A NUCLEAR cargo boat was expected to arrive at Scrabster early yesterday evening on a mission to transport a consignment of nuclear waste from Dounreay to the continent.
Special security measures will accompany the loading of the radioactive cargo aboard the Atlantic Osprey at the port’s deep-water Queen Elizabeth pier.
The movement, which has been sanctioned by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, involves 153 tonnes of intermediate-level waste being sent to the BR2 reactor at Mol in north-east Belgium over a four-year period.
This is believed to be the first of 21 shipments, which will have an armed police presence en passage.
The cemented 500 litre drums are being returned in compliance with a standard clause written into historic overseas reprocessing deals done by the UK Atomic Energy Authority.
Under the tie-up with the state-owned Belgian research reactor, spent fuel was sent to Dounreay where it was converted into fresh stocks and returned to produce medical isotopes.
A total of 123 drums are due to be dispatched as part of the return-to-sender condition.
Dounreay site licence company DSRL yesterday refused to comment on the arrival of the Atlantic Osprey, stating that its policy is not to comment before or during any movements of nuclear waste.
The 3640 tonne vessel – formerly known as Arneb – has previously undertaken nuclear shipments around European waters, including plutonium fuels to Dounreay and return shipments from Dounreay to Germany.
The latest in what is due to be a series of nuclear waste runs has sparked protests from environmental campaigners who believe it could have disastrous consequences for the environment.
Protestors also claim that the Atlantic Osprey is unfit for the job of transporting nuclear material as it is not designed to withstand a collision or fend off a terrorist attack.
Independent nuclear consultant Shaun Burnie yesterday said the cargo vessel was not designed to carry out the delivery of nuclear waste, describing the ship as a "rustbucket".
In March 2011, the ship suffered a fire in its engine room on the Manchester Ship Canal during sea trials.
Mr Burnie also said he was against the movement of nuclear waste by sea, saying that the Belgian waste could easily be stored at Dounreay.
"The nuclear industry doesn’t seem to know what to do with waste so it dumps it in places such as Dounreay and the justification is for commercial benefit and the waste would go back," he said.
"Some of the waste is going back but some of it will remain at Dounreay forever.
"Any transportation at sea involves hazard but the Atlantic Osprey has had a poor record at sea where it has experienced engine failures, fires and cases of drifting at sea.
"Two years ago, the French authorities said that they did not want the ship being used for nuclear transport after delivering a cargo of plutonium.
"It doesn’t mean that there will be an accident but there is a risk and the question is how justified is the transport?"
Edinburgh-based Mr Burnie added: "From an environmental aspect, there isn’t a disposal facility in Belgium, although there has been research looking into building a facility at Mol.
"The least damaging option is to store it at Dounreay. It may not be the best option for people living in the area, but the amount of waste that is already stored there, a small amount of Belgian waste is not going to make a huge difference."
The Atlantic Osprey is operated by International Nuclear Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
INS has defended the record and capability of the vessel and insists it complies with international specifications for its role in transporting nuclear material.