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Rena raises questions over uranium transportation

Tuesday 18 Oct 2011 6:13p.m.

Rena raises questions over uranium transportation

By Patrick Gower

The Rena disaster has raised questions about the way another dangerous substance is being shipped by the container load through our ports - uranium.

There was not any on the Rena - which is a relief.

Because 3 News has learned Tauranga port authorities were concerned as recently as last year, that there was no plan to deal with a radioactive spill.

And there still is not one.

Yellowcake uranium is wanted by nuclear plants around the world, and shipped through ports like Tauranga.

It is low-level radioactive material but Prime Minister John Key says don't worry about it.

“It’s not something people should be fearful of,” says Mr Key.

Yet documents obtained by 3 News show Tauranga harbour authorities had plenty of concerns about uranium just last year.

The harbour master warned:

- “It is not specified who would be responsible for cleaning up a uranium spill.”

- “There are no means of detecting radioactive materials in this port.”

- “The Tauranga fire service does not have any specialised detection equipment”.

The harbour authorities from the Bay of Plenty regional council today admitted nothing has changed.

And the Greens do not like that.

“We haven't had the appropriate safeguards in place and, as the Rena highlights, risks and accidents do happen and we have to be prepared for any worst case eventuality,” says MP Gareth Hughes.

David Lange made uranium a dirty word.

But New Zealand's nuclear-free status has not stopped it coming through our ports en route from Australia to overseas markets. It is now transported fortnightly, with hundreds of tonnes in each load.

Although, Mr Key rates it as little more than Australian dirt.

“If it got into the environment it is worth noting that the environmental impact would be very low.”

But Mr Hughes is not so sure.

“Imagine the international news headlines if there was uranium yellow cake bobbing off the Bay of Plenty coast in nuclear-free New Zealand.”

Yellow cake may not be completely toxic but nobody wants it floating around at sea. And with the difficulties handling the Rena spill the question has to be asked, whether we ever really had a decent plan to deal with dangerous materials in our waters.

3 News

 
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