CHERBOURG, France - October 6 - Despite growing public and political
concern about nuclear proliferation, one of two lightly armed UK-flagged
commercial nuclear cargo ship - Pacific Pintail - arrived in Cherbourg
today. French nuclear company Areva have stated to the press that it has
on board the U.S. weapons-grade plutonium, and will within hours be
escorted by the French army to the reprocessing complex at la Hague 18km
Under the cover of darkness, the Pintail was escorted as far as the out
dock by the Pacific Teal, tracked by the Greenpeace ship Esperanza.
Arriving in the dock at 5:45 AM, to be met by a six yachts from the
Atlantic Nuclear Free Flotilla flying "Stop Plutonium" banners. An
escort of six security inflatableS with marine commandos, four military
boats and two helicopters guarded the vessel as it entered the French
port. The French Gendarmerie established a closed security zone in the
harbour in an attempt to stop any protest. A Greenpeace press boat with
a UK Independent Television News camera crew was arrested outside the
military exclusion zone, then subsequently released.
After being transported to la Hague, the plutonium will be transported
in the coming 24 hours more than 1,000 kilometres to a plutonium fuel
fabrication facility in Caradache, Provence, in the South of France. The
route has not been announced for the land transport which is perhaps the
most vulnerable stage in terms of accident or terrorist attack. Areva
plan to convert the plutonium into an experimental fuel known as 'MOX'
(mixed plutonium uranium oxide fuel), after which it transported back to
the United States early in 2005, to then be tested in U.S. reactor over
"This shipment of weapons plutonium is a wake-up call to the world -
rather than ship this dangerous material worldwide now is the time for
aggressive steps to halt proliferation of all nuclear weapons materials.
The military nature of the arrival in France clearly demonstrates that
nuclear weapons materials are a threat to global security and have no
place in commerce", said Tom Clements of Greenpeace International.
The plutonium, sent by the US National Nuclear Security Administration
(NNSA), left the port of Charleston, South Carolina, on September 20. An
international flotilla of French and Irish protest vessels was awaiting
to protest its arrival. Greenpeace is opposed to the transport due to
fact that it is part of a global program led by France's state-owned
nuclear company Areva, and the governments of the United States and
Russia, to commercialise the large-scale use of weapons-grade plutonium
as fuel in nuclear reactors. Such a program not only increases the
vulnerability of plutonium but also send the wrong nuclear proliferation
signal worldwide, according to Greenpeace.
"Transportation of plutonium is highly vulnerable to accidents or
deliberate attack and must be stopped. After the Atlantic crossing this
transport is about to wind its way through France threatening everything
in its path. The French government is determined to ignore the security
and safety risks posed by plutonium transports by claiming that its
secret. It will be too late if there is a disaster to inform the people
of France - that is what Greenpeace is determined to do over these
coming days," said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International.
Areva claims that this shipment is part of an effort to reduce the
threat from nuclear proliferation yet continuously produces more and
more plutonium at its la Hague plant where there is currently 70-80,000
kilograms of plutonium in storage.
If this weapons-grade plutonium fuel experiment succeeds, a total of 68
tons of weapons-grade plutonium from US and Russian weapons stockpiles -
enough to make more than 15,000 nuclear bombs - will be exposed to
theft, diversion and accidents. In addition, France and the UK have an
estimated 180 tons of 'civil' plutonium created by the reprocessing of
nuclear fuel, which pose a growing nuclear proliferation threat.
*For background information see: