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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 October, 2003, 12:03 GMT
Anger at Australian nuclear cargo
A Greenpeace dinghy circles the ship with nuclear waste
The ship will follow an undisclosed route to France
Australia has dispatched its first shipment of used nuclear fuel to Europe in two years despite furious protests.

Five lorries crossed suburban Sydney in the dead of night to deliver 344 spent nuclear fuel rods to a French container ship, the Fret Moselle.

Once loaded, the ship then quickly left port before dawn, bound for France where the rods will be reprocessed.

Activists from the environmental group Greenpeace circled the ship in dinghies to condemn the shipment, saying it was fraught with danger.

We looked at the scenarios that could take place and we put in appropriate security measures
Ron Cameron

"These casks are vulnerable to terrorist attack," said spokesman James Courtney.

"I think that the federal government is downplaying the risk of terrorism when it suits them and playing it up when they want to use it to their advantage."

The sea route for the cargo has not been disclosed.

Since the 11 September attacks on the US, all countries have stepped up security around the transport of radioactive materials.

But activists condemned what they said was a huge security operation at the dock as a waste of taxpayers' money.

"There were 10 police launches protecting the vessel, including fast inflatable vessels with guys in black helmets and night-vision goggles... racing around the water," said one, Danny Kennedy.

"It is an obscene abuse of the public purse."


The French company taking delivery of the rods, Cogema, said the shipment was due to arrive in the French Atlantic town of La Hague in the first week of December.

Australian nuclear officials have insisted the cargo poses no danger.

"There was a lot of planning done," said Ron Cameron, acting executive director of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (Ansto).

"We looked at the scenarios that could take place and we put in appropriate security measures. That's why, for example, we didn't notify people of the date or the route."

Australia has a single nuclear reactor - the Lucas Heights research facility - and the government decided in 1997 to ship spent fuel rods abroad for reprocessing.

Cogema is contracted to extract and retain enriched uranium and send intermediate-level radioactive waste back to Australia for long-term storage.

However, Greenpeace alleges that because of technical problems in France, no Australian nuclear fuel has yet been reprocessed.

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