Pariah Plutonium ships spotted off the coast of Portugal

Feature story - 10 September, 2002
A year on from the September 11th attacks and it seems some governments have learnt nothing about true global security. Two ships carrying weapons-useable plutonium are nearing the end of a journey half way around the world, through waters of discontent and past small ships bearing witness. As the ships near home they will face their strongest opposition and be welcomed back by a nuclear industry that is showing cracks from coverups, bankruptcies and insolvencies, safety lapses and failures in plant security.

The two ships chartered by BNFL, the Pintail and the Teal depart Barrow, UK for Japan.

The Pacific Pintail, carrying the cask of rejected plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, and her lightly armed escort, the Pacific Teal are now global outcasts, having been condemned by 80 governments along its route from Japan since they left in July. The ships are currently being escorted by a Portuguese naval vessel to ensure they stay outside the Portuguese Exclusive Economic Zone.

The two nuclear freighters were spotted west of the Portuguese island of Madeira earlier today. Soon they will face a barrage of protest from the Nuclear Free Irish Sea Flotilla as they near their homeport of Barrow-in-Furness. Up to 18 yachts will sail out into the Irish sea to peacefully protest against the freighters.

Paul Barrett is skipper of the yacht Tuscair and a participant of the flotilla. Paul says he is determined to peacefully protest BNFL and the UK and Japanese governments for continually supporting this morally and financially bankrupt industry. "This has given myself and other members of the sailing community an opportunity not only to express our own concerns, but also of those who live by and near the Irish Sea," said Paul.

British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), owners of the two nuclear ships, is also facing tough times on land, their business in Japan is in jeopardy - Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) has suspended its plutonium MOX programme indefinitely. This shipment was justified by BNFL solely on the basis of regaining business with Japan.

There are more troubles at home. BNFL's single largest reprocessing client, British Energy, is facing bankruptcy after losses of £500 million last year. Ironically the UK government split this supposedly 'profitable' part of the nuclear industry during privatisation from the less economic sector of the industry. British Energy's huge debts pale when compared to the £2 billion in losses last year of government owned BNFL.

While the bottom drops out of the UK nuclear industry, the BNFL ships with their deadly cargo pressed forward against the wishes of governments and citizens. The ships were not welcome in any sea on their disgraced journey back from Japan, and they are certainly not welcome in the Irish sea.

Eighty governments including Ireland have publicly decried this shipment as lunacy. The UK and Japanese nuclear industries have been exposed as dishonest, unsafe and uneconomic. Rather than increasing the trade in bomb material with all the risks that entails, they need to concentrate on waste clean-up and investments in clean energy.

You can show your opposition to the nuclear shipments by joining the virtual flotilla.