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SUVA, Fiji (January 14, 1998 - Greenpeace Pacific)---The imminent departure of the third and largest shipment of high level nuclear waste (from France to Japan) clashes with hopes expressed by South Pacific Forum members, says Greenpeace Pacific.

A confidential French Government memo obtained by Greenpeace International reveals plans that "on January 23, the ship Pacific Swan will depart to Japan via the Panama Canal."

The controversial shipment will be carrying 60 containers of vitrified (glassified) high-level nuclear waste. Its expected route through the Panama Canal would take the shipment off the coast of Spain and Portugal, through the heart of the Caribbean Sea and near to Hawaii, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Guam.

Greenpeace Pacific's Tamsin Vuetilovoni points out that in last year's Forum communiqué members had expressed the hope that high level nuclear waste shipments would be made only if the ships were of the highest standard, and that Japan, France and the United Kingdom would continue providing information about the shipments.

"This shipment will dash their hopes on both counts," she said. The Pacific Swan has been sitting at dock since 1993 and has only recently been reconditioned. The condition of a vessel that was built in 1979 and has been out of service for so long is unknown.

Secondly, the shippers have refused to live up to a pledge of openness concerning such shipments. On December 18, 1997, they stated that the route would only be revealed after the shipment departed from the port of Cherbourg, France. "There has also been no environmental assessment prepared by the shippers, which further demonstrates a lack of openness and transparency." Vuetilovoni said.

Last year Greenpeace Pacific released a report that considered the impact of an accident involving a high level nuclear waste shipment near the Federated States of Micronesia. The results were devastating.

Meanwhile, last months' accident involving the shipment of nuclear materials on board the MSC Carla proves accidents can, and do happen.

The ship broke apart en route from France to Boston, and lost its nuclear material in the North Atlantic.

Vuetilovoni said: "The fact that this is the largest ever nuclear waste shipment being carried out under such dubious circumstances should be a cause for concern for South Pacific Forum Countries. The Panama Canal route will take the shipment close to Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Guam. These Governments must be aware of the risks and prohibit the shipments from passing through their waters."

Vuetilovoni warns that if South Pacific island governments do not protest this shipment, it is likely that an expected later shipment of plutonium will pass through the Pacific.

The high level nuclear waste shipment is expected to arrive in Japan mid-March.

NOTES: 1. A copy of the French Government memo is available on request 2. Stills of the Pacific Swan are available on the Web at http://www.greenpeace.org

For more information contact: Tamsin Vuetilovoni Media Officer, Greenpeace Pacific Private Mail Bag Suva, Fiji

Ph: 679 312 861, Fax: 679 312 784 Email: pmedia@dialb.greenpeace.org

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