Greenpeace warns that Nuclear Waste Shipment would create a floating radiological bomb

Press release - 11 March, 2003

Greenpeace is demanding the cancellation of a transport of highly radioactive nuclear waste from the La Hague reprocessing plant in France to Japan. The secret transport is expected to leave Cherbourg next week, according to information provided to Greenpeace. The environmental organisation also urged en route states to file protests against the hazardous cargo.

Three governments are responsible for the transport: France, Japan and the United Kingdom. The shipment is likely to be transported by a British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) ship, the Pacific Sandpiper. The itinerary of the shipment waste remains secret, but could include a route via the Caribbean Sea and Panama Canal, or by way of the Cape Horn (South America), or via the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa).

"Shipping this radioactive waste around the globe is irresponsible. This creates a potential radiological weapon -a floating 'dirty bomb'- endangering coastal nation along its 20,000 kilometre route. With a war in Iraq potentially underway as soon as next week, and the security concerns aroused by the September 11th terrorist attacks unresolved, such a shipment is sheer folly," said Shaun Burnie from Greenpeace International.

This waste is some of the most radioactive material ever produced. "The release of even a small fraction of this cargo from either an accident or a deliberate attack could lead to an environmental and public health catastrophe, " explained Yannick Rousselet of Greenpeace France. "Despite the enormous environmental and security risks, Japanese, French and British governments have approved making this unnecessary shipment without the knowledge and agreement of the dozens of endangered en-route nations," he said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has warned that the threat of nuclear terrorism is real. Media reports have suggested that this shipment was delayed from 2002 because of concerns about security. "Any rational threat assessment would conclude that the global security situation has worsened since last year, and that such shipments will add to that insecurity," concluded Burnie.

Such nuclear shipments are hugely controversial globally already. Greenpeace urged countries on the possible routes (1) of the proposed shipment to call on France and Japan to stop the shipment.

Notes: (1) Last year, more than 80 countries, including the 78 members of the Africa-Caribbean-Pacific group, called for an end to nuclear shipments in the wake of strong opposition to a shipment of faulty plutonium MOX fuel from Japan to Europe. The 78 Nations of African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) Summit declared: "We express our strong objection to the transport of nuclear and other hazardous materials through the waters around ACP states. We call for the immediate cessation of such practice, in order to prevent any occurrence of accidents that could seriously threaten their sustainable development and the health of their peoples."[The Nadi Declaration of the Third Summit of ACP Heads of State and Government, 19 July 2002 - -- see item #50]On other routes, the Foreign Ministers of 19 Latin American countries issued a unanimous condemnation of the transport of nuclear waste and plutonium in 2000, while other statements of opposition have come from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), the Commonwealth Caribbean High Commissioners, the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in the Caribbean and Latin America (OPANAL), and the Latin-American Interparliamentary Commission on the Environment (CLIMA). In February, the Vanuatu Government condemned the shipping nations for "... an arrogant, neo-colonial attitude towards vulnerable Pacific Island economies... The Republic of Vanuatu ... wants no Second Tchernobyl in the Pacific. [and] is confident that other Pacific Island governments share our concerns and will seek to act decisively on the resolutions against nuclear shipping through the Pacific passed at both the Pacific Island Forum in August and the Africa-Carribean-Pacific Summit in July last year."[Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Press Statement, Port Vila, Tuesday 18th February 2003] Three weeks ago, France, Japan and Britain met with Pacific Island nations to discuss their opposition to nuclear shipments through their region and the inadequacies of existing liability and compensation regimes. The shipping states said they would seek an answer to the Pacific's concerns. The answer appears to be yet another shipment, illustrating the shipping nations' arrogance and contempt for the legitimate concerns of the Pacific states wishing to protect their oceans, economies and people.