Greenpeace protest at French military dock against planned US plutonium shipment

Press release - 16 September, 2004
Greenpeace activists today entered the military arsenal in the port of Cherbourg, Normandy to protest a planned U.S. shipment of plutonium later this month. The activists, arriving in canoes, hung a 'Stop Plutonium' banner along the military dock. Eleven activists are currently being held by local authorities.

The 'secure' dock is where British Nuclear Fuels and French state nuclear company Areva (1) plan to unload 140 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium. The radioactive cargo will then be transported by land over one thousand kilometres to Cadarache in Southern France, to be manufactured into nuclear reactor fuel.

"Today's protest is intended to send a clear message to the Chirac and Bush administrations - plans for shipping this deadly plutonium should be abandoned before any further accidents or worse take place," said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International. "Last night, more than a hundred U.S. citizens protested in the port of Charleston, U.S. where the nuclear material will be loaded sending the same message - stop this madness and treat plutonium as waste not fuel."

Last week, the Cadarache nuclear plant that is due to process the U.S. nuclear material suffered an accident, which caused worker contamination inside the old plant. It was confirmed yesterday by French safety authorities that the accident was more severe than first stated (2).

Over the past two years Greenpeace in France has tracked and filmed regular transports of plutonium from Normandy to Provence, through various routes including via Paris. Many thousands of kilograms of nuclear material each year are transported in France in standard unarmed containers, and a low level of security protection.

Opposition to plans to use weapons-plutonium into commercial reactors is based upon the major security, safety and environmental hazards involved. Members of the United States Congress have challenged the Bush administration over the vulnerability of the planned transport, in particular to deliberate attack.

The Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal are due to arrive in at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station, South Carolina, where they will pick up their cargo of nuclear material. The ships plan to cross the Atlantic under a security agreement negotiated with between the UK, France and U.S. governments, including defence and homeland security departments, are lightly armed and with a squad of anti-terrorist police on each.

Notes: 1. Areva has a stockpile of between 70-80,000 kilograms of plutonium at its la Hague plant, near Cherbourg.2. Five cells, instead of one, were contaminated.See for background documentation and images of the U.S. shipment and French plutonium program.Video footage and pictures available upon request: Amelie Dupuy, +33 673895502