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Uranium on the breeze

Written By: - Date published: 4:45 pm, June 21st, 2010 - 30 comments
Categories: Environment, greens - Tags: ,

Three News reports:

Ships carrying uranium allowed to enter NZ

There’s shock at a decision to allow concentrated uranium ore to be shipped through New Zealand ports, with environmentalists worried it’ll jeopardise our nuclear-free status.

The Environmental Risk Management Authority has given the green light allowing shipments from Australia to pass through New Zealand on the way to the United States until 2014. Ports in Auckland, Nelson, Tauranga and Napier are affected.

Green MP Gareth Hughes says the party is concerned at the decision, “This undermines New Zealand’s proud nuclear-free history and the blood sweat and tears of activists in the ’80s who fought to entrench our nuclear-free status on the world stage,” says Mr Hughes. Nuclear-powered ships are banned from entering the country under the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987. … “To allow the raw minerals needed for nuclear generation seems to contravene the principles of this act.

I’m with The Greens on this one. If it is not excluded by the Act in its current form, uranium is certainly in violation of its principles, and the Act needs to be amended to exclude it.

30 comments on “Uranium on the breeze”

  1. Croc 1

    It seems like a major oversight in the original act. How many other uranium shipments have passed through New Zealand before this one?

  2. Bill 2

    Didn’t that ‘proud nuclear-free history’ get all shot to shit by Goff doing the ‘nuclear materials to India green light in return for talks on Free Trade talks’ deal?

    Oh, I know, I know. India isn’t a part of NZ…so it’s okay for NZ to allow that part of the world to be all nuclear and what not.

    • Bright Red 2.1

      Bill. No-one’s slavishly praising Goff. It’s an insult to your intelligence that you are attacking r0b over what you’ve invented as his position on the India deal.

      Labour’s not even mentioned, only the Greens, who opposed the India deal. So why are you latching on to any pretext to attack him?

      • Bill 2.1.1


        Who the fuck said Goff was being slavishly praised? And where exactly was it that I attacked r0b?

        My comment merely and simply proposes that NZ’s ‘proud nuclear-free history’ as Gareth Hughes puts it, was…fuck, I’m just repeating myself. Was my comment really that fucking hard to understand?

        Second part of my previous comment. Apart from claiming that India is not a part of NZ and therefore it’s nuclear status has no impact on NZ’s ‘proud nuclear free history’…which would be an absurd claim under the circumstances that it came to be trading in nuclear materials…I can’t see how it can be said that New Zealand’s ‘proud nuclear free history’ is intact.

        Which is not to say that I think nuclear is in any way okay.

        Clear enough?

        • Bunji

          I seem to recall this made quite a splash. The fact that we’re a small country and can’t stop a country of over a billion and the world’s only super-power doing a deal shouldn’t be entirely disparaged.

          I mean, we punch can above our weight – we drew with Italy! – but we’re not going to win the World Cup…

  3. Given that there’s nothing in the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987 to prohibit New Zealand building and operating a nuclear power plant, I’m not sure if the principles of the act are as wide-ranging as you anticipate.

    That said, if the report is accurate, and this is concentrated Uranium Ore, someone would do well to advise Mr Hughes to fire off some Parliamentary Questions to the Minister of Research, Science and Technology in respect of the Atomic Energy Act 1945. And the Minister of Energy as well, because ERMA isn’t the only process they’ll need to go through.

    • Nick C 3.1

      Do you think there would be grounds for judicial review Graeme?

      • I doubt it.

        ERMA’s job is to look into the safety/risk management aspects of this. They will have decided that with the processes in place for the temporary transit, this should not be prohibited on broad health and safety grounds. On that, they’re probably right, and they probably undertook the correct process to reach their decision.

