Aust radioactive waste repatriated from UK | Western Magazine

National nuclear agency ANSTO, police and security authorities have completed an operation to repatriate two tonnes of radioactive waste sent to the UK for reprocessing in the 1990s.

The four 500-kilogram canisters of vitrified material arrived safely in Sydney overnight, authorities said on Sunday.

This is the second time that radioactive waste has been repatriated to Australia, the first being in 2015 and the next not expected until the mid-2030s.

About 85% of the waste generated by ANSTO is directly associated with the production of nuclear medicine, including that used in the diagnosis of heart and lung diseases and the treatment of certain cancers.

Australia’s Lucas Heights reactor operates on a set of nuclear fuel rods that only last a few months before being stored to cool.

The rods are then consolidated and shipped to the UK, France or the US for reprocessing, which involves the disposal and recycling of the uranium into energy programs and the solidification of the remaining waste.

Vitrification consists of breaking the material, mixing it in molten glass and solidifying it in steel containers.

The four containers that just fit in a 100 tonne storage drum with 20cm thick steel walls were originally sent to the UK in 1996.

“For decades, Australians have benefited from the medical, environmental, industrial and mineral research at Lucas Heights,” said ANSTO Group Director Pamela Naidoo-Ameglio.

“These benefits include the production of millions of doses of nuclear medicine, increased profitability of our mining industry, the irradiation of silicon used in everything from fast trains to hybrid cars, and a knowledge base that secures the position of the Australia in international nuclear non-proliferation talks.”

Ms Naidoo-Ameglio said there were comprehensive plans to manage waste safely.

ANSTO’s director general of waste management, Paula Berghofer, said similar storage drums had been used successfully in 180 nuclear expeditions around the world for more than 40 years.

Twelve have landed in Australia in total since 1963.

Australian Associated Press