Greenpeace yesterday alerted the international community to the departure of two vessels, due to carry nuclear weapons-usable plutonium fuel from Europe to Japan, from the port of Barrow in northern England yesterday afternoon.
Greenpeace condemned the shipments and called for urgent action by the governments of Britain, France and Japan to end all trafficking in plutonium.
Greenpeace accused British Nuclear Fuels, COGEMA and the Japanese utilities of lying to the public, en route governments and to the media. "After having guaranteed, in joint press statements in June, that they would provide all the basic information about the shipment 'one or two days before departure', the industry has failed to keep its promise. This is an industry that depends on secrecy because of the nuclear weapons-usable material in which it trades," nuclear campaigner Mike Townsley said from on board the MV Greenpeace at Barrow. The route the ships will follow is still secret.
The MV Greenpeace, flying a "Plutonium Kills" banner, monitored the departure of the "Pacific Pintail" at about 3.30pm yesterday. The Pintail was loaded with eight plutonium fuel elements containing 225 kg of plutonium from Britain Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL)'s Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant.
The Pintail was accompanied by the empty vessel "Pacific Teal", which is sailing to Cherbourg in France to take on 32 plutonium fuel (MOX) elements containing 221 kg of plutonium from the La Hague nuclear reprocessing plant. The "Pacific Teal" is expected to arrive in Cherbourg, where the Greenpeace vessel SV Rainbow Warrior is currently berthed, to load its cargo tonight.
BNFL announced yesterday it will take further legal action, just three days after it got its tenth injunction against Greenpeace on Friday, to muzzle opposition to the shipments. After protests yesterday morning, BNFL alleges a breach of an injunction granted on Friday restraining Greenpeace from interfering with the loading and transport of the plutonium fuel.
"Greenpeace remains determined to do what the nuclear industry will not, and alert the world to these deadly shipments," Townsley said. "Heavy-handed legal action will not silence global opposition to this dangerous trade."
Yesterday, groups from Edinburgh to Seoul and from Tokyo to Fiji held protests against the shipment. This follows official government protests from New Zealand and 27 Caribbean nations to the British, French and Japanese Governments.
"It is time the British, French and Japanese government listened to the international community and ended this deadly plutonium trade, which puts the marine environment at risk and undermines nuclear non-proliferation efforts," said Mike Townsley.
The two British-flagged vessels are expected to rendezvous at sea, off the French Atlantic coast, and continue together on the 20,000 kilometres voyage to Japan without naval escort along a still secret route. They are owned by Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited (PNTL) but operated "on government service" to the UK. The transport is the first of a possible 80 shipments.