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Unjustified Trans-Atlantic Plutonium Shipment

BNFL Nuclear Freighters Prepare For Unjustified Trans-Atlantic Plutonium Shipment

London, September 1, 2004 - The departure of the two armed British nuclear freighters, due to cross the Atlantic to collect a cargo of weapons-grade plutonium from the U.S. military port at Charleston, South Carolina, is imminent, Greenpeace has been informed. The ships are being loaded today with provisions, ammunition and armed security personnel in preparation to leave the English port of Barrow-in-Furness.

The plutonium has been designated surplus to the U.S. nuclear weapons program and is to be manufactured into experimental nuclear reactor fuel, or Plutonium MOX (mixed uranium plutonium), at French facilities operated by Areva/Cogema. The plutonium fuel will then be returned to the U.S. for testing at the Catawba nuclear reactor in South Carolina later next year.

"International non-proliferation policy addressing plutonium has been hi-jacked by the commercial industry, which aims to fleece the taxpayer for the coming decades into paying for a dangerous, expensive and wholly unnecessary plutonium fuel program," said Tom Clements of Greenpeace International in Washington, D.C. "It's a tragic irony that this shipment has brought Blair, Bush and Chirac together; all three are proving that they are lapdogs of the plutonium proliferation industry."

Greenpeace has been lobbying for ten years to have all plutonium treated as nuclear waste not as potential reactor fuel. This approach would be cheaper, faster, safer, and more secure.

"Once again, BNFL backed by the UK Government are preparing to increase the risk to international security and the environment by shipping plutonium across the ocean. There is no justification for this transport as the whole policy of using weapons plutonium in reactors is dangerously misguided," said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International.

The Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal, carry a complement of 13 armed anti-terrorist police, as well as three 30mm cannons. In contrast to this low-level security, previous plutonium shipments have involved naval vessels from the U.S., France and the U.K., as well as U.S. marines. The ships will carry around 140 kilograms of plutonium, sufficient for 25-40 nuclear weapons.

Last week, the U.S Department of Energy was challenged by members of Congress on key security aspects of the planned transport. Concerns centred on the low level of security for the sea shipment (no dedicated armed military vessels) as well as the vulnerability of the plutonium to terrorist attack in France where security is poor (1).

Greenpeace has recently met with members of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative branch of Congress, to discuss the shipment and share a video that exposes the lack of security measures provided for previous transports of plutonium in France. The weapons-grade plutonium will be carried in containers that would not withstand an attack by a rocket-propelled grenade (2). Once in France, the nuclear material will be transported 1,000 km south of the country in lightly guarded trucks that could also be subject to attack or theft.

Photos available on

Notes to Editors

(1) Rep. Turner letter questioning security of plutonium shipment - See "Is Plutonium Shipment Secure?" at; Rep. Markey letters on plutonium shipment

(2) French Government document on vulnerability of FS-47 plutonium containers to attack by RPGs, see page 8 science/liblocal/docs/docs_DEND/frenchapproach.pdf

Video clips of insecure truck transport of plutonium in France

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