A two-tonne container of radioactive waste will arrive in Sydney next year in a monolithic steel cask engineered to resist an earthquake and a jet attack.
Authorities won’t specify when the massive capsule — which contains four 500kg canisters of “intermediate-level stuff” – will arrive from the UK for security reasons.
The barrel itself weights 100 tonnes and resembles something from Nasa’s space programme, so it won’t be a quiet affair.
It has 20cm thick forged steel walls and is 6.5 metres long and 3 metres wide.
When the first cask of its kind arrived in 2015, it was carrying 20 tonnes of reprocessed Australian nuclear waste from France.
The mission to transport it from Port Kembla, in Wollongong, to Lucas Heights, the southern Sydney neighbourhood that serves as the country’s nuclear technology hub, involved about 600 police and security officers.
It’s safe to anticipate that the arrival next year will be just as extravagant and high-security.
The Lucas Heights facility is run by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (Ansto).
Before it was closed in 2007 and replaced by the Open Pool Australian Lightwater reactor, it was home to the High Flux Australian Reactor (HIFAR), which supported nuclear medicine and science.
The garbage is from HIFAR’s operations, and according to Ansto, the material is being “repatriated” under the international principle of countries being accountable for their nuclear waste.
However, what will arrive will not be the 114 spent fuel rods that HIFAR shipped to the UK for reprocessing in 1996.
The four 500kg canisters within the cask will contain an identical quantity of British rubbish that has been reconditioned.
Ansto’s chief nuclear officer, Hefin Griffiths, thinks there’s no reason to be concerned about the UK’s waste swap contract. In fact, he claims that it is a safer and less expensive bargain for Australia.
“Originally, we were planning to buy 52 500-litre cemented trash drums,” he explained.
“When the UK made this road for exchanging accessible, we made a deal with them to switch.” Instead of those drums, we’ll obtain four glass trash canisters, which will be far safer for disposal and interim storage.