Deadly Plutonium Shipment Set To Leave Europe This Week –Greenpeace Warns En Route Countries
London, Jan 15th 2001. Greenpeace today warned coastal nations around the world to be on high alert for a deadly weapons-usable plutonium/MOX fuel shipment from Europe to Japan. The armed nuclear transport freighters the Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal began to leave the British port of Barrow-in-Furness this morning bound for the French port of Cherbourg where they will load the plutonium cargo before an eight week 30,000km journey to Japan. The ships, each have three 30mm canon and armed nuclear police onboard. The transport is expected to begin late on Wednesday January 17th.
This will be the first transport of plutonium/MOX fuel to Japan since 1999 after which BNFL admitted irregularities in quality control records and previous shipments of MOX fuel have still not been loaded into reactors as a result of legal action in Japan.
Last night special forces from the French anti-terrorist police (GIPN) arrested Greenpeace France protesters while they were blocking a railway line in Cherbourg. The line is used by Cogema to transport nuclear material to the port from its nearby facilities.
The British, French and Japanese governments and the nuclear companies responsible (1) have not provided any information on the departure date, route to be taken or the amount of plutonium to be transported. Despite strong international opposition to these potentially devastating transports there has been no prior consultation with en-route countries. An official announcement of the route is only expected 24 hours after departure.
Three principal routes are possible: via the Caribbean Sea, Panama Canal, then across the Pacific; via South Africa/Cape of Good Hope, the Tasman Sea and the South Pacific; or via South America/Cape Horn, and the south Pacific. (2, and Map available)
The transport is one of an increasing number scheduled over the coming years. According to the Japanese Foreign Ministry all three routes will be used in a “well balanced manner”. In addition, it stressed it would be impossible not to use the Panama Canal route.(3)
“The nuclear industry has no credibility and its claims that these transports are safe lack credibility. A cargo of hundreds of kilograms of plutonium, high explosive ammunition, and fuel oil is a recipe for environmental disaster. The industry’s refusal to conduct an international environmental impact assessment and hold prior consultation and approval talks with the en-route nations, highlights the disregard they have for public health and the environment,” said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International.
The plutonium/MOX fuel cargo was produced by the Belgian company Belgonucleaire, from plutonium reprocessed by the French state-owned company Cogema. It is owned by the world’s largest electrical utility, Tokyo Electric Power, and is to be loaded into the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa unit 3 nuclear reactor in the Niigata Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast. Plutonium MOX fuel produced by Belgonucleaire for Tokyo Electric and delivered in September 1999 has still not been loaded into a reactor. In August 2000 a court action was brought by nearly 1000 Japanese citizens against Tokyo Electric seeking an injunction against plans to load the MOX fuel. The case was based upon on evidence of irregularities in the quality control data for the Belgonucleaire MOX. The court is expected to rule on this case in February.
The credibility of the plutonium industry is at an all time low following the falsification scandal. It led to Japanese government ministers and industry describing BNFL as untrustworthy and not a company they can do business with. Having deceived one of their most important clients for several years BNFL’s reassuring statement that their ships are some of the safest in the world are unconvincing.
“Unfortunately, ships have accidents and so does the nuclear industry. The 1999 criticality accident at Tokai-mura in Japan was impossible according to the Japanese government. But it happened. Shipping plutonium around the planet across some of the most dangerous seas in the world is inherently dangerous and wholly unjustified,” said Burnie.