Fears for Safety of Plutonium Shipment as Armed Escort Runs Aground

Press release - 8 July, 2002

BNFL Pacific Pintail leaving Takahama Port on 4 July loaded with rejected plutonium. The vessel will,within days, pass the place where the British Navy destroyer HMS Nottingham ran aground

The grounding of a British Navy destroyer on Lord Howe in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand has raised further doubts about the safety and security of the plutonium shipment it was alleged to be escorting (1). The cargo of rejected plutonium, left Japan bound for the UK on July 4th. On board is enough material to make fifty nuclear bombs and the ship is due to pass by the same point within the next two weeks.

"Shipments of rejected plutonium will be in the Tasman Sea in a matter of days and in the last week bad weather has grounded the HMS Nottingham and devastated the Federated States of Micronesia, said Shaun Burnie, Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaigner. "You have to seriously wonder if those who are making the decision to send these ships through this region in the middle of winter know what they are doing."

En-route countries have also cited major security threats as reasons why this plutonium shipment should not enter the waters, the latest being the Federated States of Micronesia. A Nuclear Free Flotilla was sent off from Auckland, New Zealand yesterday with the full backing of Prime Minister Helen Clark. A similar send off was given to yachts sailing from Sydney Harbor. They are bound for the waters around Lord Howe Island through the treacherous Tasman Sea, where they are scheduled to protest the passage of the British Nuclear Fuels vessels, the Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal.

A member of the United States Congress Armed Services Committee has already cited the vulnerability of this shipment in the aftermath of events of September 11th, and has referred the matter to the U.S. Pacific Command in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (2)

The UK Ministry of Defense confirmed that the Nottingham is on duty to serve wider British interests from "Japan to Australasia". The two lightly armed transport ships, Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal, are transporting the rejected plutonium MOX from the nuclear reactor site at Takahama, Japan to Sellafield in the UK. The cargo was shipped to Japan in 1999. However, it was later revealed that the company, which produced the faulty MOX, British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), had deliberately falsified vital safety quality control data for the MOX pellets.

Due to the falsification scandal it was never used. The Japanese owner of the MOX, and the Japanese Government rejected it and demanded that it be returned to Britain.

British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) together with the UK Government is hoping that with the return of the rejected falsified plutonium MOX fuel Japanese nuclear utilities will sign multi-million dollar plutonium MOX contracts.

The Japanese Government has stated that the transport is the responsibility of the UK, and a private commercial matter between BNFL and the owners of the rejected MOX, Kansai Electric. However, BNFL has recently declared itself bankrupt and Kansai Electric has stated that they are not responsible for costs in the event of an accident. The Nottingham is now reported to be leaking its fuel oil into the pristine waters around Lord Howe Island.

"If this was the plutonium ship Pintail on the rocks rather than a Royal Navy destroyer it would be more than fuel oil that would be leaking into the ocean. Its yet another reason why this trade in bomb material must be stopped," said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International in Tokyo. "The shipment of the rejected MOX to Japan in 1999 was wholly unjustified. Now in a desperate attempt to rescue BNFL's reputation and business prospects in Japan, a British warship has been sent to the Tasman Sea. Instead of rescuing BNFL, the armed escort itself is now the center of an international rescue effort. This accident reveals the level to which the UK and Japanese authorities will go to continue their trade in weapons-usable plutonium. Full disclosure on what exactly the Nottingham was doing in this area at this time needs to be provided immediately," said Burnie.

Notes: For maps of the Pacific Route to be taken by the Pintail and Teal, and background documents, statements please see: http://archive.greenpeace.org/~nuclear/bnfl/home.html1 - ITN's Channel Four News, Sunday 7th July.2 - Representative Underwood see June 11th letter cited in Press statement June 17th at http://www.house.gov/underwood/news-releases/02/0617020.htmlFor updates, photos and biography's of those in the flotilla sailing into the Tasman see www.nuclearfreeflotilla.org