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Greenpeace On Plutonium Shipment

Release From Greenpeace Australia

Greenpeace Activists Occupy Cranes Prior To Imminent Plutonium Shipment Cherbourg, France, 12 July, 1999:

Activists from Greenpeace France have taken control of two cranes in the French port of Cherbourg and vow to occupy them in order to stop the loading of the imminent Japan-bound shipment of weapons-usable plutonium from Europe. The international environmental group has called on the French, British, and Japanese governments to cancel this first-ever plutonium fuel transport, warning that the shipment and program behind it pose significant threats to the cause of nuclear non-proliferation, environment protection, public health and safety.

The occupation of the cranes began at 8pm last night, when 11 Greenpeace France climbers scaled the two cranes on the Quai Mielle in the commercial port of Cherbourg. The climbers have locked themselves into the superstructure of the two cranes and are carrying food and equipment necessary for a prolonged occupation. Both cranes will be maneuovered in the operation to load the four TN-17 transport containers, which have been loaded with plutonium fuel. Two activists have been arrested and nine remain locked on to the crane.

Currently, the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior is moored in the port of Cherbourg and a second Greenpeace vessel, the MV Greenpeace, is currently steaming from Ireland to the British port of Barrow. Greenpeace is warning that French, British and Japanese officials are making final preparations to make the plutonium shipment by the middle of the coming week.

"France, Britain and Japan hope to do this dirty business in secret and without public knowledge - we are not about to let them do either," said Jean-Luc Thierry of Greenpeace France. "The bottom line is that this is a dangerous and unnecessary program, aided and abetted by the world's largest traffickers in weapons-usable plutonium."

The imminent plutonium fuel shipment is to be made on two ships, the Pacific Pintail and the Pacific Teal, owned by Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited (PNTL), but operated on "government service" to the UK. During the next few days, one of the ships will leave the British port of Barrow with a cargo of 8 MOX (mixed plutonium/uranium oxide) fuel elements containing some 225 kilograms of plutonium. The other ship will leave the French port of Cherbourg with 32 MOX fuel elements containing an estimated 221 kilograms of plutonium. The two freighters, presumably each under naval escort, will then rendezvous at sea, off the French Atlantic coast, and continue together on their 20,000 mile voyage without naval escort along a still secret route.

Altogether, the two ships will contain enough plutonium to construct some 60 nuclear weapons. Despite the obvious security risks, the ships are without military escort and will be expected to escort each other while each is a potential target and neither is well armed. From a safety standpoint, Greenpeace labeled the ships a "recipe for disaster", as each will not only carry a quarter of a tonne of plutonium, but also some 7 tonnes of high explosive ammunition and an estimated 1,100 tonnes of fuel oil. Plutonium is well known as one of the most radiotoxic materials - inhalation of a single speck of plutonium, smaller than a speck of dust, is likely to cause fatal lung cancer. Once in the environment, plutonium remains a deadly contaminant for tens of thousands of years.

Some of the plutonium produced in Japanese reactors arises from the use of Australian uranium. In 1982 Australia signed an agreement permitting the separation of plutonium from Japanese spent fuel at British and French reprocessing plants. Despite serious questions over the Japanese plutonium program, the agreement was renewed in 1998 - without any oversight by the Australian Parliament. Although the current shipment will not contain plutonium produced from Australian uranium, future shipments will most certainly carry the Australian 'flag'.

"The transfer of weapons-usable plutonium to Japan not only threatens regional stability in Asia but fatally undercuts the cause of international non-proliferation," said Benedict Southworth, Greenpeace Australia Campaigns Manager. "Rather than competing to be the world's two biggest traffickers in plutonium, France and Britain should shut their reprocessing plants and prohibit this deadly industry."

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