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Third high level waste shipment to Japan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 4, 1997) The third and largest shipment of vitrified high-level nuclear waste is due to leave France heading to Japan at the end of December. The first shipment was in 1995 and traveled via Cape Horn (South America) and the second in early 1996 via the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) and through the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand.

(482.4781) Greenpeace -Despite earlier pledges of transparency by the plutonium industry, the route of the third transport of vitrified high-level nuclear waste to Japan is still kept secret from the public, and appeals for prior notification from countries along the shipping routes have been ignored. Greenpeace, which revealed the transport on November 18, demands that the planned route be immediately made public.

The shipment, according to Japan Nuclear Fuels Limited (JNFL), will consist of 60 containers of vitrified high-level nuclear waste carried in three large shipping canisters. The deadly material is a by-product of the reprocessing of weapons-usable plutonium from Japanese nuclear reactors and has no commercial value. The transport is most likely to take place on a vessel owned by Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited (PNTL), a company of which British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) is the largest owner.

This waste is so deadly that a person within 1 metre of an unshielded block would receive a fatal dose of radiation in less than one minute. In case of an accident in transit - as reflected by a report released by Greenpeace in September this year (Transportation Accident of Ship Carrying Vitrified High-Level Radioactive Waste, by Marvin Resnikoff, Ph.D. and Anne Champion, Radioactive Waste Management Associates, on behalf of Greenpeace, 31 July 1997) the integrity of the waste containers could be breached, posing a grave threat to the environment and human health. After the first shipment, one of the containers arrived in Japan with external radioactive contamination. No public information has been provided concerning the condition of the containers after the second transport. COGEMA, JNFL and BNFL have once again failed to consult with en route states as to the route and emergency precautions necessary in case of accident.

"The plutonium industry is directly responsible for putting at risk the people and the environment of en route countries with these shipments. This industry should be immediately halted on environmental and security grounds," said Tom Clements of Greenpeace. "En route states must not be subjected to the risks of accident of such nuclear cargoes and we support their efforts to regulate nuclear shipments through their territorial waters."

Shipments of spent fuel to La Hague and Sellafield under existing reprocessing contracts have virtually ended but Japan is being pushed by BNFL and COGEMA to sign new reprocessing contracts for its spent fuel. If such contracts are agreed to, the environmental and security threats associated with the plutonium industry will increase. Both COGEMA and BNFL are currently engaged in campaigns to stockpile vast quantities of weapons-usable plutonium, with approximately 50 tonnes stored at their respective facilities.

Greenpeace calls on Japan and the reprocessing countries to terminate negotiations for new reprocessing contracts and demands a halt to reprocessing and to the risky nuclear shipments across the planet.

Source & Contact: Shaun Burnie, Greenpeace International, Keizersgracht 176, 1016 DW Amsterdam
Tel: +31-20-523 6222; Fax: +31-20-523 6200