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Plutonium sponsorship for the America's Cup ??


The French nuclear company Areva is sponsoring the French yacht Defi in the next America's Cup to the tune of 15 million Euros.

Areva's press release claims that by supporting the French cup challenger, the company wants to "highlight its values" and "make its name more familiar to people around the world". It also denies any link between its activities and French nuclear testing and other military nuclear programmes.

This is false and misleading. Like the tobacco giants, Areva is clearly trying to "greenwash" its business by linking itself to the clean, green image of sailing. But Areva's record speaks for itself: one of its subsidiary companies COGEMA is responsible for polluting the seas around France by pumping up to 230 million litres of radioactive waste into the sea from its reprocessing facility. COGEMA is also involved in the shipping of plutonium fuel, despite international opposition, across the world's oceans and through the Tasman sea. Furthermore Areva's majority owner, the French Atomic Energy Comission (CEA) is responsible for the overall development of France's nuclear weapons and also oversaw the testing programme at Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls in the South Pacific. The activities and interests of Areva continue to be central to the French nuclear weapons programme.

Greenpeace is not opposed to the America's Cup and we recognise the significant impact it has on the New Zealand economy particularly the boat building sector and tourism.

Our opposition is to a major sporting event being used by the nuclear industry to promote and sanitise its dirty business. The NZ government and Pacific countries have voiced concern and opposition over the years to the activities of both COGEMA and the CEA. If it is inappropriate for the tobacco industry to sponsor sporting events in NZ it is surely inappropriate for the nuclear industry to do the same.

Who and what is Areva?

The company was formed in 2001 from a merger between the plutonium reprocessing company COGEMA, the nuclear reactor construction company Framatome, and FCI, a maker of electrical connectors. Areva is 78.96 owned by the Commissariat a L'Énergie Atomique (CEA - the French Atomic Energy Commission) and 5.19 percent owned by the French government. Areva boasts that it is the world leader in the nuclear fuel cycle from uranium mining and fuel elements to spent fuel reprocessing and recycling. It has a turnover of 10 billion Euros and employs around 50,000 people.

Who and what is the CEA?

The CEA is responsible for the overall development of France's nuclear Weapons and owns 89 percent of COGEMA's operations. It oversaw the testing programme at Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls in the South Pacific. After nearly 200 atmospheric and underground nuclear tests between 1966- 1996, the atolls' surface, lagoons, and volcanic structures have been contaminated with radioactivity. The independent French laboratory, CRII-RAD, has stated that Moruroa would require licensing as a radioactive dump site if it were sited in France, and that the leakage from the atoll into the surrounding oceans is greater than the discharges from operating nuclear reactors -- which of course require monitoring and licensing. France, which closed the test site after the test series in 1995-6, has refused to take on long term monitoring of the atolls.

The testing programme led to at least one major landslide and subsequent tidal wave (July 1979), along with contamination of marine life from iodine and plutonium 239. The rate of leakage from the estimated 18,450 curies of plutonium, 400,000 curies of cesium 137 and 250,000 curies of strontium 90 released by the tests into the atoll structure is unknown and will depend on the rate of migration of radioactivity through pathways into the lagoon. However, the IAEA has found that there is half a tonne (500kg) of plutonium from the tests contained within the atolls, and that tritium is already leaking into the lagoon, indicating that such pathways exist. Several kilos of plutonium from weapons effect tests and poor waste management practices have been found in lagoon sediments and two test shafts have been used as plutonium waste dumps. Meanwhile, in January 2000, Admiral Jean Moulin., commander of French forces in Polynesia, said that several fractures in the coral reef at Moruroa had been detected and could result in the collapse of coral cliffs creating either a major tsunami or tidal wave.

The CEA is now responsible for using simulation testing on super-computers to develop new nuclear weapons for the French force de frappe. Tests conducted at Moruroa in 1995 are assumed to have been important to the development of the new TN75 nuclear missiles carried on board the new Triomphant-class submarines.

Who and what is COGEMA?

COGEMA, a subsidiary of the Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique (CEA), was set up in 1976, and inherited technologies and facilities developed for the French nuclear weapons program. COGEMA is the operator of the French reprocessing programme, with contracts from both the military and the French electric utility, Electricité de France (EDF). All military plutonium produced since 1976 in the reprocessing plant UP1 operated by COGEMA has contributed to the French nuclear weapons programme, including being used in bombs tested at Moruroa in the South Pacific.

COGEMA operates two large-scale reprocessing plants, UP2 and UP3, at La Hague in northern France.

COGEMA and the oceans...

COGEMA has risked the health of the oceans by the dirty business of separating plutonium (plutonium reprocessing) from nuclear waste.

Plutonium reprocessing results in large quantities of radioactive waste -- the equivalent of 50 barrels a day or an estimated 230 million litres a year -- being discharged into the sea from COGEMA's La Hague facilities near Cherbourg in northern France.

Greenpeace collected samples of radioactive contaminated sediment at the end of the COGEMA marine discharge pipe that showed levels of contamination higher than ground zero at the nuclear weapons test site at Chasma Bay in northern Russia. Marine life contained radioactive levels higher than the European Union safety intervention levels. (ACCRO, University of Bremen, September 1997).

