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February 23, 1998


Washington, D.C. (February 23, 1998 - Greenpeace)---A shipment of highly- radioactive nuclear waste bound from France to Japan is likely to now be close to Hawaii and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The shipment is both the largest of its kind ever shipped and the first ever to pass through the Panama Canal, making the controversial passage on February 6.

The shipment, which consists of 60 glassified containers of extremely radioactive nuclear waste, is being carried on the British-flagged ship Pacific Swan.

Greenpeace and the Washington-based Nuclear Control Institute have produced documents which show that in case of an accident involving fire or sinking that the cargo poses a threat to human health and the environment. Yet no type of environmental assessment has been prepared for the ship despite continued demands by Greenpeace and en route countries.

En route countries have also not been consulted in regard to emergency response or liability provisions in case of an accident.

It is believed that due to its size and the availability of equipment that Honolulu may have been designated an emergency port in case of an accident. As similar nuclear vessels in the past have used Honolulu as a port to off load injured crew members via helicopter, Greenpeace believes that similar secret plans may exist for this transport.

The shippers, British Nuclear Fuels, COGEMA of France and Japan's Oversea's Reprocessing Corporation, announced on December 18 that the route would be revealed after the shipment left France. But after the departure on January 21, the shippers broke their promise and did not release any information on the route through the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. Thus, the exact location of the ship is not known, but Greenpeace estimates that it is currently near Hawaiian and Marshall Islands waters.

"The governments of Hawaii and the Marshall Islands should demand to know the route which the Pacific Swan is taking," said Tom Clements of Greenpeace International in Washington. "En route states have the full right to know the route and to place restrictions on the movement of such dangerous cargoes. We encourage the South Pacific Forum countries to enact a ban on transport of high-level waste and plutonium through the region."

The material contained on the Pacific Swan has no commercial value and is a by product of reprocessing, or the separation of plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. Japan sends its radioactive spent nuclear fuel to Europe, where plutonium is removed and stockpiled. The plutonium, which is not currently being used in Japan's nuclear power program, can be used for nuclear weapons or as an extremely expensive and dangerous type of nuclear power fuel.

The Pacific Swan is expected to arrive in Japan in early March. As no permanent storage facility exists in Japan, the 60 containers will be placed in interim storage at a facility in Rokkasho, located on the northern end of the main island of Honshu.

Greenpeace encourages Hawaii and the Republic of the Marshall Islands governments along nuclear shipping routes and governments concerned with proliferation of weapon-usable plutonium to call for a halt to the reprocessing industry and all shipments associated with it.

For More Information: Tom Clements Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaign Greenpeace International Washington, D.C. TEL: 1-202-319-2506 FAX: 1-202-462-4507 E-MAIL:

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