U.S. weapons grade plutonium shipment to depart France tonight

Press release - 22 March, 2005
A shipment of U.S. weapons grade plutonium fuel (MOX) will depart from the port of Cherbourg later tonight. Two British nuclear freighters, Pacific Pintail and the Pacific Teal, are scheduled to pick up the dangerous cargo this evening, with departure for the U.S. expected four to six hours later. The two vessels will transport the plutonium to the port of Charleston, South Carolina. Greenpeace condemns the shipment as a major set back to global non-proliferation efforts.

The plutonium was taken from U.S. nuclear warheads and transformed into nuclear reactor fuel by the French state company Areva. The fuel or MOX is to be tested in a nuclear reactor prior to the start up of a large-scale plutonium fuel program in the United States.

"The nuclear industry is out of control. In Paris this week the IAEA called for an expansion of nuclear power, while at the same time it warned of the danger from proliferation and nuclear terrorism. Meanwhile, less than a few hours away in Normandy, one of the most vulnerable plutonium transports is about to take place," said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International. "The IAEA and their supporters in the government don't want to face the fact that the nuclear problem exists because they have created it themselves by promoting nuclear energy. The only solution is ending the trade in bomb material, a fissile material treaty and nuclear phase-out."

Last week Greenpeace released a U.S. security assessment, which concluded that the U.S. transport was highly vulnerable to terrorist attack. Domestic French plutonium transports, with even less security protection, were considered at extreme risk.

Greenpeace wants all plutonium to be treated as nuclear waste not as potential reactor fuel. This approach would be cheaper, faster, safer, and more secure. It also urges a ban on the production of all weapons-usable fissile materials.

Notes: 1). BNFL currently has over 100 tons of plutonium at its Sellafield nuclear complex in the UK. It plans to ship 50 tons to Europe and Japan over the next 10-20 years. Areva, the French state nuclear company that manufactured the US plutonium, has between 70-80 tons of plutonium at la Hague in Normandy, all of which it plans to transport to clients in Europe and Japan within 10-15 years.