The World's deadliest cargo is coming your way!

Feature story - 4 July, 2002
A British freighter carrying enough plutonium to make 50 nuclear bombs is now on route through the Pacific ocean. The ship will pass South Africa then up to the Irish sea before reaching its final destination at a nuclear reprocessing facility in Sellafield. Along its entire route the ship will face opposition by ordinary citizens in small boats and governments terrified at the prospect of an accident or deliberate attack.

Watched by Japanese police ,the Greenpeace ship 'Arctic Sunrise' and inflatables protest in Uchiura bay, beside the Takahama nuclear plant.

After a long day of protests by Greenpeace and Japanese citizen's groups, the Nuclear freighter, Pacific Pintail, loaded up with two casks carrying enough plutonium to make 50 nuclear bombs. The Pacific Pintail departed Takahama at 15:35 Tokyo time with her sister ship, Pacific Teal, in escort along with 38 Japanese coast guard vessels.

British Nuclear Fuels has embarked on the most controversial nuclear transport in its long and troubled history. It will be opposed along its entire route by governments and ordinary citizens terrified at the prospect of accident or deliberate attack. The route through the South Pacific, despite objections by the small island states that it will pass, exposes the contempt the British and Japanese government have for the environment, public health and real security. The most direct route to the Pacific ocean is via the Korea Straits, however the South Korean government and environmental groups are opposed to the shipment using this route. The incident off the Korean coast last weekend involving North Korea have also raised additional fears for the safety of the plutonium shipment.

This shipment and Japan's plutonium program poses several environmental, safety and security concerns. The risk of catastrophic accident such as fire or collision involving the Pacific Pintail and release of its cargo of plutonium into the environment is all the greater given the failure of Britain or Japan to conduct a thorough environmental impact assessment as required by international law.

In recent days it has been revealed that the Pacific Pintail and Teal are suffering from corrosion that threatens their structural safety. British Nuclear Fuels have refused to release details. The Japanese government only learnt about this latest problem after news reports.

Tom Clements, Greenpeace Nuclear campaigner on board the MV Arctic Sunrise says this shipment has ignited opposition from East Asia to the South Pacific. "It will only intensify as the two nuclear ships move through the vulnerable environment of the Pacific. If the South Pacific route is chosen, the Pintail and Teal should at the very minimum avoid violating the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of all of the South Pacific nations as called for by so many of the nations," said Clements.

British Nuclear Fuels believes that with the return of this rejected dangerous plutonium MOX fuel that it will be given the green light to massive business contracts with Japan. Far from it - the plutonium program in Japan is in disarray, with not one gram of plutonium used in a reactor despite four plutonium shipments in the last ten years.

Opposition is growing stronger to Japan's plans to use thousands of kilograms of plutonium as nuclear reactor fuel. "The arrival today of the Pacific Pintail has only helped to mobilize further that opposition," said Kazue Suzuki of Greenpeace in Japan.

Security concerns are a major issue to countries along the tens of thousands of kilometers between Japan and the UK. The ships are slow, lightly armed and vulnerable to armed attack. In June, prompted by fears over this shipment, the 34 governments in the Organization of American States led by nations in the Caribbean called for a security review of the dangers posed by nuclear sea transports.

Beyond the specific shipment, Japan's plans to burn plutonium MOX in its commercial reactors is an added danger. Loading plutonium MOX into reactors that were not designed to use plutonium increases the risk of accident and that when the accident occurs it will be more deadly.

Japan has already acquired more weapons-usable plutonium than any 'non-nuclear country' in the world. Its stockpile of plutonium is set to soar to over 145,000 kilograms by 2020. As little as five kilograms is sufficient for one advanced nuclear weapon. Recent statements from senior Japanese government officials and politicians have raised genuine fears that Japan could become a nuclear weapon state.

After the original mistake was made of shipping the MOX fuel to Japan in 1999, it should have been treated as nuclear waste, immobilized and stored in Japan. Instead, British Nuclear Fuels, Japanese utility Kansai Electric and the Japanese and British governments are prepared to risk the many milllions of people who live along the shipment route, and the environment, for the sake of trying to balance the books of a dangerous, unecessary and uneconomic industry.