Greenpeace asks UK court to halt Japanese plutonium shipment

Feature story - 19 June, 2002
Greenpeace will seek a High Court Injunction in London at 10.30am Thursday to halt British Nuclear Fuels´ (BNFL´s) and Pacific Nuclear Transport´s (PNTL´s) planned shipment of plutonium from Japan to the UK.

The armed British nuclear transport ship, Pacific Pintail sailing into Takahama, Japan on 14 June 2002.

Despite an investigation launched last week by the English regulator, the Environment Agency, into the legality of BNFL's planned shipment, the company has refused to give any assurances that it won´t carry out the shipment.

Two armed British ships - the Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal - arrived in Japan on Friday 14th June to collect the rejected plutonium MOX which BNFL sold to the Japanese in 1999. After that sale, it was later revealed that BNFL had deliberately falsified vital safety control data.

BNFL hope that by making the return shipment they will secure large contracts from the Japanese utilities for MOX production at the new Sellafield MOX Plant. Since the 1999 scandal, Japan's plans to move ahead with loading hundreds of tons of MOX fuel reactors have stalled, prompted by public fears over safety and reliability of the MOX producers.

The Pacific Pintail arrived at the port of Takahama, Japan on Friday 14th where it delivered the transport cask that it wants to load with the rejected MOX. Kansai Electric, the original customer for BNFL, have stated that loading of the MOX into the cask will begin on Friday June 21st. BNFL has not made any decision about what to do with the radioactive material, apart from storing it.

Greenpeace says that this means the rejected fuel is "radioactive waste" in European and UK law. Radioactive waste may only be transported to the UK with the permission of the Environment Agency.

"The Environment Agency has not come to a decision on whether it agrees that this material is radioactive waste. In the meantime BNFL has refused to halt preparations for the proposed shipment, so we are seeking an injunction to prevent them carrying out any irrevocable steps," said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace.

Over 50 countries in the Caribbean, Latin America and the South Pacific opposed the original shipment of the MOX fuel to Japan in 1999. The return is almost certain to generate even greater opposition. Already in the past month, Foreign Ministers in the Caribbean have issued a unanimous condemnation of the planned shipment, in particular citing security concerns and lack of consultation by the UK and Japan. They have demanded that it not use the Caribbean Sea route on its return from Japan. The 34 Governments of the OAS have similarly questioned the security hazards of the shipment and agreed to conduct a review.