Deadly plutonium shipment cannot hide from Greenpeace or the world spotlight as Earth Summit draws near

Press release - 19 August, 2002

Greenpeace activists Penny Gardner (UK) right and Irene Maggiulli (Italy) left atop the bow mast of their ship, the MV Esperanza, protesting the passage of a deadly plutonium shipment from Japan to UK.

Greenpeace today caught up with a deadly cargo of plutonium off South African waters and mounted a high seas protest just days before the start of the Earth Summit in Johannesburg.

Despite attempts by the two armed vessels to evade public scrutiny by altering course, the Greenpeace ship, MV Esperanza located them late last night and radioed an intention to peacefully protest, but received no reply.

"The nuclear industry may try to run, but they cannot hide the fact that they are endangering the environment, lives and livelihoods of millions of people by shipping their deadly and discredited cargo around the world," said Tom Clements of Greenpeace on board the MV Esperanza. "This shipment alone is costing $100 million - money which would be better spent on clean, renewable energy. When world leaders gather in Johannesburg in a few days time they must reject all dirty energy - nuclear, oil, coal and gas - and commit to power that does not add to the appalling environmental legacy that nuclear and fossil fuels have left us," Clements added.

The plutonium on board the Pacific Pintail, escorted by the Pacific Teal, is a notorious cargo sold by British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) in the UK, to Japan in 1999. Safety data about the mixed oxide fuel (MOX) was falsified and when the deception was uncovered by Greenpeace, Japan demanded the cargo be returned.

"There is enough weapons useable plutonium on board that vessel to make 50 nuclear bombs," warned Clements. "If this shipment goes ahead, it will open up our seas to up to 100 more such shipments over the next 10 years, it is an issue of nuclear proliferation."

The two ships, the Pacific Pintail and the Pacific Teal, have already gone to great lengths to avoid facing public and political pressure. Their departure from Japan on July 4th was marked by Greenpeace protests and it has been met with stiff opposition and protest since.

Just two days ago the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) issued its strongest communiqué to date demanding the shipping states accept liability and agree compensation in the event of an accident. Last month the 78-member African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries (ACP) also spoke out against the hazardous cargo. As South Africa is part of the ACP, and as host nation of the Earth Summit, Greenpeace calls on South Africa to take the lead and

join other governments in demanding a ban on nuclear shipments.

BNFL has consistently refused to provide environmental impact assessments on the shipments and failed to notify en route states in order to prepare emergency plans in case of an accident. The vessels have breached Economic Exclusion Zones en route, despite demands from many nations that they stay out. The two vessels, armed with three 30mm cannons each, are bound for the BNFL nuclear complex at Sellafield in the UK and are expected to arrive back in about 20 days. There they will be met by a flotilla of protest in the Irish Sea, which is heavily polluted by radioactive discharges from the Sellafield plant.

The Esperanza, which is in South Africa as part of the international environmental group?s campaign on the Earth Summit, sailed from Cape Town on Saturday. Greenpeace has had the shipment under surveillance since it left Japan on July 4th and will continue to track their progress.

VVPR info: Photos: Steve Morgan (+27) 828583449Video: David Woolford (+27) 828583110