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PRESS RELEASE February 13, 2001

Greenpeace today confirmed that two ships transporting a cargo of deadly plutonium will be in the South Pacific Ocean as early as mid-March. This is based on calculations following a sighting of the plutonium ships last weekend off Cape Town in South Africa.

The freighter, the Pacific Pintail carries 230 kg of plutonium and four tons of uranium, posing a significant risk to the people of en-route countries.

"The health and environmental risk of shipping plutonium around the world is unsupportable," said Greenpeace Pacific spokeswoman Angenette Heffernan. "This region must keep up its strong and vocal opposition to prevent the Pacific from being turned into a nuclear highway."

This latest shipment of weapons-usable plutonium fuel left the French port of Cherbourg on January 19 and is bound for Niigata in Western Japan. The British flagged Pacific Pintail is being escorted on its 30,000 km journey by its sister ship the Pacific Teal. They are operated by Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd, which is 60 percent owned by British Nuclear Fuels.

The ships where located on the weekend some 315 nautical miles west of Cape Town. They are expected to travel through the Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand, in early March and reach the South Pacific soon after.

The seven-yacht strong Nuclear-Free Tasman Flotilla is preparing to depart Australia and New Zealand to bear witness to the ships’ passing through the Tasman Sea. The flotilla, which includes a Greenpeace vessel, Tiama, plans to form a symbolic chain across the 75-mile stretch of international waters between Lord Howe and Norfolk Island where the last plutonium shipment passed in 1999.

A further 80 shipments of weapons-usable plutonium/MOX fuel could be made from Europe to Japan over the coming decade. Australia also intends to increase spent fuel shipments from a new nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney.

In recent months Japan has started negotiations with the Russians to use the Arctic route for nuclear shipments. One of the stated reasons for this is the strength of opposition from countries along the other routes used.

"It is clear that the voice of opposition from countries in this region is having an effect," said Heffernan. "That’s why it is so important that Pacific Islanders continue to send a strong message to Japan that says: ‘We do not want these unnecessary and dangerous shipments’."

For more information, contact: Angenette Heffernan Tel: +679 312861 Internet: 

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