Greenpeace blocks top secret transport of plutonium in France, revealing global proliferation threat is not in Iraq

Press release - February 19, 2003
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Greenpeace activists blocked a truck carrying 150 kg of weapons-usable plutonium and chained themselves to it to publicly and peacefully denounce the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation.

Twenty-five Greenpeace activists have blocked a truck carrying 150 kg of weapons-usable plutonium and chained themselves to it to publicly and peacefully denounce the almost daily circulation of considerable amounts of plutonium throughout France. Greenpeace carried out the action to show that the biggest threat of nuclear weapons proliferation comes from countries such as France, Britain, Japan and Russia, which are engaged in commerce in such dangerous materials.

The truck was coming from the Areva/Cogema plant in La Hague (Manche, northern France) and was heading for the nuclear facilities of Marcoule (Gard, southern France), where mixed oxide fuel (MOX) is fabricated. Every week trucks carrying the equivalent of twenty atom bombs leave the La Hague plant heading for the Marcoule or Cadarache plants in the Rhone valley.

"These top secret and unmarked convoys of extremely dangerous material must come to an end. Such plutonium shipments present not only an environmental threat but also pose a monumental risk of clandestine proliferation of nuclear weapons," said Tom Clements with the Greenpeace International nuclear campaign in Washington. "These shipments demonstrate that the industry which promotes stockpiling and use of plutonium must be eliminated due to the proliferation threat it poses."

These transports take place under the control of the Defence high commissioner without regard for local communities and representatives who have never been warned. Any accident or attack to the trucks could contaminate whole regions for decades.

By stopping this truck only a few meters from the entrance of the "Carnot" military base, Greenpeace demonstrates that the distinction that Areva/Cogema tries to make between "civilian" and military nuclear is just a media stunt. Although Areva/Cogema contends its plutonium is not weapon grade, it is fully recognized by international authorities that the so-called "civilian" plutonium is perfectly usable for the manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction, like those of Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Japan has accumulated a massive stockpile of such weapons-usable material and is set to soon operate a massive new reprocessing plant at Rokkasho, though eyes have remained fixed only on the real threat posed in the Northeast Asia by North Korea's plutonium program.

"Excluding the secret nuclear weapons program of Israel, there is far more plutonium in the truck that Greenpeace blocked than in all Middle East. The nuclear industry's irresponsibility is the first source of nuclear weapons proliferation. There is no need to search for proliferating material in the desert when it's right on the roads in France and on the oceans between Europe and Japan," explained Yannick Rousselet, Greenpeace France nuclear campaigner.

"There is only one way to avoid this terrible threat which poses risks of military or terrorist nuclear proliferation and it is easy: these costly, hazardous and useless plutonium transports must come to an end. To reduce weapons proliferation, the Conference on Disarmament of the United Nations must expand the fissile material ban it is discussing to include all types of plutonium, not just material with a military designation," concluded Clements.

Notes: Greenpeace France commissioned a comprehensive study of all transports related to the plutonium industry to WISE Paris (World Information Service on Energy). The results are extremely alarming as the study shows that the amount of high risk material circulating on the French roads has constantly been increasing: around 90 transports, containing a total of nearly 12 tons of plutonium in powder form (PuO2), now run throughout France each year. Considering that approximately 8 kg of this material is needed to make an atom bomb, it is the equivalent of 1.500 bombs that gets around each year. The WISE Paris study "Les transports de l'Industrie du Plutonium en France: une activité à haut risque" ("Plutonium industry's transports in France: high-risk operations") is also available www.stop-plutonium.orgThe Bush Administrations's "National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction" of December 2002 (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/12/WMDStrategy.pdf) states that "the United States will continue to discourage the worldwide accumulation of separated plutonium," though it is clear that this policy is not being applied in an unbiased manner.Information on plutonium available at: http://www.greenpeace.org/campaigns/intro?campaign_id=4020