Greenpeace activists Penny Gardner (UK) right and Irene Maggiulli (Italy) left on the bow mast of the MV Esperanza protesting the passage of a deadly plutonium shipment from Japan to UK.
Some of the most dangerous, expensive and dirty material ever to
be produced as fuel is now sailing past South Africa, trying
desperately to avoid the public eye, just one week before the World
Summit on Sustainable Development meets in Johannesburg.
Top of the summit agenda for many countries and citizens' groups
is the need to supply clean, modern, affordable energy to the two
billion people in the world who currently lack access to
electricity. Greenpeace is calling for 10 percent of the global
energy supply by 2010 to be provided by renewable energy to protect
the climate from dangerous levels of climate change, and to prevent
further radioactive harm to people and the environment.
The reject plutonium fuel now off the coast of South Africa is
the epitome of everything wrong about the current energy paradigm,
and the exact opposite of clean, modern affordable energy. Those
responsible for this shipment, British Nuclear Fuels, the Japanese
nuclear industry and the British and Japanese governments must be
aware of this. This is why the shipment has been trying to run from
the public eye - without success though. The Greenpeace ship, MV
Esperanza, has been out on the high seas tracking the secret
shipment and has
just borne witness to its passage, placing it's shameful
existence under a spotlight for all the world to see.
"The nuclear industry may try to run, but they cannot hide the
fact that they are endangering the environment, lives and
livelihoods of millions of people by shipping their deadly and
discredited cargo around the world," said Tom Clements of
Greenpeace on board the MV Esperanza. "This shipment alone is
costing £100 million - money which would be better spent on clean,
renewable energy. When world leaders gather in Johannesburg in a
few days time they must reject all dirty energy - nuclear, oil,
coal and gas - and commit to power that does not add to the
appalling environmental legacy that nuclear and fossil fuels have
The reject plutonium fuel now floating past South Africa is
being returned to Britain only because British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL)
deliberately falsified critical safety data during its production.
This was revealed after it was shipped from the UK to Japanese
customers in 1999.
The ships' payload is also a bomb-usable material - just 5kg of
the 225 kg aboard the BNFL vessel Pacific Pintail could form the
warhead of a nuclear weapon. The shipment is vulnerable to attack
or accident, either of which could release radioactive pollutants
to the ocean and air, risking the public health, environment and
the tourism and fisheries-based economies of dozens of coastal
states on its route. It is no wonder that the leaders of the 78
members of the Africa-Caribbean-Pacific Summit meeting last month
called for an immediate cessation of such shipments.
The discovery of the shipment at this time, just ahead of the
Johannesburg meeting, also shines the light on some despicable
double standards. Prime Minister Tony Blair of the UK, for example,
has called for "switching the lights on in Africa using
technologies like wind and solar power" (Guardian 6 August 2002).
However, the UK is at the same time shipping a transport of reject
plutonium fuel around the globe. And with other EU nations, the UK
also continues to promote nuclear power as a solution to the
world's energy needs - this despite the evidence of a recent study,
published on demand from the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, which
concluded that wind energy is actually cheaper than nuclear
The reason is simple: the UK government has buckled to pressure
from the nuclear industry, and in particular to the wishes of its
state-owned company, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL).
The economic case for nuclear power is dreadful. Efforts to
export nuclear power to developing economies have largely failed -
for example, Brazil's Angra II nuclear reactor took 24 years to be
completed and cost US$ 10 billion, and the cancelled Bataan reactor
in the Philippines accounted for 20% of that country's foreign
The UK and EU are perpetuating yet another double standard at
Johannesburg by offering to provide "modern, safe nuclear"
technology to developing countries where this is consistent with"
national sustainability strategies". At the same time, the EU has
already rejected a proposal to include nuclear power in its own
sustainable development programme.
Greenpeace believes it is obscene for Europe to push its deadly
mistakes -- both nuclear and coal technologies - on developing
countries when the technology exists for clean, sustainable energy
now. The huge amount of human and financial resources being spent
on nuclear power could provide a huge boost if it were diverted to
renewable energy development.
Ask President Mbeki of South Africa to oppose the plutonium
shipment, joining his voice to 78 other nations in the Pacific,
Caribbean and Latin American regions. Then join our virtual
flotilla to protest the shipments.