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Published: 2000-12-22 00:00:00

Environment Waikato scientists are baffled by claims in a New Zealand current affairs magazine that radioactive uranium waste has been detected in the Waikato River.

The December issue of Investigate magazine claims traces of radioactive uranium have been found in the river by German water testers – but Hamilton’s own Hill Laboratories has completed testing in the river and has never found any trace of uranium.

Health magazine, Healthy Options, ran an article on uranium in New Zealand fertiliser in October which claimed a German laboratory scientist analysing Waikato River water in January this year asked how far the sample was taken from a nuclear power plant. The scientist claimed to have detected traces of uranium.

The article was responded to by fertiliser manufacturers and a short retraction printed in November. But the December Investigate magazine says nuclear substances are getting into New Zealand rivers through fertiliser applications. It asks if uranium getting into the river is a natural phenomenon or “something more sinister”.

Environment Waikato water scientist Bill Vant says it’s neither. As a result of the claims in the Healthy Options magazine article, the Council had collected water samples from five sites between Taupo and Tuakau on three occasions and had them tested using the most sensitive scientific methods known.

The laboratory had found no uranium in any of the samples – using methods able to detect as little as 0.00002 grams per cubic metre, or 100 times lower than the new New Zealand drinking water standard.

“All rock and super phosphate fertilisers have uranium in them and this is well recognised. Uranium is a naturally occurring substance. Environment Waikato has always advocated the careful use of fertiliser as uranium, along with other heavy metals, can accumulate in soils.”

“However we have no evidence that these substances are present in the river water. We’re baffled about how the German laboratory did its testing to get this sort of result.”

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