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Greenpeace: Japan Returns Plutonium To UK Sender

GREENPEACE CONDEMNS JAPAN’S PLAN TO RETURN PLUTONIUM TO UK SENDER


12 January 2000

AMSTERDAM -- Greenpeace has condemned Japan’s plan to return to Britain the controversial cargo of plutonium reactor fuel that arrived in Japan last September, calling the plan "ludicrous" and "misguided". The dramatic decision to return the fuel is a significant embarrassment for both the Japanese and British plutonium industries and their governments, which have been rocked by various scandals and accidents during the last year. Greenpeace believes that the plan exposes the failure of Japan’s plutonium programme and the continuing threat to the global environment posed by its nuclear transports.

According to press reports, the Japanese nuclear utility Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) announced on January 11th that it will return the cargo of plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) reactor fuel, which was sent by the British state-controlled plutonium company British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) in 1999. KEPCO authorities acknowledged that the fuel, containing 225kg of weapons-usable plutonium, would be returned because BNFL had covered-up and lied about its failures to assure the quality of the dangerous nuclear fuel. This followed the disclosure that BNFL workers had falsified and manipulated quality control data during the fuel manufacturing.

The 1999 shipment of plutonium fuel from Britain and France to Japan, the first of its kind, set off a wave of international opposition and controversy. Dozens of countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and the South Pacific protested against the transport and numerous nations forbade it from entering the waters under their jurisdiction. The international controversy was based on risks posed by the MOX to the environment, public health and safety and the cause of nuclear non-proliferation (the plutonium contained in the MOX fuel is direct-use nuclear weapons material).

"The 1st plutonium shipment from Europe to Japan was totally unjustified and threatened the safety and security of people around the globe," said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International. "Now the Japanese government and industry are saying that they want to send this plutonium back because it is unsafe to use in Japan - what about the millions of people they put at risk with these reckless and unnecessary shipments? This transport should not take place and Japan should take this opportunity to publicly accept that their plutonium program is in a mess and should be terminated."

Greenpeace is concerned about Japan’s growing stockpile of weapons-usable plutonium, which is now at over 5 tonnes, and believes that the Japanese government should treat the plutonium contained in the MOX fuel as nuclear waste, which must be stored in such a way as to preclude its use for military or commercial purposes.

"Japan has played an important role as a champion of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. However, its plutonium programme and its growing stockpile have not only undermined this role but they also threaten the international non-proliferation regime itself," said Burnie. "Japan should turn this embarrassing incident into an opportunity to renounce its own plutonium ambitions. It should discontinue its domestic plutonium program and renounce all contracts with the French and British state-controlled plutonium facilities."


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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:

- Shaun Burnie, Greenpeace International, mobile +31 6 21 296 913
- Damon Moglen, Greenpeace International, +1 202 319 2409 (Washington DC)

Visit Greenpeace's Nuclear Transport website for more information on plutonium transports:

www.greenpeace.org/~nuclear/transport.html


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