Unjustified nuclear waste shipment departing from France threatens nations worldwide

Press release - 3 June, 2003

Greenpeace today condemned nuclear industry plans for a shipment of highly radioactive nuclear waste which will depart from the port of Cherbourg in Normandy (France) to Japan on June 4th(1).

Major safety concerns over these shipments, including the risk of catastrophic accident that would release radioactivity into the marine environment, as well as the potential for a terrorist attack have led many governments around the world to oppose nuclear sea shipments of high radioactive level waste.

"G-8 summit leaders have just highlighted the threat posed by the spread of nuclear material and fighting international terrorism around the world, and yet France and Japan have just sanctioned this massive floating 'dirty bomb' to sail thousands of mile threatening coastal countries across the planet. Who is threatening who in the world?" asked Shaun Burnie, Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner.

The most likely route the British flagged Pacific Swan transport ship will take is the Caribbean Sea/Panama Canal route to Japan as it is the shortest and therefore cheapest. Two other courses, via Cape Horn or via the Cape of Good Hope are also possible (2). The French plutonium company Cogema in La Hague, which reprocessed the waste has stated that the route will be disclosed after departure (3).

The transport has been delayed by several months due to opposition from en-route Governments. Major hurdles to the shipping state's (Japan and France) plans include legislation in Chile requiring approval for nuclear shipments to enter their coastal waters and moves in Panama to pass legislation against nuclear transport. In February, Pacific Island nations comprehensively rejected efforts by the UK, France and Japan to silence their opposition to shipments. The shipping states had sought to convince them that there was substantive liability coverage for the shipments. Caribbean nations joined those in Africa and the Pacific in opposing a shipment in 2002 of plutonium fuel from Japan to the UK.

"The Pacific, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean countires have called for an end to these shipments through their waters," said Yannick Rousselet nuclear campaigner of Greenpeace France. "The transport states are not complying with their legal responsibilities and that is why the en-route nations are now taking their own political and legal actions to ban the shipments," he concluded.

The shipment comes at a time when Japan's plutonium program is in its deepest crisis. Two weeks ago it was reported that Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party was proposing to make significant changes in its nuclear program.(4) In particular plans to use plutonium mixed oxide fuel, MOX, in 16-18 reactors by 2010 would not be realized. The sole justification for reprocessing at la Hague has been the 'need' for plutonium for fuelling reactors in Japan. However, these plans have ground to a halt, while it has accumulated massive stocks of weapons-usable material. Cogema currently is storing more than 23,000 kilograms of plutonium belonging to Japan. Latest estimates for the cost of its Japan's domestic reprocessing program to be centred at Rokkasho-mura have cited costs in excess of 120 billion Euros (15 trillion yen).(5)

"For decades it has been known that reprocessing makes no sense from any perspective. These dangerous shipments are a potent symbol of the bankruptcy of Japan's obsession with plutonium - but they also present a wholly unjustified threat to tens of countries along the shipping route. This madness must stop," said Tom Clements of Greenpeace International.

Notes: 1 - The British-flagged 'Pacific Swan' departed its homeport in the UK on June 1st 2003 bound for Cherbourg, in advance of its 12,000 mile voyage (if the Panama Canal route is chosen) to the port of Mutsu-Ogawara, in northern Japan. The vitrified high-level waste to be carried is a by-product of the plutonium separation from Japanese irradiated nuclear fuel at the French state-controlled COGEMA la Hague nuclear reprocessing plant on the Normandy coast. As a consequence of reprocessing at la Hague, more than 23,000 kilograms of Japanese plutonium is stored at the site.2 - Previous nuclear waste shipments have gone via the Caribbean/Panama; Cape Horn; and the Cape of Good Hope/Tasman Sea/South Pacific. In addition to strong opposition along all these routes, the Pacific Swan would encounter severe weather during the Southern Ocean winter if it was to use either of the Cape routes.3 - The June 2 Cogema news release on the waste shipment can be found at:http://www.cogemalahague.com/LaHague/HomeUK.nsf/DynaFrame?ReadForm&Espace=Actualite&Alias=5juinjaponuk4 - see Mainichi Shimbun June 24th 2003.5 - see Kyodo News May 15th 2003.