Japanese nuclear waste shipment defies security and environmental concerns

Press release - 19 January, 2004
A shipment of highly radioactive, nuclear waste (1) is scheduled to leave the French port of Cherbourg this afternoon and spend up to six weeks sailing to Japan without any security protection and without armed escort, Greenpeace warned today.

The waste is not suitable for making nuclear weapons, but has the potential to be an enormous radiological weapon or 'dirty bomb'. Those responsible for the shipment - the UK, French and Japanese governments - are refusing to announce the Pacific Sandpiper's route until after it has set sail, thereby denying nations whose waters it will sail through the opportunity to object to the transport or to make any plans in case of an emergency.

Countries along the potential transport routes in the Caribbean, South and Central America and the Pacific all openly oppose such shipments because they fear both a potential accident and the terrorist vulnerability of nuclear transports. (2)

"This nuclear shipment poses a serious radiological and security threat and should not sail. Not only are the UK, French and Japanese governments ignoring these threats, they are also openly defying the objections raised by en-route nation states who have made it clear that they don't want these massive, floating 'dirty bombs' sailing their seas," said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace.

The perceived threat posed by ships carrying dangerous cargoes led to the establishment of the U.S. of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) (3) which, in recent months, has targeted North Korean and Libyan vessels suspected of carrying nuclear materials and components. The argument put forward by states signed up to the PSI, including the UK, France and Japan, is that cargoes of nuclear material pose a security and public health threat, depending upon which nation the vessel belongs to.

"This is a clear case of hypocrisy. All three nations involved in this shipment are members of the Proliferation Security Initiative and claim that they will intercept vessels carrying dangerous cargoes that are threat to international peace and security. The Sandpiper is a perfect candidate for seizure, yet they still insist on sending this ship and its hazardous cargo to sea," said Burnie.

Notes: 1) The high level waste on board the Sandpiper is a by-product of plutonium separation from Japanese irradiated nuclear fuel at the French state-controlled COGEMA reprocessing plant. This waste is among the most radioactive material ever produced - the glass blocks are so radioactive that a person standing within one metre of an unshielded block would receive a lethal dose of radiation in less than one minute. If released into the environment, the waste would be a deadly environmental pollutant for hundreds of thousands of years. The nuclear waste shipment is ultimately bound for the Japanese port of Mutsu Ogawara. The nuclear waste will then be transported to the controversial nuclear waste storage facility at the Rokkasho Mura nuclear site where Japan is building its own plutonium reprocessing facility. 2) At the Organization of American States (OAS) summit on security issues held one year ago in Jamaica, nations declared their deep concern if a ship transporting nuclear waste was to, "have an accident or be the target of a terrorist attack while transiting the Caribbean Sea." OAS, Second High-Level Meeting on the Special Security Concerns of Small Island States, January 8th-10th, 2003,Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, available at: http://www.summit-americas.org/Quebec-hem-security/Kingston%20Declaration-eng.doc.Less than four months ago, the Declaration issued at the Security in the Americas summit, highlighted the security threat posed by nuclear waste shipments. Declaration on Security in the Americas, OEA/Ser.K/XXXVIII, CES/DEC.1/0. rev. 1, 28 October 2003 at http://www.oas.org/csh/ces/documentos/ce00339e04.docIn 2002, Chile passed legislation which requires explicit authorization for nuclear transport ships to enter their 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The nuclear shipping states -Japan, France and the UK - do not recognize the right of states to refuse entry of their nuclear ships within their EEZ, but so far no nuclear transport has yet challenged the integrity of this new Chilean law. 3) The PSI is made up 11 original participating countries -- Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Britain and the United States, as well as Canada, Denmark, Norway and Singapore. It was set up to develop preparations for future interdictions of cargoes of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and related materials and equipment and to develop preparations for future interdictions of cargoes of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and related materials and equipment.