Greenpeace challenges French nuclear secrecy decree

The environmental organisation releases new information on plutonium transports

Press release - 8 October, 2003
In a clear attempt to stop Greenpeace from making public any information on nuclear transports within France, the French Government has decreed all information on nuclear material as classified state secret on the grounds of national security with the pretext of reducing the risk of catastrophic accident or terrorist attack.

Details on the transportation of plutonium, released in defiance of the new decree, will be presented by Greenpeace at a 'Special Commission' that will hold a meeting on nuclear affairs today. Politicians, Government officials and representatives of Cogema, the state reprocessing company in Cherbourg, will attend this meeting. The head of nuclear security within the French Government, M. Lallemand, responsible for issuing the new security decree, is also scheduled to testify at the Special Commission hearing.

"Rather than trying to silence its nuclear critics, the Government should stop the further production, transport and use of weapons-usable plutonium from the Cogema nuclear reprocessing complex before there is a disaster," said Yannick Rousselet of Greenpeace. "Greenpeace research has exposed the fact that plutonium transports are vulnerable to accident or deliberate terrorist attack. That is the massive problem confronting Cogema and the Government and the decree is their flawed attempt to solve it."

The French Government, following a request from the Director of Areva/Cogema, Ann Lauvergeon, issued its decree in August with the express purpose of preventing Greenpeace from providing information on the dangers posed by plutonium transports (1).

In February this year, Greenpeace blocked a nuclear transport containing 150 kilogram of pure plutonium in the city center of Chalon-sur-Saone, while en route from la Hague, Normandy to Marcoule, in Provence. Cogema conducts as many as 2-3 transports every week from its reprocessing complex at la Hague to its plutonium fuel production (MOX) plant at Marcoule. Each transport carries enough plutonium for 30 nuclear weapons. In May, after Cogema resumed transports, Greenpeace launched a 'citizens inspection' website containing information on plutonium transports observed by volunteers and activists along the 1000 kilometre route (2).

"The international trade in nuclear weapons material is wholly unjustified. The nuclear industry and their Government sponsors are relying upon national security decrees to protect them from public exposure, but they have no effective means to protect their plutonium transports. We are committed to exposing their continuing disregard for public health, the environment and real national security," said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace.

On Thursday 9 October Greenpeace will launch a legal challenge against the new secrecy decree seeking its withdrawal. Greenpeace will be joined in its challenge by independent radiation research institute, CRIIRAD, and Reporters sans Frontieres (Journalists without Frontiers).

Notes: 1 - Cogema is part of the Areva group of nuclear agencies, the others being Framatome and CEA. The decree, signed 24 July, was issued on 9 August by the senior defense official at the Ministry of Industry, D. Lallemand who reports directly to Prime Minister Raffarin. Cogema operates the Melox plutonium (MOX) fuel plant at Marcoule, which produces nearly 100 tons each year of nuclear fuel for its largest client, EdF. In September it was granted approval by the Government to begin production of an additional 35 tons of MOX fuel for German nuclear utilities. The state company also recently secured a contract for manufacturing MOX for a Swiss client, and is currently negotiating with Japanese clients for new business. Cogema also transports plutonium to the Belgonucleaire MOX plant at Dessel in Belgium. 2 - The CCCI, Cellule Citizen of Control and Inspection website including new information on stop plutonium is available at www.stop-plutonium.org