Protest flotilla catches up with nuclear nomads

Feature story - 16 September, 2002
The Nuclear Free Irish Sea flotilla has caught up with BNFL's deadly cargo of weapons-usable plutonium in the Irish Sea. The dangerous and unnecessary cargo has been wandering the world's oceans for the past 75 days placing millions of lives and the marine environment at terrible risk.

The Nuclear Free Irish Sea Flotilla peacefully protesting against BNFL shipment of plutonium..

The flotilla, comprising concerned seafarers from all corners of the British Isles and the Republic of Ireland, left the port of Holyhead in North Wales on Sunday morning to protest the ships' passage.

The nuclear freighters were spotted mid-afternoon today between Ireland and south west Wales and the protest was mounted.

At times, the nuclear freighters course through the Irish Sea took them to within one mile of Irish territorial waters. The Irish navy had sent a patrol boat and spotter plane to monitor the shipment and to ensure it stayed away from their coast.

The flotilla protest was peaceful, with all of the sailboats maintaining a safe distance from the heavily armed nuclear freighters. Two hours before the protest the captain of the Rainbow Warrior, via emergency radio channel 16, informed both nuclear transport ships that the protest would be peaceful, and that there would be no interference with the navigation of the vessels. Neither the Pacific Pintail nor Pacific Teal responded, which is in breach of maritime safety regulations.

The Nuclear Free Seas Flotilla numbers over twenty yachts, and the Rainbow Warrior. Jim Corr, of Irish band 'The Corrs' is amongst the crew. Listen to Jim explaining his motivation for joining the protest.

The Flotilla is part of a global movement to stop the nuclear reprocessing industry from producing and trading in weapons-usable plutonium. British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) and the French company COGEMA which operate reprocessing plants, have amassed more than 150,000 kilograms of plutonium so far at their respective nuclear sites. Both companies hope to secure plutonium MOX fuel contracts with Japan. If successful it would mean as many 100 plutonium sea shipments. However, Japan's nuclear program is in crisis with plans to use plutonium MOX fuel frozen by its largest nuclear company, Tokyo Electric. Opposition to the plutonium program in Japan has grown significantly since the original falsification scandal in 1999 with the Government and utilities under pressure to abandon their controversial program.

"This plutonium MOX should never have been shipped to Japan in the first place in 1999. If they had their way it would now be loaded into a nuclear reactor increasing the risks of a catastrophic nuclear accident, " said Shaun Burnie, Greenpeace Nuclear Campaigner on board the Rainbow Warrior. "The people in Japan know this and are committed to stopping any further business with Japan. The UK Government which continues to support BNFL and the trade in bomb-material needs to stop this madness before there is a disaster." Burnie added.

Since leaving Japan on July 4th, over 80 Governments have condemned this shipment citing environmental, security and safety concerns. Protests along the transport route included a South Pacific/Tasman Sea flotilla between New Zealand and Australia. Governments along the route have demanded that the vessels not enter their 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone. The two ships are bound for Barrow-in-Furness, where their cargo of plutonium MOX will be unloaded and transported to the nuclear complex at Sellafield. BNFL has no intention to do anything with the plutonium MOX other than to dump it along with the other 70- 80,000 kilograms of plutonium currently in store at Sellafield.

The two ships will be greeted by protests from other boats in the Nuclear Free Irish Sea Flotilla, when it arrives at 9am Tuesday morning in Barrow-in-Furness, BNFL' s homeport.

Please help us ensure that this is the last such transport by sending a protest letter to UK Foreign Minister Jack Straw.