Going to court over plutonium

Greenpeace has filed papers against the UK Government’s Environment Agency at the High Court in London in an attempt to prevent a shipment of rejected plutonium mixed oxide fuel from leaving Japan later this week.

Greenpeace has filed papers against the UK Government’s Environment Agency at the High Court in London in an attempt to prevent a shipment of rejected plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel from leaving Japan later this week.

Lawyers acting for Greenpeace will apply for permission to ‘Judicially Review’ the Environment Agency for its failure to treat the faulty MOX as radioactive waste, and follow the required procedure for nuclear waste imports. They will also apply for an injunction to stop the faulty MOX leaving Japan.

On July 4th, a British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) vessel, the armed nuclear freighter Pacific Pintail, will sail into the port of Takahama, Fukui Prefecture. Together with its armed escort ship, the Pacific Teal, the two ships are due to travel up to 30,000 kilometers to return the rejected plutonium to the BNFL site at Sellafield, in the north of England.

According to Greenpeace, this MOX scandal caused a major diplomatic incident between the Japanese Government and the UK in 1999 when it was revealed that BNFL had deliberately falsified vital safety data. The Japanese Government and the owners, Kansai Electric Power, rejected the plutonium MOX and demanded that it be returned to the UK. The UK Government agreed and BNFL, a wholly state owned company, paid £113 million in compensation to Japan to cover the cost of the transportation to and from Japan. BNFL announced to the UK Government last November that it was now bankrupt.

According to Greenpeace, despite claims by BNFL that this reprocessing business has generated enormous income for Britain, it is expected to reveal in its annual accounts to be announced on July 4th that it has made further financial losses.

Greenpeace says that BNFL has used the prospect of large multi-million pound MOX fuel contracts with Japanese clients to justify to the British Government the opening of the controversial Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP) and the return MOX shipment from Japan. Yet, it adds, the Japanese program to use plutonium MOX in its nuclear reactors is in disarray, with no MOX currently loaded, and future plans strongly opposed by the public and politicians.

Greenpeace believes that the rejected plutonium MOX transport is dangerous, unnecessary and unlawful. There has already been international opposition from several countries concerned about the vulnerability of the shipment to catastrophic accidents and terrorist threats.

‘In a desperate effort to secure new plutonium business with Japan, BNFL appears to be ignoring the pleas from en-route countries who will now be threatened by this nuclear shipment. There is nothing to justify this transport. At least BNFL has stopped claiming it is the largest single yen earner for Britain. This rejected plutonium MOX should never have been shipped to Japan in the first place, now that it’s there, that is where it should stay. Japanese authorities need to treat it as nuclear waste because that’s exactly what it is,’ said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International in Tokyo.

The rejected plutonium MOX, a mixture of plutonium and uranium oxides, contains 255kg of plutonium, enough to make 50 nuclear weapons. Greenpeace claims that the US Government has confirmed that it would be relatively easy to separate out the plutonium in the discarded fuel to create a nuclear weapon.

‘To ship nuclear weapons material on a six to eight week voyage across the world’s oceans was a dangerous idea before September 11th, in today’s context it can only be described is insane. The UK and Japanese Governments need to abandon this transport and its plans to put at risk tens of countries around the world,’ said Tom Clements, Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaigner on board the Greenpeace protest ship, Arctic Sunrise, in the Sea of Japan.

Greenpeace’s security concerns are echoed by military analysts and Governments.

The respected Jane’s Foreign Report has described security on the lightly armed ships as totally inadequate. Already because of security concerns, the thirty-four Governments of the Organisation of American States have adopted a resolution calling for a security assessment of nuclear shipments and their threat to the Caribbean. Opposition due to the risk of accident and environmental contamination has also led countries in the South Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean to oppose this and other nuclear shipments.

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