On Monday 15 March a shipment of US weapons grade plutonium fuel (MOX) set out on the first leg of its journey from the Areva plutonium factory in France to the US port of Charleston, South Carolina.
The shipment travelled overland to Normandy where it was repackaged and taken to Cherbourg for onward transport by sea to Charleston. Greenpeace condemned the operation as an extreme safety and security risk, and a major setback to global non-proliferation efforts.
Just the start
The plutonium was originally transported from the US to France in September 2004 in the form of pure plutonium oxide powder. French company Areva has since manufactured it into mixed oxide fuel (MOX). The MOX will be tested in a nuclear reactor prior to the start-up of a massive plutonium fuel programme in the US.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has classified MOX fuel as Category 1 nuclear material requiring high-level security. Greenpeace have campaigned against the entire operation, describing the shipment as “highly vulnerable to terrorist attack”.
Nuclear security was also the subject under discussion at the IAEA international conference in London from Wednesday 16 to Friday 18 March. Groups such as the International Criminal Police Organisation and the World Customs Organisation discussed measures to combat the “illicit trafficking” of nuclear materials across borders. Whilst this is clearly an important subject, the IAEA have arrogantly failed to take any responsibility for the problem of nuclear security, which exists precisely because organisations such as itself have promoted nuclear programmes so effectively. The materials under debate are so dangerous, Greenpeace suggests, “the only solution is to end the trade in bomb material, a fissile material treaty and nuclear phase-out”.
On Monday 21 March, 20 Greenpeace activists blocked the entrance to the building where the IAEA conference “Nuclear in the 21st Century” was being held in France (pictured). Activists displayed a large banner that read, “Nuclear Free Future”, highlighting the fact that “nuclear power is expensive, dangerous and proliferates nuclear weapons”. All 20 activists were arrested.