Greenpeace activists protesting nuclear power at Cattenom.
An order issued on August 9th in Paris declared all information
regarding the protection of nuclear materials, including
transports, classified for national security purposes. Greenpeace
is opposed to the production, transport and use of plutonium.
Details on the transportation of plutonium, released in defiance
of the new decree, will be presented by Greenpeace at a "Special
Commission" that will hold a meeting on nuclear affairs today.
Politicians, Government officials and representatives of Cogema,
the state reprocessing company in Cherbourg, will attend this
meeting. The head of nuclear security within the French Government,
M. Lallemand, responsible for issuing the new security decree, is
also scheduled to testify at the Special Commission hearing.
In February this year Greenpeace blocked a nuclear transport
containing 150 kilogram of pure plutonium in the city center of
Chalon-sur-Saone, while en route from la Hague, Normandy to
Marcoule, in Provence. Cogema, the state nuclear reprocessing
company, conducts as many as 2-3 transports every week from its
reprocessing complex at la Hague to its plutonium fuel production
plant at Marcoule. Each transport carries enough plutonium for 30
nuclear weapons. In May, after Cogema resumed transports,
Greenpeace launched a 'citizens inspection' website containing
information on plutonium transports observed by volunteers and
activists along the 1000 kilometre route: http://www.stop-plutonium.org
"Putting us in jail to keep us quiet will not remove the
danger." said Yannick Rousselet. "Nuclear fuel shipments are
dangerous to the communities they move through, they are potential
terrorist targets, and they should be stopped rather than covered
Ironically, the order flies in the face of nuclear industry
company Areva's policy of "maximum openness" regarding nuclear
transports. Under the new order, much of what Areva publishes on
their website and releases to the public would be classified
illegal. But according to an Areva spokesperson quoted in Le Monde,
the nuclear industry, which claims it was not consulted on the new
law, was told "we didn't need to change anything in our
target of the order is Greenpeace, which has exposed the threat
from land and sea transports of nuclear fuel and waste in France
and around the world.
Nuclear materials travel a cumulative distance of 250,000
kilometres each year in France. One plutonium transport contains
sufficient material for 30 Nagasaki-type nuclear bombs. One cask
full of highly radioactive spent fuel elements contains
approximately as much radiation as was released by the Chernobyl
The nuclear industry claims that the casks are safe because they
have to undergo crash tests. In fact, they are tested to maintain
integrity when dropped 9 metres onto a hard rigid surface, or
dropped 1 metre onto a metal bar. They are tested to survive a 30
minute hydrocarbon fire at 800 °C. And they are cited as safe for
immersion to a depth of 15 metres of water for 8 hours.
Yet according to French accident statistics for hazardous
materials, the casks would not withstand 1 accident in 20 involving
impact, and 50% of accidents involving fires.
Transports could also be targets for terrorist attacks or theft:
Pierre Robert, a Frenchman jailed for life in Morroco for
terrorism, claimed to know of Al-Quaeda plans to attack a Cogema
plutonium transport. Greenpeace and WISE, in a report published in
February of this year, estimated that if such an attack were
carried out with heavy artillery near Lyon, it would impact 125,000
people, cause 500 fatal cancers and require the evacuation of part
of the city of Lyon and its outlying suburbs.
are carried out without prior notification or consent of the
communities or countries along the transport routes. Last year
Greenpeace tracked and highlighted the dangers of a British
plutonium fuel transport from Japan to the UK. Over 80 Governments
condemned the transport based upon information provided by the
environmental organization along the 30,000 kilometre route through
the Pacific, Southern Ocean and Atlantic.
The French government's move to silence Greenpeace is consistent
with a larger move worldwide toward greater government secrecy in
the name of security. The nuclear industry in particular is taking
advantage of public fears of terrorist attack to become less
transparent and to silence dissent.
In the United States, hundreds of thousands of public documents
were removed from government Web sites following the September 11th
attacks, including Environmental Protection Agency reports on the
consequences of industrial accidents. U.S. Attorney General John
Ashcroft's Justice Department told U.S. agencies to be more
cautious about releasing records and other materials.
"If governments are serious about reducing the threat of nuclear
materials," said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International "then the
only thing to do is end nuclear power. Increased secrecy
conveniently serves the nuclear industry's agenda of diminished
scrutiny. That means greater risks to an uninformed public, and
less public opposition. Plutonium and nuclear energy are not
compatible with democracy and have no place in our global
Wise-Paris/Greenpeace study on transport of nuclear materials in