5 September 2002 Edition

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Nuclear ships approach Irish waters

As the date approaches when two British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) freighters are due to enter the Irish Sea, Sinn Féin TDs and environmental groups are working to raise awareness of the dangers posed by their deadly cargo. The ships which set sail from Japan in July, are carrying 255kg of weapons usable plutonium (enough for 50 nuclear bombs) on a hazardous 30,000 kilometre journey to Sellafield. It is being returned because BNFL falsified safety documents concerning the plutonium fuel's production.

Legal action taken by Greenpeace and Japanese environment groups forced BNFL to admit their deceit. Japan then demanded the return of the plutonium to Britain. The shipment is part of an international trade in plutonium that is fuelling global insecurity and risking the live of millions of people worldwide.

The arrival into Dublin docks of Greenpeace's most famous ship, 'The Rainbow Warrior', which plans to sail out with a flotilla of Irish vessels in the hope of diverting the ships, has already begun to create interest in the shipment's arrival.

Following a briefing by members of Greenpeace on board the Rainbow Warrior in Dublin on Tuesday, Sinn Féin spokesman for the environment, Louth TD Arthur Morgan, called on the government to ensure that the two ships returning nuclear fuel to Sellafield do not enter Irish waters.

The County Louth TD said: "While the Dublin government's initiative in bringing the British government to the International Law of the Sea Tribunal over the operation of Sellafield is welcome, it must not be the only avenue they take in trying to halt operations at the BNFL plant."

"If we are to stop the Irish Sea being used as a nuclear highway and dumping ground, more direct action is needed. The imminent arrival of returned MOX fuel from Japan provides the Irish government with the opportunity of delivering not only a very direct message to the British government but to the international community as well."

Morgan said the government should take its lead from New Zealand, which actively supported a flotilla of small vessels against the transportation of this fuel through the Tasman Sea.

"Using a naval patrol vessel to ensure that these shipments do not enter Irish territorial waters would send a very powerful message around the world as well as providing a degree of safety and protection to the flotilla," said Morgan. "The time for pussyfooting around this issue is gone. Firm action is needed, not just from ordinary people but from the government itself."

BNFL manufactures plutonium MOX (mixed oxide) for export around the world. It is a bankrupt company with £40.5 billion worth of liabilities (the cost of dealing with the nuclear waste from its past activities). Keen to expand the export of plutonium MOX, Britain is hoping that the return of this shipment will repair BNFL's relationship with Japan and secure new contracts.

The Nuclear Free Flotilla (NFF) is currently helping to organise vessels to sail out and face the two BNFL ships. The NFF is a loose federation of international seafarers who are aware of the enormous danger to life on the planet caused by nuclear bomb testing, fuel transport and use, pollution and waste.

There is a history of seafarers taking their boats out to sea to protect the environment, one of the more recent being the flotilla that departed from Pacific Rim countries to sail into the Pacific to protest and stop French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll. These peace flotillas set out year after year and eventually in 1995 the testing was brought to a halt.

The Irish flotilla is being organised by people living around the Irish Sea and directly affected by the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant who are concerned about the potential dangers of shipping plutonium through the world's oceans.

The flotilla intends to carry out a peaceful and lawful waterborne protest when the BNFL freighters enter the Irish Sea.

The statistics of accidents regarding nuclear ships are high. During 1999-2000, 19 incidents were reported on nuclear cargo ships, including BNFL's. Many of these incidents involved fires on the ships. International Maritime Organisation statistics show that while the average fire on a ship burns at well over 800 degrees centigrade for 23 hours, plutonium MOX containers can only withstand temperatures of 800 degrees for up to two hours. This is a reminder of how easily a nuclear disaster could happen in the Irish Sea, or any other.

EU move slammed

The EU has started discussing increased lending limits for the support of nuclear power. Arthur Morgan has called for the Irish government to strongly oppose any increased lending limits. Earlier this week, Morgan said: "It is becoming increasingly clear that this is an industry that exists only to keep itself in existence. Recent reports from Britain show that it is inefficient, unprofitable, unmanageable and unaccountable. It makes no sense whatsoever for the EU to be offering preferential lending terms to an industry that has the capacity and potential to destroy large sections of the continent should an accident occur."

He added: "The government must not cut off any avenues in relation to tackling this menace on our doorstep. We must not be afraid of offending the sensibilities of our nearest neighbour - they have never paid any heed to ours."

Sinn Féin has repeatedly called on the Dublin government to work with non-nuclear states worldwide in a drive for a nuclear-free Europe. It remains to be seen whether the government will stand up to the threat of a nuclear disaster on our coasts, or wait for one to happen before it takes action.

An Phoblacht
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