

    But. As for the dangers of yellowcake. look up the radioactivity dangers of Granite, for comparison.

    Greens, as the party for the environment should be careful not to shoot themselves in the foot over environmental matters.

    The Media expect unscientific ideological idiocy from National, ACT and UF so they largely ignore it.

    Greens, and Labour, do not have that luxury.

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  4. Perhaps, Bob and Kerry, you could answer me two things:
    Are there adequate provisions in our ports for handling a ‘yellow cake spill’ as the harbour-master at Tauranga described (given that there aren’t adequate provisions for handling an oil spill, as evidenced by recent events)?
    and
    Does spilled yellow cake present a threat to the environment, especially in light of it’s radioactive (and other) properties?

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  5. Oil is far more of a problem than yellowcake and an oil spill is far more likely as we know. . Especially given the relative quantities carried.

    Lots of dangerous goods are carried by sea. The requirements for packing, stowage and carriage of potentially dangerous goods, apart from oil and gas, are pretty stringent and spills unlikely.

    If you want to look at something really dangerous, google, LNG/LPG accidents. Gas is carried by FOC ships also. Right into Lyttelton and Otago harbours.

    Not to mention 100 000ton of crude into Marsden point on one ship.

    When gas was first going to be carried around the coast, terminals were to be miles away from towns. Like Auckland. Of course that was too expensive.

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  6. It is the, many times more likely accidents, like an oil spill, rig blowout, poisoning from Methyl bromide, that we should be trying to prevent.

    Given the relative likelihood of a problem I reckon Tauranga should continue to concentrate their money and training on tugs and oil spill prevention.

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  7. So in saying “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” are you saying that you are admitting to some shameless beatup to raise your profile leading into the election?

    Given the number of times Gareth has shot his mouth off – and then had to reatract – in the last few weeks, this lastest *gasp* horror story clutch at headlines seems just a little self-serving, dont you think?

    cement dust is “more of a toxic hazard than a radiation hazard”, as is a container of gib board, or some nitrate fertilisers.

    With beatups like this Gareth, it is any wonder you are mocked around parliament?

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  8. Can’t for the life of me see that you’ve answered either of my (straightforward) questions, Kerry.

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  9. Sorry.
    1. Yes. as it is most likely to be a single container.
    2. Possibly, but minimal. http://imc-agrico.com/othprod/msds/uranium.html

    Given the level of threat and the likelihood I think Tauranga should be spending time and effort on much more serious and likely threats.
    Rather than wasting money on a response to a yellowcake spill they should be spending more on things like container inspections for biological pests, increasing oil response capability and continuing to increase harbour/ship safety.
    Many introduced pests have already caused environmental damage. At the same time funding for border protection has been cut.

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  10. Let’s apply your theory to the current situation with the Rena disaster then Kerry Thomas.

    Buried in the Maritime New Zealand website is the preliminary list of hazardous substances and their quantities that the Rena is known to be carrying.

    MNZ are now saying that a shipping container carrying Alkysulphonic Acid UN2856 has gone overboard… they do not know what has happened to it.

    One of the 88 containers already lost overboard could just as easily have been a load of yellowcake. Did you happen to see them craning broken containers out of the water Kerry?

    The United Nations recommended maximum transportation quantity is 5 litres, while the Rena was carrying 23,240 kgs of Alkysulphonic Acid.

    The issue with yellowcake is not just that is posses an environmental risk, it is that it can be used to manufacture far more dangerous items that have huge destructive potential. It is regularly used in weapons manufacturing.

    Having shipments of any product that is used to help develop nuclear weapons is a clear breach of New Zealand’s anti nuclear legislation, which states:

    Prohibition on acquisition of nuclear explosive devices

    (1) No person, who is a New Zealand citizen or a person ordinarily resident in New Zealand, shall, within the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone,—

    (a) manufacture, acquire, or possess, or have control over, any nuclear explosive device; or

    (b) aid, abet, or procure any person to manufacture, acquire, possess, or have control over any nuclear explosive device.

    (2) No person, who is a New Zealand citizen or a person ordinarily resident in New Zealand, and who is a servant or agent of the Crown, shall, beyond the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone,—

    (a) manufacture, acquire, or possess, or have control over, any nuclear explosive device; or

    (b) aid, abet, or procure any person to manufacture, acquire, possess, or have control over any nuclear explosive device.

    Given the level of threat to the environment from all the hazardous materials shipped through our waters, I would have thought that New Zealand would have at least the basic response capabilities. We don’t and that is a travesty!

    Of course we should have oil spill response capabilities as well… but this is hardly an argument for not having a plan in place and the resources to perform it to react to spills of other hazardous substances. National and MNZ get a big F for fail.

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  11. Jackel. I gave you the MSDS for yellowcake. You can look up Gypsum, wheat, phosphates and nitrates and lamp black for yourself, all of which, unlike yellowcake, are carried in bulk ships. You know, the ones with the worst record of accidents of any ship type.

    Better to concentrate on the lack of care and regulation of shipping generally.

    As far as safety and environmental effects go, ignoring ethical considerations about the end use, personally, I would rather carry yellowcake, than wheat.

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  12. To Zedd at 6.36pm yeasterday.
    You do NOT remember Don Brash saying this. What you remember is Phil Goff CLAIMING that Don Brash said it. According to the Wikileaks of US cables no-one in the people he was with heard anything like that statement.
    Unless you believe that the US government faked cables that they knew were going to be stolen and published years later there is no reason to disbelieve the leaked material but there are a great many good reasons to disbelieve PGs claims.

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  13. @ Alwyn

    My memory may not be 100%.. but I’m sure it was a Brash statement.. widely reported.
    But regardless, I think the Nats need to make it clear what their policy is.. maybe as clear as “not raising GST !!”

    Kia-ora

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  14. What dopey comments by Gareth Hughes, as dopey as Don Brash on legalizing dope users.

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  15. Methinks some of these posters doth protest too much. You don’t kick a dead horse.

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