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Resistance against air transport of plutonium from Germany

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 17, 1993) The long-term effects of the shutdown Kalkar breeder reactor in Germany are not over yet. A shipment of 123 fuel rods from the plant containing 1.1 tonnes of plutonium was to be transported by air in the week of 5-11 December from the Pferdswald military airport in Rheinland-Pfalz to the Dounreay reactor center in Scotland. The rods are currently being held in a Federal bunker in Hanau, and if they can be shipped to Dounreay, the Kalkar operators hope to sell them to Japan or the US.

(404.4000) WISE Amsterdam - On 23 November, the Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz (Federal Department of Radiation Protection) publicly denied having issued a license for the shipment. As the Department gave to understand, only a proposal to license such flights is under consideration. Nowhere is there a need for the fuel rods from Kalkar, not even at Dounreay, where a fast breeder reactor stands which will be shut down next year.

Another 82 fuel rods produced in Belgium for Kalkar were transported by air some months ago to the Dounreay site. The German Minister of the Environment, Klaus Töpfer, licensed this flight with the argument that transport by truck would be even more dangerous. The Kalkar subsidiary of the RWE utility, called SBK (Schnellbrüter Kernkraftwerksgesellschaft), has proposed seven future shipments, which have not been licensed. The question whether the transport casks could withstand an air crash has never been proven even today.

In the meantime, the state governments of Rheinland-Pfalz and Hessen have urged the German federal government to abandon the controversial shipment. "Care for the protection of the population" forbids such flights, said Joschka Fischer, Hessen's environmental minister. The present flight is blocked because, if the fuel were removed from the Federal bunker in Hanau, state law would be broken. (Because of an earlier accident involving rod contamination, state law requires that these irradiated fuel elements be decontaminated before a shipment is to take place. This requirement was stated in an injunction by Joschka Fischer and a panel report from the Bundesband Bürgerinitiativen Umweltschutz [BBU]).

In a recently released letter, the BBU urged RWE board chairman Friedhelm Gieske to give up all air transports of plutonium and called Gieske's attention to the fact that he has to take the responsibility for the possibly catastrophic consequences of an airplane crash for the contamination of a huge area as well as for the injured and dead.

Contact: Bundesverband Bürgerinitiativen Umweltschutz, Prinz Albert Strasse 43, 53113 Bonn, Germany
tel. +49-228-21 40 32