Shipment to Japan is Unlawful and Vulnerable U.S. and British Government
Joint press release by Greenpeace International
and the Nuclear Control Institute, Washington D.C., September
The United States and Japan unlawfully authorized a shipment of a half-ton
of plutonium now arriving in Japan, and the State Department misled
Congress about the adequacy of security arrangements for the shipment,
according to government documents released today by the Nuclear Control
Institute and Greenpeace.
shipment involves two armed British freighters carrying the weapons-usable
plutonium in the form of 40 fuel assemblies from Great Britain and France
to two nuclear power plants in Japan. If hijacked, there is sufficient
plutonium in the fresh fuel elements, removable by straightforward chemical
means, for building at least 60 atomic bombs. Over the summer, the ships
went around Africa's Cape of Good Hope and through the South Pacific
despite the protests of many nations along the route. One ship has unloaded
its cargo and the other is about to do so.
documents we are making public today make clear that the transportation
plan the State Department presented to Congress fails to meet treaty
obligations with Japan that are mandated by U.S. law to ensure `adequate
physical security will be maintained"over plutonium shipments to Japan,"
said the two watchdog organizations in a joint statement at a press
conference today. "Physical protection of this shipment of weapons-usable
plutonium has been inadequate from the start, and we will consider all
options, including going to court, if necessary, to prevent the next
shipment from proceeding unless all security requirements are met."
terms of the U.S.-Japan Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, shipments of
U.S.-controlled plutonium to Japan must be "escorted from departure
to arrival by an armed escort vessel," which is further defined as "either
a maritime safety/coast guard vessel or any other ship on government
service authorized and fully capable of protecting the transport ship
and its cargo and of deterring acts of theft and sabotage."
1992, Japan responded to this requirement by using a dedicated "plutonium
escort vessel," a $100-million frigate built by the Maritime Safety
Agency (Coast Guard), to escort a Japanese- flagged British freighter
carrying more than a ton of bulk plutonium oxide from France to Japan.
The plutonium was designated for use in Japan's demonstration plutonium
breeder reactor, but is now being stockpiled. In 1999, however, Japan
refused to agree to the same escort arrangement for themaiden voyage
of fabricated plutonium "mixed-oxide" (MOX) fuel assemblies from the
UK and France for use in Japan's conventional nuclear power reactors.
the arrangement agreed to in 1992, the State Department consented to
a Japanese plan to drop the requirement for a separate armed escort
vessel. Instead, the new plan permits two civilian British freighters,
each carrying plutonium fuel, to escort each other to Japan, armed with
30 mm cannons and manned by a civilian crew and guards from the UK Atomic
Energy Authority Constabulary.
briefings to Senate Proliferation Subcommittee Ranking Minority Member
Daniel Akaka (D-HI), House International Relations Committee Chairman
Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), and other members of Congress in April, the
State Department provided assurances that this transportation plan will
be "no less rigorous than the measures applied" to Japan's 1992 shipment
of plutonium. They noted in particular that "the two armed vessels will
be `on government service"because the shipments will be carried out
by British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (BNFL), a corporation wholly-owned by
the British Government."
British lawyers for Greenpeace International challenged the validity
of this rationale under British law, Senator Akaka sent a letter to
Secretary of State Albright raising concerns. A British Member of Parliament,
David Chaytor, also raised concerns in a letter to Minister of State
for Energy and Industry John Battle.
responses provided by the U.S. and British governments to these letters
now make clear that the two armed freighters are not regarded by either
government as having the status of "ships on government service" under
international law of the sea. The State Department, in a paper sent
to Akaka, conceded that while "`on government service"has a particular
meaning under the international law of the sea....the Department official
who led the negotiation" of the original nuclear transport agreement
with Japan in 1988 "confirms that it was not the intent of the negotiators
to employ the phrase in the law of the sea sense...." Nonetheless, the
State Department asserted, "it is fully documented that the Government
of the United Kingdom takes full responsibility for the security of
so, according to the British Energy and Industry Minister. "The vessels
are civilian vessels engaged in commercial cargo operations. They have
no special status," wrote Minister Battle. He stated that while the
government "will respond as necessary to any matter requiring its attention,"
he asserted that "the operation of the ships is the responsibility of
BNFL." The government, he said, had worked out rules of engagement with
BNFL, but he also specified that "any decision to use armed force to
counter an armed terrorist attack...would rest with the ship's Master,
who would be advised by the UKAEA Constabulary escort commander."
Nuclear Control Institute and Greenpeace International
released analyses by their respective lawyers sharply challenging the
lawfulness of the arrangement with ships not on government service.
NCI President Paul Leventhal and Greenpeace Nuclear Campaigner Damon
Moglen both warned that this legal defect only underscored their concerns
about inadequate physical protection of plutonium shipments to Japan.
"The Japanese transport plan for this shipment is
in breach of the U.S.-Japan agreement," said Moglen. "The State Department
misled Congress into believing that this inadequate plan is in compliance
with the agreement. There could be as many as 80 more plutonium shipments
to Japan. This is a scandal of the highest order. By cutting safety
and security provisions for this reckless shipment, Japanese and U.S.
officials with French and British counterparts have endangered dozens
of countries around the globe."
slow moving freighters don't even have anti-missile armaments despite
a warning from the Joint Chiefs of small, fast terrorist boats armed
with anti-ship missiles," said Leventhal. "It's doubtful that the British
Navy could respond fast enough to prevent a plutonium cargo from sinking
and endangering a valuable fishery, or being hijacked and made into
bombs. Just because these ships made it to Japan safely without a military
escort does not mean the next one will. We'll consider legal action
to stop the next shipment unless there's a separate military escort
Moglen, Greenpeace International +1-202-319-2409 Paul Leventhal, Nuclear
Control Institute : +1-202-822-8444