London - Two armed British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) freighters left
Barrow-in-Furness in northern England this morning, setting the
clock ticking on the most controversial nuclear shipment in
The vessels are bound for Japan to undertake a proposed
transport containing plutonium, sufficient to build 50 nuclear
bombs, from Japan to Sellafield. The return of the material, a
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
controversial nuclear shipment in history on the anniversay of the
Chernobyl nuclear disaster (1)," Greenpeace International Nuclear
Campaigner Shaun Burnie said. "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 (2).
The return shipment would also violate an undertaking given by
the UK government to the International Law of the Sea Tribunal in
November 2001. 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
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 (3). The ships plan to
pick up the plutonium MOX material, at Takahama in Japan in June,
and return it to the UK in early August.
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," Mr Burnie said.
The nuclear industry is keeping secret the route of the proposed
June shipment, but it if it goes ahead it is likely to take one of
three possible routes from Japan to the UK:
via the Pacific, Panama Canal, Caribbean, Atlantic Ocean and
via the Pacific, Cape Horn, Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea
via the Pacific, Tasman Sea, Cape of Good Hope, Atlantic Ocean
and Irish Sea.
"BNFL lied to the world about the falsification of safety data;
countries along the routes have every right to be concerned that a
company with such a dangerous and discreditable history should be
in charge of the safety of this shipment," Burnie said.
Caribbean countries have already this year voiced their
"implacable opposition" to nuclear shipments through their region
and Latin American countries have also voiced protest. During a
shipment of MOX to Japan through the Tasman Sea last year, a
flotilla of small yachts sailed from Australia and New Zealand to
oppose the PNTL vessels. The flotilla protest was supported by the
New Zealand government.
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
"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 ever nuclear accident at Tokai-mura. On the present
schedule, the plutonium shipment will take place right in the
middle of the FIFA World Cup in Japan, in spite of the enormous
diversion of security resources this will take. 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.
Notes: 1. Today is the 16th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident, the worst disaster in the history of the nuclear industry. More than 100 emergency workers on the site of the accident on 26 April 1986 suffered radiation sickness and 41 of them died. There has been a dramatic increase in childhood thyroid cancer, normally a very rare disease. 2. Under international law the shipment cannot go ahead unless authorised by the US. The US has given approval on the basis that the plutonium is to be recovered and returned to Japan in the form of fresh MOX fuel assemblies. Yet the UK Government has told Parliament that the faulty MOX is to be imported and stored at Sellafield while BNFL decides what to do with it. And the UK has promised the Irish Government and the International Law of the Sea (ITLOS), that there will be no transports associated with the operation of the Sellafield MOX plant before October 2002. The import must be in breach either of the US authorisation or the undertakings given to ITLOS. Greenpeace has asked for a response from the UK Government by April 30th. A copy of the letter is available from Greenpeace. 3. There will be protests against the proposed shipment in Ireland at the UK and Japanese embassies in Dublin at 4.30pm organised by Greenpeace, the Gluaisteach student movement and VOICE and many other anti-nuclear groups.