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January 20, 1998


CHERBOURG, France (January 20, 1998 - Greenpeace)---Greenpeace this evening protested the imminent departure of a shipment of high level nuclear waste bound for Japan from the French port of Cherbourg. The shipment of radioactive waste, arising from plutonium separation or "reprocessing," is the first shipment of such material which will travel through the Caribbean Sea and Panama Canal.

Symbolizing past shipping disasters, Greenpeace activists placed eight models of ships (15-meters long) which have been involved in shipping disasters next to the dock from which the transport will depart.

Included in the protest display are the MSC Carla (nuclear transport vessel that broke apart in the Atlantic in November 1997) and the Mont Louis (uranium transport ship which lost cargo in 1984). Most poignantly, a model of the famous vessel the Titanic was also placed on the dock where nuclear waste is to be loaded on the Pacific Swan later tonight. In 1912, the Titanic stopped at Cherbourg on its fateful voyage for New York.

"The threat posed by this shipment of high level waste to the environment and to people's health is unacceptable. Reprocessing and associated shipments of nuclear waste and plutonium is a titanic mistake and must be stopped," said Yannick Rousselet of Greenpeace.

Citing the environmental and security risks involved, en route nations have called on Britain, France and Japan to conduct an environmental assessment of the shipments. Faced with the shippers' unwillingness to do so, dozens of en route nations have formally protested and opposed the waste and plutonium shipments.

The British-flagged ship Pacific Swan - built in 1979 and last used in 1993 - is set to load 60 containers of vitrified high-level nuclear waste in Cherbourg. In total, the waste weighs approximately 30 tons and contains a staggering 1 million terabequerels (30 million curies) of radiation. Dozens of such shipments are expected in the future.

According to a French diplomatic communiqué leaked to Greenpeace and publicly released on January 13, the Swan will sail through the Caribbean Sea and the Panama Canal on its journey to Japan.

Although Greenpeace has published this information, COGEMA, British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) and Japan Nuclear Fuels Limited (JNFL) have refused to announce the chosen route and said that they will only release the information one day after the shipment departs Cherbourg.

On January 15, five US Members of Congress from Caribbean and Pacific Islands called on President Clinton to block the transport through the Panama Canal. In addition, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, the governments of the Dominican Republic, and the US Virgin Islands have protested against the shipment. It is believed that protests from the Caribbean and Central American region could force the route to be changed.

This shipment once again raises questions about the need for and risk of the global trade in weapon-usable plutonium. Greenpeace is committed to campaigning for an end to reprocessing and against the use of plutonium.


CHERBOURG, France (January 20, 1998 - Radio Australia)---French security forces have formed a tight security cordon around a freighter in the port of Cherbourg as it prepares for a voyage to Japan with 20-tons of re-processed, radioactive waste.

Greg Wilesmith reports.

"Only about 20 environmental campaigners wearing black and white funeral masks braved the chill of the Cherbourg docks to protest the shipment of nuclear waste. Several hundred police and soldiers kept the demonstrators hundreds of meters away from the freighter, the Pacific Swan. Three huge white protective casks containing the reprocessed radioactive waste were being loaded onto the ship at midnight. The route of the voyage is being kept secret for another 24-hours or so but it's likely the Pacific Swan will sail through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific to Japan."


January 21, 1998


CHERBOURG, France (January 21, 1998 - Greenpeace)---The Pacific Swan carrying high level reprocessed waste departed from the French port of Cherbourg at approximately 03h15hrs CET this morning, heading to Japan. It is expected that Cogema, the reprocessing company, will announce on Thursday the route to be taken. Greenpeace believes that the ship will travel via the Caribbean Sea and the Panama Canal.

Faced with the imminent threat of this shipment, Prime Ministers representing countries within the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States have issued a strong statement condemning the shipment, and have appealed to the international community to intervene

"Cogema and their Japanese clients have once again demonstrated their disregard for the environment and the views of nations along the transport route," said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace. "In the six weeks this shipment will take to reach Japan, Cogema will produce a further 1,600kg of plutonium at its reprocessing plants, together with vast quantities of radioactive waste. The plutonium problem is getting worse, and the environment will be the victim", Burnie added.

It is anticipated that the Pacific Swan will pass through Portugal's 200 mile Economic Exclusion Zone early Friday morning (23rd January). The shipment is expected to enter the Caribbean Sea towards the end of January.

The most recent statement of opposition was issued on 16 January by Prime Ministers from Caribbean island nations, including St. Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

They stated that the shipment "seriously endangers the lives of the people of the region and also fish, other forms of wildlife and the environment and has the potential to fatally affect the social and economic development of the region."

The high level waste in the shipment belongs to the Japanese electrical utilities Tokyo Electric, Chubu Electric, Kansai Electric and Kyushu Electric.

Greenpeace has learned that during 1998 the first three of these utilities will acquire a total of 1,305kg of plutonium from reprocessing of waste at The Hague. This is sufficient for over 200 nuclear weapons.

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