DUBLIN - A shipment of nuclear material from Japan to Britain's Sellafield
plant poses an "unacceptable risk" and is a potential terrorist target, the Irish
government said on Thursday.
As the first of two ships carrying a potentially weapons-usable mix of plutonium and uranium oxides (MOX) left the Japanese port of Takahama amid tight security, Ireland said it did not want the vessels passing through its waters.
Greenpeace members on an inflatable boat stage a protest as the Japanese Coast
Guard watch near the freighter Pacific Pintail, background, off Takahama Nuclear
Power Plant in Takahama, central Japan, Thursday, July 4, 2002. Amid protests
from environment groups, the Japanese nuclear plant began loading rejected nuclear
fuel onto the specially equipped armed freighter Thursday for a return voyage
to its maker in Britain. The plutonium- and uranium-based mixed oxide fuel, or
MOX, was put aboard the Pacific Pintail at the plant. (AP Photo/Greenpeace, Jeremy
"The shipment of such materials through the Irish Sea represents an unacceptable risk to the environment of Ireland and the health and economic wellbeing of its population," said Environment Minister Martin Cullen in a statement.
"There is also the enhanced risk of the shipments being the target of a terrorist attack or the materials being diverted into the hands of terrorists."
The MOX fuel is being returned to state-owned British Nuclear Fuels after Japan's Kansai Electric Power Co Inc discovered that data for a 1999 shipment from Britain had been deliberately falsified.
The planned route of the shipment has been kept secret for security reasons and BNFL insists all necessary safety measures have been taken.
"The Irish government is concerned to ensure that vessels carrying such materials do not pass through waters under Irish jurisdictions, and there are currently assurances from the UK authorities that they will not do so," said Cullen.
Sellafield, 110 miles (180 km) across the Irish Sea from Ireland on England's northwest coast, has been a long-running source of friction between the two countries, with repeated calls from the Irish government for its closure.
Ireland says the plant pollutes the Irish Sea and presents a serious risk from accident or terrorist attack, and fears have been heightened since the September 11 attacks on the U.S.
Britain first established nuclear facilities at Sellafield, formerly called
Windscale, in the 1940s, and the world's first commercial nuclear power station
opened there in 1956.
Copyright 2002 Reuters Ltd