La Prensa de Panama
January 7, 2000
Environmentalists concerned about the upcoming transit of the Canal by
radioactive cargo on Pacific Swan
Washington, D.C. Given the news of the transit through the Canal of another cargo of radioactive waste, on board the ship Pacific Swan, the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) in the United States has reiterated its concern about the risks that these shipments present to the country. According to NCI, the Pacific Swan carries a cargo that is "highly radioactive" and vulnerable to acts of sabotage or terrorism, which presents a risk which is "potentially catastrophic" for the people of Panama.
NCI expressed its concerns in a letter sent to the Panamanian ambassador in Washington, Guillermo Ford, and in a meeting yesterday with Ambassador Ford. Paul Leventhal, President of NCI, characterized the meeting as "very positive," while Ambassador Ford indicated he had made arrangements with engineer Jorge Quijano, Director of Maritime Operations of the Canal, to meet with experts from NCI, if they decided to travel to Panama to analyze
the situation from close up.
"Our interest is to assure that adequate security measures are taken," said Leventhal yesterday to La Prensa. He added that "extraordinary security measures are required, and it should be the Japanese government, not the Panamanian, which assumes the cost of this."
The letter from NCI to Ambassador Ford indicated that when the activists from the environmental group Greenpeace successfully boarded a ship with a similar cargo in February 1998, it confirmed that there were problems with security in the Canal. As a result of this the security system in the Canal has improved, but NCI believes that an armed escort should be required to protect these shipments. "That's being coordinated...there will be an armed escort," said a Canal official last night, although he declined to give precise additional details about the measures of security.
According to Canal officials, the Treaty of Neutrality obliges Panama to offer passage through the Canal to any ship that complies with the regulations of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
This is the third shipment of vitrified nnuclear waste which has pass through the Canal since 1995. Nuclear reprocessing waste is transported from France to Japan on special ships.
The company owning the ships indicated that the Pacific Swan has passed through the Canal more than 135 times without any type of incident. On the other hand, NCI maintains that this shipment of nuclear waste is the largest which has transited the Canal.
In the next 15 years, NCI anticipates that between 15 and 30 shipments of this type of nuclear waste will travel from France to Japan. For such shipment, observes NCI, the preferred route is through the Panama Canal.
[Nuclear Control Institute translation from Spanish]