Africa Tells Nuke Ships to Stay Away
Environment News Service (ENS), Cape Town, South Africa, July
The government of South Africa has requested that
two ships carrying [MOX] nuclear fuel from Europe to Japan stay out
of South African waters. Deputy Minister of Environment Joyce Mabudafhasi
said, "The overriding interest of the South African government is in
minimising any risk to human health, marine life and the environment
by ensuring the safe passage of the ships to Japan."
The two British-flagged nuclear transport freighters
left France and Britain July 21, met at sea, and are escorting one another
to Japan. Their route around Africa's Cape of Good Hope and through
the Western Pacific Ocean was announced July 22, the day after departure.
Only then was the government of South Africa briefed.
Their cargo is the first shipment of mixed oxide
(MOX) fuel processed at British Nuclear Fuels"(BNFL) Sellafield nuclear
plant and France's Cogema facility. It is destined for the Fukushima
Daiichi nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company
(TEPCO), and the Takahama nuclear power plant operated by the Kansai
Electric Power Company (Kansai).
The estimated 446 kilograms (981 pounds) of fuel
are contained in 40 mixed oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel elements. One pellet
of MOX fuel has the energy equivalence of one tonne of coal.
Mabudafhasi was assured by British, French and
Japanese diplomats last week that the ships will not dock at any South
"South African law requires that ships carrying
nuclear material must have a licence to do so," the deputy minister
said. "Furthermore no application for a licence has been received by
the South African regulatory authority, the Council for Nuclear Safety.
Further assurances were received that the radiological protection and
safety arrangements meet international standards."
Mabudafhasi said that South Africa accepts the
international law that grants any state the right of freedom of navigation
if its ships on the high seas or through states Exclusive Economic Zone
and the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea of coastal
states. "Notwithstanding," she said, "I have requested that the ships
stay out of our territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone."
Greenpeace announced 23 July in London that it would
be sending activists to South Africa, the South Pacific, South Korea
and Japan to work with local citizens"groups - which have already protested
against the shipment - to organise further opposition.
Greenpeace vessels attempted to protest the departure
of the Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd. (PNTL) transport ships as they
left Cherbourg, France and the northern England port of Barrow, but
their vessels were banned from both French and British waters. Pacific
Nuclear Transport Ltd. is a subsidiary of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd.
Late last week Greenpeace International was informed
by its bank in Amsterdam that its bank account had been seized at the
request of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd.
BNFL froze Greenpeace International's bank account
after alleging that Greenpeace activities, during the departure of the
Pacific Pintail carrying plutonium fuel from the port of Barrow to Japan,
had delayed its departure.
Greenpeace said it would be issuing summary proceedings
against BNFL in the Dutch courts, following BNFL's failure to meet a
Greenpeace request, made yesterday, to lift the freeze on its bank account
by this morning. It urged BNFL to drop all legal proceedings against
Greenpeace and said BNFL's claim of £90,000 damages was baseless.
British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. says the MOX fuel is
being transported to Japan in specially designed casks which "satisfy
the rigorous international safety standards of the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA). They are designed to protect the public and environment
in all credible accident scenarios."
The casks are carried on ships designed specifically
for transporting radioactive materials. BNFL says, "These ships meet
the highest safety rating of the International Maritime Organization
(IMO), which means they are amongst the safest ships on the seas."
They have double hulls to withstand collision damage,
enhanced buoyancy to maintain the ship afloat even in extreme circumstances,
dual navigation and tracking systems and special fire fighting equipment,
including a hold flooding system.
Japan will use the MOX fuel to generate electricity.
Nuclear power proponents reason that the use of MOX fuel will enable
Japan to recycle its uranium and plutonium resources, conserving uranium
reserves and reducing dependence on imported fuels.
Recycling the plutonium reduces the amount of high
level radioactive waste that must be disposed of. Recycling the plutonium
helps Japan to implement its policy of not stockpiling excess separated
plutonium, thereby promoting non-proliferation objectives.
Regarding the safety of the shipments from terrorist
attack, UK Energy Minister John Battle told Parliament in January, "Each
[ship] would carry armaments, for defensive use only, under the control
of specially trained officers of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority
Constabulary. These security provisions are solely for protecting the
ships, their crew and their cargo in the extremely unlikely eventuality
of an armed assault by terrorists."
The Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal are scheduled
to deliver their cargo to nuclear power plants at Takahama and Fukushima