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Action Alert - Nuclear Waste Shipments

Peace Movement Aotearoa

PO Box 9314, Wellington. Tel (04) 382 8129, fax (04) 382 8173,

Issued 23 July 1999

Kia ora,

As you will have no doubt heard on the news by now, the MOX carrying ships Pacific Teal and Pacific Pintail left Europe on Wednesday. It was announced yesterday that they will travel to Japan via the Cape of Good Hope, and transit the south-west Pacific and Tasman Sea. This alert is in two parts : 1) more information about the shipments; 2) who you can complain to about them.


The Pacific Pintail is carrying MOX - a mix of plutonium (10%) and uranium oxide - from the reprocessing plant at Sellafield, England. It departed on 19 July after delays caused by protests from anti-nuclear campaigners including Greenpeace, and environmental campaigners from South Korea protesting the ships’ possible route through the Straits of Korea.

The Pacific Teal is carrying MOX from the reprocessing plant at La Hague, France. It left there on 21 July.

To ‘protect’ the ships from protests, the British government invoked the 1995 Merchant Shipping Act to order the MV Greenpeace from British waters for ‘safety reasons’; and the French government later ordered the MV Sirius to leave French waters. BNFL has court injunctions banning Greenpeace ships from going within one mile of the Pacific Pintail.

The shipments are considered particularly risky because, according to some nuclear scientists, it is possible to extract weapons-grade plutonium from MOX. According to the BBC (08-07-99), the combined cargos would provide enough material for 60 nuclear weapons.

Although escorted by French and British naval ships while in European waters, the ships will rendezvous shortly then travel to Japan unescorted. Each has been armed with three 30mm cannons (at a cost of eight million pounds sterling), a high speed armed boat and UK Atomic Energy Agency Police to defend them - apparently because of US fears that they might be hi-jacked by terrorists. The combination of AEA police and big guns alone is sufficient to alarm those who have had any dealings with them. This is the first time British merchant ships have been armed since World War II.

Aside from the terrorism risk, there is of course the risk to the environment should either of these ships be damaged or sunk. In an apparent attempt to reassure us here, a BNFL spokesman interviewed on National Radio this morning said that ... "the same rigorous safety standards as are applied to our European shipments" have been implemented in the case of these ships. Not at all reassuring when you recall the sinking of a ship carrying uranium hexafluoride on the short sea route between Britain and the European continent.

In a further bizarre twist to this tale, British Nuclear Fuels Limited has persuaded a Dutch Court to freeze the assets of Greenpeace International so BNFL can seek compensation for the delayed sailing of the Pacific Teal and Pacific Pintail from Sellafield.. As the director of Greenpeace France pointed out: “clearly, plutonium and democracy do not mix”. BNFL is claiming 90,275 (pounds sterling) damages. The delay was caused by Greenpeace's blocking the entrance to the docks with an inflatable white elephant.


a) The diplomatic representatives of those governments involved in the shipments :

  • British High Commissioner, Mr Martin Williams - British High Commission, PO Box 1812, Wellington; fax : (04) 495 0809.
  • French ambassador, Mr Jacky Musnier - Embassy of France, PO Box 11-343, Wellington; fax (04) 384 2577.
b) British Nuclear Fuels Ltd - Head Office, Risley, Warrington, Cheshire WA3 6AS, England; fax: +44 1925 822 711 - or - Sellafield, Seascale, Cumbria, CA20 1PG, England; fax: +44 1946 738 987.

The BNFL website has a feedback form, to reach it go to then click on ‘feedback’ left screen, scan down to reach it. While you’re there, you could check out the BNFL education centre - ... "full of hidden games and puzzles" ...

c) While the New Zealand government has expressed its opposition to these shipments, it may still be useful to write to Don McKinnon as Minister of Foreign Affairs and make the following points :

~ that you have protested directly to (whichever) diplomatic representative;

~ that you support the NZ government’s condemnation of the shipments and urge them to greater heights in this area;

~ that the NZ government acts decisively and quickly in co-operation with the other governments of the South Pacific Forum to turn the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty into a genuine ‘nuclear-free zone’ Treaty.

In its current form, SPNFZ is a treaty which prevents nuclear weapons tests and nuclear waste dumping by signatories; and it creates a kind of nuclear weapons free-zone - not a complete one though as it doesn’t prevent nuclear-armed warship visits.

For the past few years at least, the NGO Forum which parallels the South Pacific Forum annual summit has called for a ban on all nuclear waste transshipments; perhaps you could suggest to McKinnon that it’s time for NZ to take a ‘leadership role’ in the South Pacific Forum in getting the transshipments banned from the region. The next South Pacific Forum summit is in Belau from 1 to 8 October.

Contact details : Don McKinnon, Parliament Buildings, Wellington (no stamp needed); fax (04) 471 1444.

Footnote - with regard to the possibility of these nuclear waste transshipments going through the Caribbean, the heads of government of Caricom (the Caribbean group similar to the South Pacific Forum) last week issued a combined statement expressing their outrage at ... the callous and contemptuous disregard of their appeals by the governments of France, the United Kingdom and Japan to desist from this dangerous misuse of the Caribbean Sea” ... they have “vowed to take all necessary steps to protect their people and the fragile ecology of the Caribbean Sea from this highly dangerous threat” (BBC, 19-07-99).

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