The choice

The terror of deadly plutonium under armed guard, or the wind that blows free?

Feature story - 28 June, 2002
An armed ship prepares to depart Japan with a deadly cargo of plutonium waste. A sailboat sets out from an offshore windfarm. Which one of these vessels will represent the energy future of the world?

The Greenpeace flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, at wind farm in Horns Rev.

This is a story about two ships.

One of them is a huge cargo ship being loaded in Japan, where guardswith machine guns patrol its deck. It is preparing to sail away with adeadly cargo of 225 kilograms of plutonium. The ship's owners live infear that as little as five kilograms might be stolen to create anuclear nightmare. Environmentalists live in fear that a fire orcollision or storm could breach the hull and contaminate a living oceanfor thousands of years. In nearly every port in every country the shippasses through, local residents live in fear for their seas and theirlivelihoods. There will be protest all along the route, which the shipwill ignore, a gun turret menacing from its decks.

The other ship is a sailboat, with bright sails and bearing a peacedove on its bow. It's the Greenpeace flagship, Rainbow Warrior. Half aworld away off the coast of Denmark, it is sailing through a sunlitocean dotted with wind turbines like the ones all over Europe that arequietly generating more than 4,700 megawatts of energy. There's not agun in site. There are no worries about a deadly accident spillingnuclear waste into the sea, no fear of terrorists hijacking the rawmaterial for nuclear bombs.

Which of these represents our world's energy future?

The Nuclear waste ship is being loaded with plutonium waste as partof a vast expansion of the nuclear industry's plans for nuclear fuelreprocessing.

Reprocessing involves separating plutonium from old fuel. Japaneseelectrical utilities have signed contracts for reprocessing their spentnuclear reactor fuel in Europe. But the same plutonium that can fuel anuclear reactor can also make a nuclear bomb. The world already has toomuch plutonium, and in the post-September 11th world, shipping itacross the globe is... well, let's just call it foolhardy. Theprojected total stocks of plutonium will amount to over 145,000kilograms by 2020 if the currently proposed reprocessing contracts arenot stopped.

Tom Clements, one of our anti-nuclear campaigners who is opposingthe shipment, has said that "if industry and government plans proceed,the narrow straits between Korea and Japan are about to become aplutonium freeway."

What's the alternative?

Offshore wind could supply over a third of the electricity needs forcountries bordering the North Sea within a generation. Perhaps you'dlike to read that sentence again -- it's one of those facts that a fewof us have been shouting for decades now, and which the nuclearindustry doesn't want you to hear.

In the spirit of continuing to shout this kind of fact, ourflagship, the Rainbow Warrior, began Greenpeace's Choose PositiveEnergy tour at Horns Rev, the world's largest offshore wind park thatis being built in Danish waters.

According to Greenpeace UK Executive Director Stephen Tinsdale,"there needs to be a massive expansion of renewable energy supplies inthe northern industrialised countries to make renewable energy costeffective enough to take off in southern countries. The North Sea isset to be the cradle of the global renewables revolution."

Wind energy is competitive with coal and gas power generation andclearly beats the more expensive nuclear power. This is one of the mainconclusions of 'Wind Force 12', arecent report produced by Greenpeace and the European Wind EnergyAssociation. The UK government's energy review projected that windenergy will be the cheapest energy source by 2020.

More than 4,700MW of wind power was installed onshore in the EuropanUnion last year - producing as much electricity as two large nuclearreactors. By the end of this year, another 6,000MW will be added and afurther growth of 30-40 percent per year is expected.

The world has a chance to choose alternative energy when the EarthSummit commences in Johannesburg in less than sixty days. There,Greenpeace is calling for the world's governments to take the followingchallenge: get clean energy into the hands of two billion people whoare without electricity within ten years. With existing and imminentadvances in solar and wind technologies, that goal is entirelyachievable.

So why do we choose to send deadly plutonium half way around theworld when one of the answers to our energy needs is blowing in thewind?