High risk U.S. plutonium transport arrives in Normandy from south of France

Press release - 15 March, 2005
A cargo of 140 kilograms of U.S. weapons-grade plutonium (1) has completed the first leg of its controversial journey from France to the U.S. The armed convoy left the Areva plutonium fuel factory at Marcoule, north of Avignon, between Monday night and Tuesday morning. It travelled around 1000 kilometres over land to Areva's la Hague plutonium complex in Normandy and arrived early in the night of 15 March. The nuclear cargo will be repackaged and taken in the coming days to Cherbourg for onward sea transport to the U.S. port of Charleston.

Greenpeace activists tracked the transport as it neared la Hague, to alert the public and local authorities to the safety and security risk it presents and to voice opposition to the proliferation threat posed by such trade in nuclear weapons materials. The convoy travelled over major French highways without adequate protection and packaging, according to Greenpeace, and will also present a risk when at sea.

A new report by a U.S. nuclear security expert has concluded that the transportation last October of U.S. plutonium in France was at "high" risk from terrorist attack, with inadequate security protection (2). French transports of plutonium are also assessed in the report, with the conclusion that there is currently no effective security applied, and the level of risk is categorized as "extreme."

"This whole plutonium program is about the survival of the nuclear industry in France, the U.S. and Russia. Instead of proliferating more plutonium around the planet, governments need to take action to shut down this industry before catastrophe strikes," said Yannick Rousselet of Greenpeace France.

Greenpeace rejects the transport and use of all nuclear weapons materials and is calling for an international treaty that bans the further production and use of weapons-usable fissile materials such as plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

Notes: (1) In the form of nuclear fuel, mixed uranium-plutonium (MOX)This shipment of pure U.S. weapons plutonium oxide (powder) that was transported from the U.S. to France in September/October 2004. The plutonium has since been manufactured into experimental MOX at the Cadarache and Melox nuclear facilities, for testing in U.S. reactor in South Carolina. MOX fuel is classified by the IAEA as Category 1 nuclear material (the same as separated plutonium), requiring high level security. Greenpeace tracked and protested against its entire journey.2). The security report commissioned by Greenpeace International challenges the French government to explain the extreme risks posed by the present security arrangements for plutonium transportation. Available on http://www.stop-plutonium.org. The security of plutonium transports will also be discussed at an IAEA nuclear security conference in London this week see http://www.iaea.org for further details.