The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published the
information on a document quietly released on October 7, 2003. The
plan, revealed in an export licence filed with the NRC, presents an
unacceptable proliferation and safety risk and should be cancelled,
according to Greenpeace International.
"DOE's scheme to ship weapons plutonium reveals that the U.S.
refuses to apply the same non-proliferation standards to itself
which it is attempting to dictate to the world," said Tom Clements
of Greenpeace International. "Given the risk of accident or
deliberate attack presented by transporting plutonium, the U.S.
must show the world that it will abide by the highest
non-proliferation norms and cancel this shipment."
DOE proposes to export the weapons plutonium to France from Los
Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, via the Charleston Naval
Weapons Station in South Carolina. The dangerous material would be
placed in containers on a lightly-armed British-flagged transport
vessel and escorted by a similar vessel to the port of Cherbourg,
France. It would then be turned over to France for protection and
taken to the Cadarache plutonium facility, recently-closed by
French safety authorities due to seismic safety concerns (1).
DOE has refused requests by Greenpeace and other environmental
and non-proliferation organizations to prepare an Environmental
Impact Statement (EIS) on the shipment, as mandated by the National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (2).
A French Government regulation ("arrête") against revealing
information about nuclear matters is particularly targeted at
Greenpeace, but threatens to suppress information disclosed by the
media, local authorities, regulatory bodies and even the nuclear
The French authorities and Cogema are particularly angry about
information on plutonium transports disclosed on the
www.stop-plutonium.org website. On October 9, Greenpeace launched a
legal challenge against the French Government to overturn the
regulation, which was issued in August. Greenpeace was joined in
the challenge by French scientific, research and journalists
"No security system can guarantee the safety of plutonium and
that is why the French authorities are trying to stop the public's
right to know what threatens them. The reality is plutonium,
whether produced by Cogema in France, or shipped from the United
States, can be directly used as nuclear weapons material. The only
safe and secure option is to stop the trade in bomb material," said
Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International in France.
Notes: (1). At Cadarache, operated by the state-owned plutonium company Cogema, the weapons plutonium would be processed into mixed oxide fuel (MOX) "lead test assemblies" (LTAs) and then shipped back to the U.S. under limited protection. The overland shipment in France will be especially risky as shipment routes and methods for plutonium are widely known and vulnerable, as has been recently documented by Greenpeace France. The U.S. lacks a MOX plant in which to fabricate the LTAs though DOE is hoping to build such a plant, at a cost of perhaps $2 billion, at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.(2). Unanswered group letter to DOE requesting an EIS, the DOE export licence, and a briefing on the MOX LTA manufacture and can be found at: http://www.greenpeace.org/international_en/reports/?campaign%5fid=3940(3). The associations are CRIIRAD (independent radiation research institute), Reporters sans Frontieres (Journalists without Frontiers), nuclear consultancy Wise-Paris, and Journalistes pour la Nature et Environment (Journalists for the Nature and Environment).