Nuclear Ship departing Barrow, UK for Japan

BNFL sets nuclear timebomb ticking on anniversary of Chernobyl disaster

Feature story - 26 April, 2002
Two armed British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) freighters left Barrow-in-Furness in northern England this morning, setting the clock ticking on the most controversial nuclear shipment in history.

One of the two ships chartered by BNFL, the Pintail, departs Barrow, UK for Japan.

When they reach Japan, they will retrieve a shipment of plutonium sufficient to build 50 nuclear bombs, to return it to Sellafield, UK. The shipment of the mixture of plutonium-uranium oxide (MOX) to the UK would be in defiance of both international and UK law.

"The UK and Japan have started the countdown to the most controversial

nuclear shipment in history on the anniversay of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster," Greenpeace nuclear campaigner Shaun Burnie said.

"They could not have chosen a more fitting date to remind the international community of the arrogance and dangerous risk-taking of the nuclear industry".

Greenpeace has written to the UK government and to BNFL this week to outline its case that the transport from Japan would be unlawful and in breach of international agreements.

The return shipment would also violate an undertaking given by the UK

government to the International Law of the Sea Tribunal in November 2001.

Following a challenge against the newly approved Sellafield MOX Plant by the

Irish Government to the Tribunal, the UK told the Tribunal that no imports of

MOX fuel associated with the operations of the Sellafield MOX Plant would go

ahead before October 2002.

The two vessels, the Pacific Pintail and the Pacific Teal, one acting as an armed escort, the other carrying the plutonium, would face a barrage of international opposition if they make their global journey, the environmental organisation predicted. Demonstrations are planned in Ireland today.

The material is being returned to the UK solely because after being shipped as fuel to Japan in 1999 it was revealed that the manufacturer, BNFL, had falsified critical quality control data during its production.

"The industry is creating a floating terrorist target and a dangerous hazard simply in order for BNFL to be able to get new contracts with its Japanese customers. This would result in yet more shipments of plutonium fuel, perhaps as many as 80 over the next decade," Burnie said.

There are also serious concerns about the safety of the shipment, which should

also have prevented the PNTL vessel leaving. The cask in which the plutonium is to be transported has not yet been licensed by the Japanese authorities. An earlier licence was revoked when it was discovered that levels of the single largest source of radioactivity in the cask, the radioisotope Plutonium-241, will be up to twice as high as originally estimated.

"This shipment must be abandoned before it is too late. When this BNFL MOX

fuel arrived in Japan in 1999, Japan was experiencing its worst ever nuclear

accident at Tokai-mura. The nuclear industry in the UK and Japan clearly has not learned from its mistakes, and are showing total disregard for public safety, the environment and international security," Burnie concluded.