Greenpeace 'Tracking' Nuclear Waste Ship As It Arrives in Australia

05/12/2015 7:01 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
A picture taken on October 14, 2015 in Cherbourg-Octeville shows the BBC Shanghai, a vessel whose security has been questioned, which is to deliver nuclear waste back to Australia after its conditioning in France . AFP PHOTO / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU (Photo credit should read CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

A ship laden with nuclear waste is just hours away from docking at an Australian port amid claims by environmental group Greenpeace that it is carrying high grade plutonium and has been blacklisted by US authorities.

The BBC Shanghai is due to arrive at Port Kembla in NSW around 12.30pm (AEDT), with the waste onboard due to be transferred and temporarily stored at the Lucas Heights facility, south of Sydney.

The 25 tonnes of Australian medical waste - generated at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) - was sent to France in 2001 for reprocessing and is now being shipped back.

The Federal Government is said to be trying to find somewhere permanently to store the reprocessed material.

Greenpeace claims the radioactive material has been classified as ‘high level’ in France but ANSTO says it is safe and classified at medium level.

Greenpeace has claimed previously that the BBC Shanghai is blacklisted by the US Homeland Security Department and the US Coast Guard, and is barred from carrying government cargo.

The environmental group's head of programs, Emma Gibson, said the cargo's movements would be tracked on Saturday.

"We're going to be there bearing witness to the shipment as it comes in and we'll be tracking it through its unloading and then as it's driven through the streets to Lucas Heights in Sydney," Gibson told radio station 2GB.

"We'll all breathe a sigh of relief when it gets there."

ANSTO has been sought for comment.

The ship's arrival comes after Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg last month shortlisted six sites for further evaluation and public consultation for a permanent National Radioactive Waste Management Facility.

In October, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull left the door open for a nuclear industry in Australia, saying many Australians would view the move as "perfectly reasonable".

Greenpeace's Gibson said the government was underplaying the danger of the BBC Shanghai's cargo.

“The Australian government is downplaying the danger of this shipment, saying it is intermediate-level waste that isn’t harmful unless mismanaged. But we know it contains plutonium and is classified as high level waste by the French authorities,” she said.

“It’s clear on evidence the government is not being as straight as it can be about the nature of this shipment by insisting Australia only has intermediate level waste.”

She feared the shipment would lead to Australia "accepting larger quantities of nuclear waste".

"The fear is ... it becomes a business, focused on profit, then more corners will be cut," she said.

This comes as a poll of 3,144 Australians, commissioned by Greenpeace and released Saturday, found that 72.1 percent of respondents opposed Australia accepting nuclear waste from overseas.

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