Greenpeace activists spend the night waiting for the imminent arrival of two BNFL (British Nuclear Fuels) ships, which are carrying 140kg of radioactive weapons-grade plutonium. The Pacific Pintail and the Pacific Teal left the U.S. port of Charleston, SC on September 20th. Greenpeace believes the shipment conducted by the US and France is unnecessarily threatening international security and putting the environment at risk.
The US lacks a suitable nuclear facility for converting this
potential weapons material into experimental plutonium fuel (MOX) -
so the Bush Administration is allowing it to be shipped around the
The shipment began its journey at the US Department of Energy's
Los Alamos nuclear weapons facility in New Mexico, and covered
almost 2,500km before arriving in Charleston. The ships left North
Carolina and passed close to the Irish coast on their way to
Cherbourg. Once unloaded the shipment will cover up to 1200km of
roads before arriving at a closed plutonium fuel fabrication
facility in Cadarache, in the south of France.
Earlier this month, two workers were contaminated during a
nuclear accident involving plutonium at the Cadarache facility,
which is operated by the state-owned nuclear company Areva/Cogema.
As for the Los Alamos National Laboratory - operations there were
recently suspended after classified data 'went missing'.
The total journey for the plutonium shipment? A ridiculous
In both the US and France, local groups have mounted strong
opposition to shipments, including the Nuclear-Free Atlantic
Flotilla and Citizens Against Plutonium. Greenpeace also has been
waiting patiently for the shipment to arrive and holding peaceful
protests however the local authorities have responded with a heavy
Eugene Riguidel, one of France's most famous sailors, John
Castle of Guernsey and Pernilla Svenberg from Greenpeace
International were arrested for mounting a peaceful protest inside
the military port against the plutonium shipment. Although they
were released within 24 hours from the military arsenal in
Cherbourg, Greenpeace has been summoned to appear in the Cherbourg
Court to face a request by Areva, through its subsidiary Cogema,
and British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL), for an injunction preventing
it from approaching within 300m of the two ships carrying plutonium
or within 100m of the Cherbourg harbour.
"This shipment sends the strongest signal that the US holds
little regard for global efforts to keep nuclear weapons materials
out of commerce," said Tom Clements of Greenpeace International.
"It is the height of arrogance to conduct a shipment like this
while demanding other nations refrain from proliferating nuclear
weapons materials and technologies."
In Charleston, Citizens Against Plutonium (CAP) was formed in
response to the nuclear shipment, and to the refusal of the US
Department of Energy to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment
"How sensible is it to sail a ship carrying plutonium round the
world at a time when world security is volatile? Whenever such a
deadly substance is moved, there will be a risk of accidents or
terrorist attacks. In the event of an incident, plutonium could be
dispersed into the ocean, poisoning people and the marine
environment on which we depend," said local Charleston resident
Merrill Chapman of Citizens Against Plutonium.
The US Department of Homeland Security wrote to Representative
Ed Markey on September 8, telling him that "Coast Guard cutters,
boats, aircraft and other local law enforcement and Navy assets"
would be involved securing the passage of the ship. While the same
letter admitted that no "formal threat assessment" had been
prepared on the shipment, it seems that the Coast Guard had
prepared "a field intelligence report" on environmentalists.
"This transport is part of a misguided plan to put weapons
plutonium into commercial use by converting it into MOX fuel for
use in nuclear reactors. This is an expensive and dangerous way to
dispose of plutonium. All existing plutonium should be secured and
mixed with nuclear waste and vitrified in robust containers, "
Read the Letter to Rep. Markey (pdf)
Visit the Stop
about the Nuclear-Free Flotilla
Visit the Citizens Against
Plutonium (CAP) in South Carolina