The Pacific Heron and sister ship Pacific Egret, armed with naval canon and carrying security ‘swat- squads’ sailed unladen from their home port of Barrow-in-Furness early this morning en-route to Cherbourg where MOX (mixed oxide) plutonium fuel assemblies will be loaded for onward delivery to Japan. The 16 fuel assemblies, fabricated in French company Areva’s Melox Plant and containing some 500kg of nuclear weapons useable plutonium are destined for Kansai Electric’s Takahama 4 reactor in the south west of Japan.
Preparation for the two-month voyage have been evident over the last few days at Barrow’s Ramsden Dock nuclear terminal with the loading of stores, the arrival of the security swat-squads provided by the Civil Nuclear Constabulary’s Strategic Escort Group (aka Sea-Plods), the loading of ammunition and the sweeping of the ships’ hulls by divers.
Commenting on the preparations, CORE’s spokesman Martin Forwood said today that the need for this level of armed security brings home the reality of the very real and significant dangers of transporting plutonium – in this case enough for around one hundred nuclear weapons – and demolishes the industry’s complacent and short-sighted claim that such shipments pose no risks.
“At a time of heightened and increasingly sophisticated action by terrorists we re-iterate our condemnation of the trans-world shipment of such dangerous material by sea. This voyage not only foists needless risks on the marine environment and communities along the route, but also raises additional and significant concerns in Japan on the use of MOX fuel in the Takahama reactor (as also used in the fated Fukushima reactors) which has only just re-started after the overturning of a court injunction by local activists which kept the reactor off-line for inadequate safety standards”
Flagged under the Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited (PNTL) company and operated by International Nuclear Services (INS) – a wholly owned subsidiary of the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority – the ships are expected to load the French MOX fuel at Cherbourg on Wednesday 5th July and reach Japan between mid-August and early September.