U.S. Shipment of Weapons-grade Plutonium to France Must be Halted in Aftermath of French Plutonium Accident

July 6, 2010

In response to an accident in France's Cadarache plutonium fuel plant, Greenpeace has called on the Department of Energy to immediately halt plans to ship 300 pounds of weapons-grade plutonium to the facility. Two nuclear transport vessels now approaching Charleston, South Carolina to pick up the plutonium in the middle of this week must be sent back to their home port in England, according to Greenpeace.

"This accident and ensuing investigation and decontamination, which could result in U.S. weapons-grade plutonium being stranded in France, is reason enough to halt the shipment," said Tom Clements of Greenpeace International. "Shipment of weapons-grade plutonium not only poses an environmental hazard but also reveals a proliferation double standard by the U.S. government."

In a September 9 statement by the CEA, the French state-owned nuclear company, the company revealed that two workers were contaminated on September 6 when plutonium and uranium leaked from a container. The CEA said the accident was due to a "violation of procedures" and could result in a lengthy investigation.

On Monday, Representative Ed Markey, released a September 8 letter from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which reveals Coast Guard preparation for security escort of the two ships (2). The letter reveals that "a formal threat assessment specific to this evolution has not been prepared."

However, despite failure to prepare an assessment of potential risks of the shipment in the United States, on the high seas or in France, the DHS letter goes on to say that "the Coast Guard Field Intelligence Support Team in Charleston has prepared a field intelligence report concerning environmental activist groups and their potential to impact this shipment."

"It is the height of absurdity to investigate Greenpeace and local activists while doing nothing to analyze potential threats to the plutonium shipment," said John Bowler of Greenpeace International. "Focusing on those working to stop proliferation risks rather than real security threats reveals a policy failure in the extreme and merits an investigation by Congress."

A local group in Charleston, Citizens Against Plutonium (CAP), is planning a flotilla in the harbor on Wednesday afternoon from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. to protest the shipment. Greenpeace will join the flotilla and associated events in Waterfront Park in downtown Charleston.

Notes to Editor:

(1) The accident occurred at the "ATPu" plutonium fuel (MOX) manufacturing plant at the Cadarache nuclear complex. Read the CEA news release (in French). Read a detailed report on ATPu (also in French) contained in a report for Greenpeace International in July 2003 ("LTA Briefing" produced by independent consultancy WISE-Paris).

(2) The letter is available through the office of Representative Markey by calling (202) 225-2836 or by calling Tom Clements of Greenpeace at (202) 415-6158.

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