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Rocky reception for Australia's nuclear waste

A ship carrying tons of radioactive waste has been met by protests in Australia. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sparked an outcry over a suggestion that the nation consider importing nuclear waste from abroad.

Anti-nuclear protesters in rubber boats and harbor police shadowed a vessel carrying a 25-ton shipment of reprocessed nuclear waste as it docked Saturday at an Australian port.

Environmentalists have raised concerns about the safety of the ship, which left the northern French port of Cherbourg in October and are closely monitoring the handling of the waste now bound for a temporary storage facility near Sydney.

"We followed the ship all the way in, as far as we could," Greenpeace spokeswoman Emma Gibson said.

It will remain at the Lucas Heights research reactor until a permanent storage site has been found. Like most countries, Australia does not have a permanent storage site for the waste, which it had sent to France for reprocessing.

Australia produced the waste and had a responsibility to take it back, said Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization spokesman Phil McCall.

"It is in line with international best practices that the countries that benefit have the responsibility to deal with the waste," he said.

Prime minister's suggestion sparks concern

Australien Premierminister Malcolm Turnbull

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has floated the idea of Australia earning money by storing radioactive waste from abroad.

Australia is a major exporter of uranium ore and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull triggered controversy recently by suggesting the country should expand its role in nuclear energy by preparing and leasing out fuel rods to other nations and then storing their nuclear waste.

Last month, the government announced six locations in remote parts of Australia were being shortlisted as possible permanent nuclear waste storage sites.

That's proved deeply unpopular among the public. Asked about Australia accepting nuclear waste from overseas, 18.3 percent supported it, 72.1 percent opposed it and 9.6 percent said there were undecided.

"Nobody has yet worked out a safe way to manage long-term nuclear waste, which can remain dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years," Gibson said.

Unloading is due to take place overnight Saturday and the waste will be trucked by road to the Lucas Heights in Sydney, where it was originally produced.

jar/sms (AFP, Reuters)