British government accused of fuelling Japanese proliferation as greenpeace sends ship to oppose return plutonium shipment

Press release - 29 May, 2002

London - As Japanese and UK Foreign Ministers meet in London today, Greenpeace calls on the UK Government to end its continued support for Japan's plutonium programme and to cancel an imminent plutonium shipment from Japan.

Launching a campaign to stop the shipment from on board its new ship, MV Esperanza, the international environmental organisation said the ship would sail to Japan later today to oppose the shipment (1).

On Friday, two armed British freighters left the UK bound for Japan to pick up a cargo of rejected plutonium MOX assemblies and to return them to the UK. After it was discovered that British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) had deliberately falsified quality control data during the assemblies' manufacture, Japan demanded the return of the material as a pre-condition for new plutonium MOX contracts. BNFL and the UK Government hope that the return shipment from Japan in June, which includes 255 kilograms of plutonium, enough plutonium for 50 nuclear bombs, will result in contracts to ship more than 25,000 kilograms of plutonium to Japan over the next decade. As little as five kilograms of this plutonium could build one advanced nuclear weapon. Only three weeks ago, a senior Japanese politician, Ichiro Ozawa, stated that Japan could make thousands of nuclear weapons using its plutonium.

"A massive expansion of Japan's plutonium programme pivots on this proposed shipment of reject material back to the UK," Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaigner Shaun Burnie said. "We call on Mr Straw to cancel this shipment and end the Government's continued support for Japan´s plutonium program, instead of continuing to disregard the dangers of a Japan with nuclear weapons capability and the creation of further instability in North and East Asia."

To underline its concerns, Greenpeace will today deliver a mock missile to the Japanese Foreign Minister Ms Yoriko Kawaguchi, and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, bearing the message "Plutonium = Bombs" (2). Last Friday, Greenpeace announced it was considering legal action to stop the return shipment because it would breach UK and international law.

"If this shipment proceeds, the UK and Japan will be creating a floating terrorist target and a huge danger to the health and security of millions of people globally. The UK is seeking to secure meagre profits from plutonium MOX sales at the risk of a nuclear arms race in Asia. This shipment needs to be stopped and we will do all we can to peacefully prevent it happening," Mr Burnie said.

The route of the June shipment from Japan to the UK remains secret but Japanese officials have confirmed it will be one of three options: - via the Pacific, Panama Canal, Caribbean, Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea - via the Pacific, Cape Horn, Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea - via the Pacific, Tasman Sea, Cape of Good Hope, Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea.

Mr Burnie said that if Greenpeace's legal and campaigning work and the efforts of Governments around the world failed to stop the shipment leaving Japan, Greenpeace would use its ship and other resources to "sound the alert" on this shipment.

"The UK and Japan arrogantly refuse to warn countries en route in advance, or to consult them on the environmental and security risks. We believe millions of people around the world have a right to know of the dangers they are being exposed to because of the arrogance and incompetence of the nuclear industry," Mr Burnie said.

Notes: (1) Greenpeace will hold a breakfast press conference to announce its plans to oppose the proposed Japanese plutonium shipment to the UK on board its new vessel, the MV Esperanza, on Monday April 29th at 0800 hours at BUTLERS WHARF PIER, adjacent to the ‘Pont de la Tour´ restaurant on the southside of Tower Bridge. Access is from Horselydown Lane, Southwark SE1. (2) The mock missile will be delivered to the Foreign Office on Monday 29th April. There will be a photo opportunity outside the Foreign Office at 10.45am.