France under threat as US plutonium transport departs la Hague

Press release - 7 October, 2004
The final stage of the U.S. transport of weapons-grade plutonium started at 2:15 am today, with the departure of a heavily armed convoy from the reprocessing nuclear complex at la Hague bound for the Cadarache nuclear facility north of Marseille, more than a thousand kilometres across France (1). All bridges between Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes were guarded by Military police. At one point two Greenpeace activists were stopped and had their banners and flags removed from their car.

A truck carrying 140kgs of weapons-grade plutonium passes by the city of Nantes during the final stage of the U.S. transport of the dangerous cargo to Cadarache where mox rods are produced. The transport began in France after the arrival of UK-flagged commercial nuclear cargo ship, the Pacific Pintail, from Charleston, SC, USA. Before reaching its final destination it will have travelled more than a thousand kilometres across France, passing by numerous highly populated communities. Greenpeace believes the shipment is unnecessary and highly vulnerable to accidents or deliberate attack.

Although this U.S. weapons grade plutonium transport to France is unprecedented, Greenpeace can reveal that every ten days a convoy of plutonium is transported 1000km from la Hague to a MOX plant in Marcoule, north of Avignon (2). In total, more than 10 tons of plutonium is transported through France each year.

"Independent expert analysis presented by Greenpeace to the French government earlier this year exposed the potential scale and severity of an accident or terrorist attack on plutonium transports (3). This is a high-risk strategy being played by the nuclear industry with the lives of millions of people. The government's own analysis proves that plutonium containers would be destroyed if hit by a rocket propelled grenade or other explosive device," said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International.

The Greenpeace report identified major vulnerabilities of transports to attack. In the extreme it calculates that the catastrophic dispersal of fine plutonium dust particles would require people to take shelter up to 110km from the accident site.

Despite claims that French nuclear state company Areva, the French and U.S. governments are committed to this program to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation, the reality is that the plan to use 68 tons of plutonium in Russian and U.S. nuclear reactors, will massively increase the accident risks and terrorist threat. The claims that they are determined to reduce the world's stocks of plutonium are simply untrue. Russia alone continues to reprocess spent nuclear fuel from nuclear reactors producing more than 3,000kg of plutonium each year, and has plans to reprocess a further 200 tons with the next three decades.

"This is about proliferating plutonium not taking it out of harms way. Nothing you can do with plutonium will totally eliminate its danger. But this international program funded by the G8 nations is the worst option. Plutonium has to be treated as nuclear waste not traded across the planet. This is about Areva and the nuclear industry's long term survival not non-proliferation," warned Tom Clements of Greenpeace International.

Notes: For background information see: http://www.stop-plutonium.org; http://www.nuclearfreeflotilla.org/flotilla.htm(1). There are four principle routes to from la Hague to Cadarache: 1. Caen, Paris, Lyon, Avignon, Aix en Provence; 2. Caen, Amiens, Reims, Dijon, Lyon, Valence, Avignon, Aix en Provence; 3. Caen, Rennes, Le Mans, Paris, Orleans, Bourges, Clermond-Ferrand, Saint-Etienne, Valence, Avignon, Aix en Provence; 4. Caen, Rennes, Nantes, Bordeaux, Tolouse, Montellier, Nimes, Aix-en-Provence;(2). In February 2003, Greenpeace exposed the vulnerability of the transports when it stopped, for three hours, a truck carrying 150kg of plutonium in the centre of the town of Chalon, south Paris. That transport carried sufficient plutonium for 30 nuclear weapons. (3). "Potential radiological impact and consequences arising from incidents involving a consignment of plutonium dioxide under transit from Cogema la Hague to Marcoule / Cadarache"1Large&Associates, March 2004, for Greenpeace International. The Institute for Radiation and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) of the French government conducted tests on the plutonium containers (FS47's).