        But permission from ERMA isn’t the only process you need to go through – it’s just one hoop of many. You want to build a house, you’ll need a building permit. And probably a resource consent, and if it’s on stilts over the water you’ll need a coastal use permit 🙂 and if you’re sinking a bore you may need some sort of water permit and, and, and…

        The proposed uranium transporters have jumped through one hoop. It’s the other hoops where the fight should be. They’ve proven to the appropriate authorities they can do it safely, now they have to prove to other authorities they should be able to do it at all.

        If what they’re doing involves importing uranium, they’ll need permission from the Minister of Energy. If what they’re doing involves them possessing or controlling a “substance from which atomic energy may be produced more readily than from uranium of natural isotope composition”, then they’ll also need permission from the Minister of Research, Science, and Technology. And that’s just the Atomic Energy Act 1945.

        They’ll probably also require permission from the Minister of Health under the Radiation Protection Act 1965 (I say probably, because I don’t know enough about the material to know whether it falls within the exemptions under the Radiation Protection Regulations). And there are probably bits in other legislation I’ve never heard of.

        I imagine this has only just begun. ERMA is the first step.

    • r0b 3.2

      Given that there’s nothing in the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987 to prohibit New Zealand building and operating a nuclear power plant

      I haven’t looked at it yet, but I’m sure you’re right. The Act was a product of some fairly specific times and circumstances, I would guess that the possibility of a nuclear power plant here was considered too distant to worry about (if it was even considered at all).

      It’s been more than 20 years, time perhaps to modernise the Act, and think ahead. I for one would certainly argue that the principles of the Act require that our position exclude both nuclear energy and shipping uranium.

      because ERMA isn’t the only process they’ll need to go through.

      Interesting – thanks for that.

  4. Fred 4

    If you want a low-carbon economy, then nuclear is the only realistic option for much of the world.

    So, do we disapprove of nuclear on ideological or safety grounds?

    • lprent 4.1

      Safety and economics. There is no way that it is possible to make anywhere in nz safe for high level waste. There is no way to make the transport over vast ocean distances cheaply safe. To cover the risk adequately would make nuclear uneconomic

    • Draco T Bastard 4.2

      Safety, economics, sustainability and environmental. It’s just not safe to build a nuclear reactor or nuclear waste storage plant anywhere that has the number of earthquakes that we have. The smallest nuclear reactor available is too large for NZ so we’d end up with all our power from the one source which isn’t a great idea. On top of the the power released by the nuclear plant may actually be less than the power used to build it and mine the uranium as well as all of the carbon and other greenhouse gasses released. And then there’s the simple fact that we’d hit peak uranium in short order anyway and so we’d be left with finding another replacement.

      • burt 4.2.1

        The smallest nuclear reactor available is too large for NZ

        That’s simply not true. See: Pebble bed reactor. 24MW facilities that can fit in a container for portable power supply.

        But hey ignoring that technology, lets look at more conventional reactors. Are you saying each US nuclear ship has a reactor in it that would be big enough to power all of NZ ? Just one ship docked in Wellington could supply power for all of NZ ..

        Less spin please ..

        And as for earthquake risk and the folly of having nuclear facilities in NZ, perhaps you should have told GNS that when they established the Seaview research facility tucked tightly on the eastern fault line.

        Sure you might not like the prospect of nuclear power along side the nuclear research and nuclear steralisation facilities we already have, but stop making shit up to justify your position.

      • burt 4.2.2

        Ummm, that like was well screwed up. Sorry;
        See: Pebble bed reactor

        • r0b

          Wanna go for third time lucky burt? Come on – you can do it – post that “like”!

          • burt


            So no comment on pebble bed reactors and no comment on the size of nuclear reactors as deployed in ships? Just a nit picky little swipe about my typo was all you could manage eh no surprise from somebody who’s role model for arrogance was Muldoon.

            [lprent: Believe or not, people don’t sit online waiting to respond to you. Since r0b hasn’t done any comments for the last hour and half, I’d guess he is doing something else. You are however getting perilously close to taking the position that no response is implied agreement. I ban for that, as happened to the sheep-shagger SHG yesterday. It is a really irritating and problematic debating technique that usually leads to flames.

