Nuclear Control Institute
1000 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
1436 U Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
June 19, 1997
His Excellency Lionel A. Hurst
Embassy of Antigua and Barbuda
3216 New Mexico Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20016
Sea shipment of ultra-hazardous radioactive waste
On the occasion of next week's CARICOM heads of state meeting, we want to bring to your attention the enclosed Journal of Commerce article and other items bearing on the continuing threat posed by sea shipments of ultra-hazardous radioactive waste and plutonium.
Future shipments may affect the CARICOM more directly than in the past and it is important, therefore, that the CARICOM include in its conference resolution a further elaboration of its strong opposition to these dangerous transports. In addition to high-level waste shipments, CARICOM nations will be in the path of mixed-oxide (plutonium-uranium) fuel shipments if the U.S. government submits to Japanese pressure and approves a Japanese proposal to transport this fuel through the Panama Canal. Japanese officials point out that the Panama Canal is the most direct route to Japan from Europe, where the fuel is manufactured. Use of the Panama Canal for plutonium fuel shipments could set a precedent for dozens of shipments of highly radioactive waste, the residues of plutonium production that also must be shipped to Japan. In addition to the environmental threat, these shipments must be escorted by a military vessel due to the fact that the weapon-usable plutonium can be easily extracted from hijacked MOX fuel.
The two initial shipments of high-level waste contained 28 and 40 canisters of highly radioactive glass, respectively. The next waste shipment reportedly will contain 60 glass blocks and take place as early as late 1997. There are to be twice-a-year shipments, containing between 100 to 300 glass logs, from then on. The shorter, Panama Canal route is clearly preferred by the Europeans and Japanese to the routes previously used around Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope.
Plutonium programs in Japan, France and the United Kingdom have all suffered major setbacks recently. Accidents in Japan have shut down Japan's spent-fuel reprocessing plant and plutonium-fueled breeder reactor. The Japanese public is opposed to the use of mixed-oxide fuels in Japan's nuclear power reactors. The new French government has announced it will close Superphenix, the French breeder reactor, and France's new minister of the environment has ordered a review of radioactive waste discharge at COGEMA's reprocessing plant. U.K. regulatory authorities have rejected a proposed repository for nuclear waste. Even so, Japan is committed to pursuing its dangerous plutonium program by continuing to take back plutonium and radioactive waste from France. Therefore, these shipments will likely continue in spite of growing international and domestic concerns about the plutonium and reprocessing programs.
A number of governments have expressed apprehension about the potential effects of a nuclear shipping accident on their island economies and fragile ocean environment. In an analysis of unresolved safety issues, Dr. Edwin Lyman, the Nuclear Control Institute's scientific director, finds that in the event of a shipboard fire, or a collision and sinking at sea, the highly radioactive cargo could be rapidly dispersed because of the use of faulty stainless-steel canisters and rubber-like seals to package and contain the waste. We remain as concerned as ever about the problems identified by Dr. Lyman.
As reported in the enclosed Journal of Commerce article, these concerns, shared by many actual and potential en-route states, will be addressed when the International Maritime Organization (IMO) meets in September.
While we believe that these ultrahazardous shipments must be halted, coastal nations have rights under the "precautionary principle" and other elements of international law to demand a strict, mandatory code of practice as a condition for permitting such dangerous transports to proceed. Such a code should require prior notification of the shipping route, advance consultation on emergency plans, a full environmental-impact assessment, a formal liability regime, and a demonstrated salvage capability. Consideration of such "complementary measures" was promised by the IMO in 1993 when a weaker, voluntary International Code of Practice for the transport of nuclear material was adopted.
We appreciate the determination shown by the CARICOM nations to bar ultrahazardous nuclear shipments from their region. We urge continued resolve in this important effort. We would appreciate your forwarding this letter and enclosure to the appropriate Foreign Ministry officials. Please feel free to contact us to discuss this issue further.
Nuclear Control Institute
Similar letters were sent to the U.S. embassies of the other CARICOM member states.
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