One of the two ships chartered by BNFL, the Pintail, departs Barrow, UK for Japan.
When they reach Japan, they will retrieve a shipment of
plutonium sufficient to build 50 nuclear bombs, to return it to
Sellafield, UK. The shipment of the mixture of plutonium-uranium
oxide (MOX) to the UK would be in defiance of both international
and UK law.
"The UK and Japan have started the countdown to the most
nuclear shipment in history on the anniversay of the Chernobyl
nuclear disaster," Greenpeace nuclear campaigner Shaun Burnie
"They could not have chosen a more fitting date to remind the
international community of the arrogance and dangerous risk-taking
of the nuclear industry".
Greenpeace has written to the UK government and to BNFL this
week to outline its case that the transport from Japan would be
unlawful and in breach of international agreements.
The return shipment would also violate an undertaking given by
government to the International Law of the Sea Tribunal in
Following a challenge against the newly approved Sellafield MOX
Plant by the
Irish Government to the Tribunal, the UK told the Tribunal that
no imports of
MOX fuel associated with the operations of the Sellafield MOX
Plant would go
ahead before October 2002.
The two vessels, the Pacific Pintail and the Pacific Teal, one
acting as an armed escort, the other carrying the plutonium, would
face a barrage of international opposition if they make their
global journey, the environmental organisation predicted.
Demonstrations are planned in Ireland today.
The material is being returned to the UK solely because after
being shipped as fuel to Japan in 1999 it was revealed that the
manufacturer, BNFL, had falsified critical quality control data
during its production.
"The industry is creating a floating terrorist target and a
dangerous hazard simply in order for BNFL to be able to get new
contracts with its Japanese customers. This would result in yet
more shipments of plutonium fuel, perhaps as many as 80 over the
next decade," Burnie said.
There are also serious concerns about the safety of the
shipment, which should
also have prevented the PNTL vessel leaving. The cask in which
the plutonium is to be transported has not yet been licensed by the
Japanese authorities. An earlier licence was revoked when it was
discovered that levels of the single largest source of
radioactivity in the cask, the radioisotope Plutonium-241, will be
up to twice as high as originally estimated.
"This shipment must be abandoned before it is too late. When
this BNFL MOX
fuel arrived in Japan in 1999, Japan was experiencing its worst
accident at Tokai-mura. The nuclear industry in the UK and Japan
clearly has not learned from its mistakes, and are showing total
disregard for public safety, the environment and international
security," Burnie concluded.