Severe corrosion threat to plutonium transport ships

Full disclosure demanded

Press release - 29 June, 2002
Serious corrosion that potentially risks the structural integrity of the entire fleet of nuclear freighters operated by British Nuclear Fuels has been revealed in information sent to the UK Government.

Serious corrosion that potentially risks the structural integrity of the entire fleet of nuclear freighters operated by British Nuclear Fuels has been revealed in information sent to the UK Government.

The corrosion may well affect the Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal, BNFL ships that are due to undertake a proposed shipment of rejected plutonium MOX fuel from Japan to the UK as early as next week.

The corrosion, which for at least one of the fleet vessels was severe enough to exceed Lloyd's Classification Society standard, affects the cargo and fuel areas. The Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal were spotted by Greenpeace yesterday leaving the Japanese port of Kobe in advance of the planned transport from Takahama, on Japan's east coast. The cause of the corrosion has been found to be poor initial design of the cargo (refrigeration) cooling and condensation removal systems.

A letter from a British Member of Parliament posing a series of urgent questions to the British Minister for Transport was sent today seeking immediate disclosure of details related to the conditions of vessels within the Pacific Nuclear Transport (PNTL) fleet. In 2001 one of the PNTL vessels, the Pacific Crane, was discovered with severely corroded steel plates separating the cargo area from the fuel area. The corrosion exceeded the 30 percent wastage level permitted by the Lloyds Classification Society. Repairs amounting to 60 percent of the problem were made on the Crane last August.

Following the discovery of the corrosion on the Pacific Crane, in-house BNFL studies were subsequently initiated on the remaining Pacific Nuclear Fleet (1).

According to the Lloyds Register Classification Survey Dates Supplement, surveys of the Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal took place in November 2001 after the steel plate corrosion problems in the Pacific Crane were identified.

It is understood that initial results of these tests indicate similar corrosion problems on all vessels.

In a letter to the Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling , Member of Parliament for Bury North, David Chaytor warns that, "Given that the Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal are currently in Japan awaiting the loading of the falsified and rejected BNFL plutonium MOX for the 18,000 miles journey back to the UK, I am concerned that the structural integrity of the two armed nuclear freighters may be affected by the corrosion problems. As the issues I have raised have very serious implications for the protection of coastal communities and environment along the world-wide routes, I would request that information is made publicly available as soon as possible to allow independent assessment of the apparent corrosion problems that may affect the Pacific Nuclear Fleet ships."

The Pacific Pintail delivered two one hundred ton transport casks to Japan on June 14th, one of which is scheduled to be loaded with rejected plutonium MOX at the Takahama nuclear power plant. Corrosion in the cargo area, where these very same casks are loaded, is clearly an issue for concern.

The original MOX shipment to Japan was opposed by over fifty countries due to concerns over safety of the ships and cargo, the risk of accidents and vulnerability to armed attack. Already the entire Caribbean nations, as well as countries in Latin America and the Pacific have expressed their opposition to the return shipment to the UK. The route for the shipment remains secret further raising concerns by en-route countries. If a route via the Southern Hemisphere was to be selected the two vessels would be confronted with extreme winter weather conditions, placing additional stresses on the structure of the ships and increasing the risk of catastrophic accident.

"British Nuclear Fuels is famous for deception, cover-ups and accidents. The Japanese Government knows this as well as anyone after the delivery of falsified MOX in 1999. In addition to immediate full disclosure of the corrosion status of the Pintail and Teal, the Japanese Government must explain in full what it knows of this issue. This latest news will be received with dread by all countries along the sea routes between Japan and the UK and is a further reason why it should be cancelled," said Tom Clements of Greenpeace International.

The Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise is currently in Tsuruga, north of Takahama, on the Sea of Japan coast to protest the proposed shipment.


(1) The survey of the Pacific Crane is recorded in the Lloyds Register Classification Survey Dates Supplement. The Crane, renamed the Akatsukimara, was the vessel that made the 1992 controversial plutonium shipment from France to Tokai-mura, Japan. According to information obtained by Greenpeace.

Pacific Swan, Pacific Teal, Pacific Pintail and Pacific Sandpiper and the European Shearwater registered owners British Nuclear Transport Ltd.