Another nuclear waste shipment through Pacific


AMSTERDAM — Greenpeace on January 13 released a confidential French government memo which reveals plans by the plutonium industry to again ship high-level nuclear waste from France to Japan.

For the first time the waste will be taken through the Panama Canal, the shortest and therefore the cheapest route. The shipment will also be the largest ever by the French plutonium company COGEMA.

The route will take the deadly waste off the coast of Spain and Portugal, through the heart of the Caribbean Sea into the Panama Canal, past Hawaii, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Guam, and on to Japan.

The leaked document states that the British-flagged Pacific Swan will depart France on January 23 with a cargo of 60 containers of vitrified high-level nuclear waste. The shipment will arrive at a nuclear facility in Aomori prefecture, on the north end of the main Japanese island of Honshu, in mid-March.

Greenpeace spokesperson Tom Clements declared: "The plutonium industry is directly responsible for putting at risk the people and the environment of countries en route with these shipments. This industry should be immediately halted on environmental and security grounds.

"En route states must not be subjected to the risks of accident with such nuclear cargoes, and we support their efforts to regulate nuclear shipments through their territorial waters."

The threat of an accident involving shipment of nuclear materials was demonstrated in December, when the ship MSC Carla, which was carrying three caesium capsules inside medical equipment, broke apart with loss of the nuclear material in the North Atlantic. The ship was bound for Boston from France.

Governments throughout the Caribbean and Pacific have loudly condemned such shipments in the past and have called on Britain, France and Japan to avoid the region.

The leaked document indicates that the US State Department is aware of the shipment. The Panama Canal is operated by the Panama Canal Commission, an agency of the US government. Greenpeace called on the US to ban the shipment from the canal.