Some ships calling at New Zealand ports may carry uranium ore destined for ports in other parts of the world. These transhipments have been taking place for several decades.
When being shipped, uranium ore is stored in sealed drums inside
containers that are stowed below deck. It remains on the ship while in
port in New Zealand.
The EPA's role in such transhipments is to manage any chemical hazards.
Uranium ore has a low level of toxicity and can cause kidney damage if eaten or inhaled. Because of this risk, transhipments of uranium ore via New Zealand require approval under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.
Controls are imposed by the EPA to ensure the toxic effects of the substance are managed while it is in transit.
Uranium ore also has a low level of radioactivity. The National Radiation Laboratory describes the substance as posing a negligible radiological risk to the public and port staff.
As well as an approval from the EPA, the packaging and storage of uranium ore on board the ship must comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Regulations for Safe Transport of Radioactive Material and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code covering the transport of dangerous goods.
Uranium ore transhipments must also obtain a “Consent to Export Strategic Goods” permit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade prior to each shipment arriving at the port. The control of strategic goods is designed to ensure that such exports are consistent with broader foreign, strategic and security policy objectives. Read more.
In the event of a spillage during transport, the usual incident response procedures for dangerous goods would be followed. The substance is only hazardous if it is swallowed or inhaled in significant quantities (from its chemical toxicity rather than radiological nature) so basic personal protective equipment such as disposable overalls, gloves and respirator are required for responders cleaning up a spillage.
The National Radiation Laboratory has an information sheet on the transport of uranium ore via New Zealand ports (pdf 156Kb)
NRL emergency contact number: 021 393 632