Reprocessing at la Hague releases radioactive wastes into the atmosphere and marine environment on a daily basis. Due to the release of radioactive gases, levels of contamination from the radioactive gas Krypton-85 (KrR-85) around the la Hague site have been measured by Greenpeace at 90,000 Bq/m3, compared with the average global level of between 1-2 Bq/m3. Using a computer model developed by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, Greenpeace has shown that COGEMA's aerial discharges contaminate the air throughout all of Western Europe, and within two years move around the rest of the planet.

Reprocessing by COGEMA at la Hague creates large amounts of long-lived radioactive material. COGEMA and the British reprocessing facility at Sellafield in Cumbria are together responsible for 97 percent of the radioactive releases into the European environment.

COGEMA and your health…

In 2001, a study by the French Government's Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale (National Institute of Health and Medical Research) confirmed an earlier finding of excess levels of leukemia around the COGEMA reprocessing facilities in La Hague, particularly among 5 to 9 year olds.

COGEMA-- the world's largest producer of weapons-usable plutonium…

The La Hague facility produces roughly 80% of all 'commercial' separated plutonium in the world in 1995, with each of the two reprocessing plants there producing around 8,000kg of weapons usable plutonium each year.

While France's plutonium stockpile has increased significantly in the past decade, foreign-owned plutonium stocks at la Hague have skyrocketed. In the early 1990's, la Hague's plutonium stockpile has risen to tens of tons. By the end of 2000, COGEMA had amassed nearly 80,000kg of separated plutonium in France (not including that contained in MOX fuel). As little as 5kg of reactor grade plutonium which COGEMA has produced would be sufficient to produce a nuclear weapon. The current stockpile produced in France by COGEMA is larger than that contained in all of the nuclear weapons in the United States arsenal.

COGEMA - shipping plutonium through the Tasman…

Plutonium is being made at COGEMA's La Hague factory for Japanese companies that want to burn it as a fuel in nuclear reactors. This means shipping hundreds of tonnes of plutonium fuel, known as MOX, through the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean to Japan.

In 2001, Kiwi and Australian yachties took to the water in a "Nuclear Free Tasman Flotilla" to protest a shipment of plutonium fuel through the Tasman. This was the second shipment of plutonium fuel through the region. There have been two other shipments of nuclear waste through the Tasman Sea from Europe to Japan. All these shipments have been met with protests by Greenpeace, local groups in Japan, and dozens of coastal states around the world who oppose the shipment of such dangerous material through their waters. Since 1990, the South Pacific Forum countries, including New Zealand, have repeatedly expressed concern at the transport of plutonium fuel through the region. They fear the Tasman and Pacific could become the nuclear highway for what could be up to 80 shipments over the next 20 years. They have raised their concerns over issues such as who has liability in the case of accidents, the lack of environmental impact assessment or emergency planning, and the lack of necessity for the shipments and the risks of proliferation. Since September 11 there are now added concerns regarding possible terrorist attacks.

Because of controversy over the quality of the fuel, no MOX has yet been used in Japanese reactors and instead, a shipment of faulty MOX from the UK is due to be shipped back from Japan to Europe later this year at a cost of 200 million dollars US.

Who and what is Framatome?

Framatome is 66 percent owned by Areva and 34 percent owned by the German nuclear company Siemens. It is the world's largest nuclear reactor supplier, being responsible for 90 of the world's reactors (about 30 percent of all those currently built). France has an unenviable record in terms of spreading nuclear technology to countries with a history of nuclear weapons proliferation. Framatome, together with COGEMA and other state-owned nuclear companies, have been vehicles for such transfers to South Africa, Israel, Iraq, Pakistan, and China amongst others.


Given the level of opposition to the dirty and dangerous plutonium trade of COGEMA in New Zealand and the Pacific, it may not be a coincidence that Areva and COGEMA are seeking to improve their image by association with the America's Cup at the very time that further shipments of plutonium fuel are planned for 2002-3.

Areva has claimed that it should not be accountable for the testing at Moruroa, the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour and death of crew member Portuguese photographer Fernando Pereira, because it was created only a year ago. However, Areva maintains clear and direct links to the French nuclear weapons programme through its majority owner, CEA, and its subsidiary COGEMA. Areva's claims that there is a "huge difference between the activities of Areva and the nuclear tests at Moruroa" and that the company was now solely involved in civil nuclear programmes (Jacques-Emmanuel Saulneir, NZ Herald 14.1.02) are clearly disingenuous.

Mr Saulneir's statement that New Zealanders know "the difference between civil and military capabilities…" and will understand Areva's position "when we explain this to them" is patronising. Areva seems intent on misleading New Zealanders about the real nature of their core business. Greenpeace believes all New Zealanders, as well as the administrators and participants in the America's Cup, have a right to know the truth about Areva in order to make an informed judgement about whether it is in the interests of sailing to have such companies involved in sponsorship of the America's Cup.

© Scoop Media

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