            Don’t push it. ]

            • Pascal's bookie

              “The smallest nuclear reactor available is too large for NZ”

            • r0b

              Ta Lynn, quite right, I was off doing stuff in the real world.

              Burt, you don’t see any irony in trying to give advice on nuclear safety when you can’t even manage to post a link right in two attempts?

              Pebble reactors are too dangerous, Germany kicked them out and we shouldn’t go near them. Marine propulsion reactors are the worst of both worlds – all the same risks but the power output is not enough (much lower than commercial reactors).

              New Zealand should not go near nuclear power in any form. The risks are too high. We have abundant sources of renewable power, we just lack the will to develop them.

              There you go Burt – happy now?

            • RedLogix

              With r0b on this. From the reading I did, admitedly a few years back, pebble-beds are a cool looking technology, but still some distance from being a widely accepted and certifiable system that we could safely use in NZ. And certainly we are in no position to do any R&D to advance the technology ourselves.

              Apart from the pebble-bed possibility, conventional, existing nuclear power designs will never be a viable option here in the foreseeable future, and certainly they make no sense when we still have such large untapped renewable sources available to us.

  5. tc 5

    well said lprent and let’s not get into the issue that as a generating technology it’s still extremely dangerous and volatile simply playing those safety numbers…..3mile island, chernobyl seems so long ago now….until the next one.

  6. ianmac 6

    Isn’t the focus of the Anti-Nuclear Legislation on nuclear weapons? The passage of uranium rock is insignificant given that there are uranium deposits in Nz, on the West Coast I think..

  7. hellonearthis 7

    Why via NZ, I mean draw a line on the globe from Australia to the USA and passing through New Zealand isn’t the shortest route. Is this a ploy by Australia to tarnish our image by having these ships visit NZ.

    • burt 7.1

      Direct lines drawn on a flat map are not a good indication of the most expedient or practicle shipping routes.

  8. burt 8

    Nuclear free NZ where is this mythical place you speak of ?

  9. Robert 9

    This is total crap. The ignorance of the government and the New Zealand public in general is disgusting. People have a knee jerk reaction to the words “radioactive” and “nuclear”, that is totally unjustified. Yellowcake and indeed pure uranium itself is only weakly radioactive and is mostly the un-fissionable isotope Uranium-238. To anyone who knows the first thing about nuclear science this is un backed up worthless slander that the green party obviously feels compeled to force upon the naive public for reasons that are completely beyond me. Research it if you do not believe me. Uranium-238 is a weakly radioactive, relativley safe metal.

  10. ric 10

    One of the delivery addresses of Energy Resouces of Australia shipment of yellow cake through NZ is Honeywell Metropolis ,Illinois (see Appendix d of the 42 page FULL application now removed from Ermas website) Honey well refines U3O8 for nuclear reactors in the USA. Wikipedia states “Honeywell is in the consortium that runs the 65 square kilometer Pantex plant that assembles all the NUCLEAR BOMBS in the US arsenal. The electricity generation and nuclear weapons making parts of the USA nuclear industry are so closely intertwined that it’s unrealistic to think you can be involved in the supply chain (port facilities) without being complicit in nuclear weapons
    Nuclear free NZ should have no part in this disgrace

    Page 3 of the material data sheet for yellowcake from Heathgate resources says “this product has the potential to cause serious and chronic health effects…may cause severe kidney damage and death….Potential to damage the blood,liver,lymphatics,skin and bone marrow.” The Paranagua express is due in Auckland today (Sunday) and Erma NZ has authorized it to carry “157,000kg U3O8 in total delivery”. The major dangers in U3O8 are in the breathing and ingesting not the radiation.

    Other shipments are going to France. The only terrorist attack I’m aware of in NZ must have been forgiven.

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