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The US Banned This Ship and Now It's Carrying 28 Tons of Radioactive Waste from France to Australia

French energy company Areva, which is managing the shipment, says some “small flaws” were found during the ship’s pre-departure inspection, but they had been fixed.
Photo par Christophe Karaba/EPA

A ship that has been deemed a "disaster waiting to happen" by Greenpeace and a "dustbin ship" by a French lawmaker is nonetheless making its way from France to Australia, carrying nearly 28 tons of radioactive waste. The BBC Shanghai left the French port of Cherbourg last Thursday and is expected to arrive at Port Kempla in Australia, by way of the Cape of Good Hope, on November 27.

"I'm never surprised when the nuclear industry doesn't take safety seriously and this is just another example of the nuclear industry not caring enough about the safety of the very hazardous material it has to deal with," said Emma Gibson, head of program at Greenpeace Australia.


"Putting very hazardous material on a ship which has such a poor safety record that the US government and Coast Guard have put it on a list of banned ships that can carry US government cargo is ludicrous," she added.

The BBC Shanghai, built in 2001 and owned by German company Briese Schiffahrts GmbH & Co. KG, is on the US Coast Guard's list of vessels prohibited from carrying government cargo.

Related: Australia has Nowhere to Put Its Shipment of French Nuclear Waste

Denis Baupin, a senior lawmaker with the French political party Europe Écologie–The Greens and vice-president of the National Assembly, also expressed concern, posting on Twitter: "Areva, almost bankrupt, are using a dustbin ship to carry waste, without any serious inspection!"

French-based energy company Areva has defended its choice of transport for the mid- to low-activity nuclear waste. According to a statement on the company's website, "The ship meets national and international regulations in force on safety and security. The containers used for packaging materials also meet strict criteria defined by international regulations and are designed to protect people and the environment in all circumstances."

Areva's external relations director Bernard Monnot told AFP that some "small flaws" were found during the ship's pre-departure inspection, but they had been fixed.

The radioactive waste was generated by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO) and was sent to France fin four shipments throughout the 1990s and 2000s for reprocessing, which removes elements such as uranium and plutonium.


French law required that the nuclear waste be repatriated to Australia by the end of 2015. After reaching Australia, the cargo will be stored at the Lucas Heights facility, in Sydney, until a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility is built and licensed.

A spokesperson for the ANSTO defended the use of the BBC Shanghai as a transport vessel. According to a statement on the organization's website, "The ship was selected by AREVA, and after a full inspection carried out by both French maritime safety authorities and by the French nuclear safety regulator on Wednesday 14 October, the ship's seaworthiness was confirmed and certified."

Le BBC Shanghaï chargé de déchets nucléaires a quitté Cherbourg pour 25000km avec la bénédiction de — Rousselet Yannick (@plutonyck)October 15, 2015

French lawmaker Baupin released a statement in the days leading up to the ship's departure from France urging officials to recognize the questionable safety record of the vessel. "The BBC Shanghai appears in fact on several blacklists internationally. It is undesirable particularly in the United States, and has been retained in several different ports this year for lack of security."

Environmental activists from Greenpeace in Australia and France, as well as members of French environmental group Robin des Bois, expressed frustration at what they consider reckless and cavalier behavior on the part of Areva.

Yannick Rousselet, spokesperson for Greenpeace France, told French media that Areva's choice to use the BBC Shanghai to transport nuclear waste was "scandalous." On Thursday, after the ship left France's northern port, Rousselet called out French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development, and Energy, Ségolène Royal, on Twitter: "The Shanghai BBC, responsible for nuclear waste, has left Cherbourg for 25,000 km with the blessing of Ségolène Royal."

"Of all the ships, in all of the world, surely they must be able to find one that has a better record than this one to transport nuclear waste from one side of the world to another," said Gibson.

Watch the VICE News documentary Toxic Waste in the US: Coal Ash here: