PM Press Guidance
January 20, 1999
SHIPMENT OF MOX REACTOR FUEL
FROM THE UK AND FRANCE TO JAPAN:
Context: On January 18 the UK Secretary of State for Trade and Industry informed Parliament of plans for a shipment by sea of plutonium from the UK and France to Japan, in the form of mixed uranium oxide and plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel for use in Japanese power reactors. The transfer of this plutonium from Europe to Japan is subject to US conditions and controls because the plutonium was generated in power reactor fuel originally supplied to Japan by the United States.
Under the 1988 US-Japan Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation, the United States has given advance approval for such plutonium shipments, provided that stringent physical protection standards set out in the Agreement are met. These include, as a general rule, use of an armed escort vessel to protect the plutonium cargo.
As stated by the British authorities, the plan currently under discussion calls for two specially designed and constructed, UKflagged transport ships fitted with defensive armaments traveling together for mutual protection. We regard this arrangement as fully complying with the US-Japan Agreement's requirement for use of an armed escort vessel. The United States has been consulting closely with Japan on all aspects of the transportation plan for this upcoming shipment. We are confident that the physical protection will be adequate, as required by the US-Japan Agreement.
Q. Do you have any comment on the January 18 announcement by UK officials regarding plans to ship reactor fuel containing plutonium ("MOX" fuel) from the UK and France to Japan utilizing two armed transport ships traveling together for mutual protection? Are these arrangements acceptable under the US-Japan Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation, which establishes physical protection guidelines for such shipments?
A. -- THE 1988 US-JAPAN AGREEMENT FOR PEACEFUL NUCLEAR COOPERATION GIVES ADVANCE US APPROVAL FOR TRANSFERS OF PLUTONIUM FROM THE UK AND FRANCE TO JAPAN PROVIDED THAT JAPAN APPLIES STRINGENT PHYSICAL PROTECTION MEASURES SPECIFIED IN THE AGREEMENT.
-- UNDER THE AGREEMENT, JAPAN MUST PREPARE A COMPREHENSIVE TRANSPORTATION PLAN TO DOCUMENT THE SPECIFIC SECURITY ARRANGEMENTS TO BE IMPLEMENTED FOR A PARTICULAR SHIPMENT.
-- ONE OF THE REQUIRED SECURITY MEASURES IS THAT, AS A GENERAL RULE, 'THE TRANSPORT SHIP WILL BE ESCORTED FROM DEPARTURE TO ARRIVAL BY AN ARMED ESCORT VESSEL ......"
-- JAPAN HAS AN OBLIGATION TO CONSULT WITH UNITED STATES PRIOR TO ANY GIVEN SHIPMENT WITH REGARD TO THE TRANSPORTATION PLAN FOR THAT SHIPMENT.
-- THE UNITED STATES AND JAPAN HAVE BEEN CONSULTING FOR THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS ON JAPAN'S DRAFT TRANSPORTATION PLAN FOR A PLANNED SHIPMENT OF MIXED OXIDE (MOX) FUEL FROM THE UK AND FRANCE TO JAPAN.
-- IN THE COURSE OF THESE CONSULTATIONS, US EXPERTS HAVE REVIEWED AND EVALUATED THE DRAFT TRANSPORTATION PLAN.
-- BASED ON OUR CONSULTATIONS, WE ARE CONFIDENT THAT THE FINAL TRANSPORTATION PLAN FOR THE SHIPMENT OF MOX FUEL WILL BE IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE STANDARDS REQUIRED BY THE US-JAPAN AGREEMENT. IN PARTICULAR, THE PHYSICAL PROTECTION MEASURES TO BE IMPLEMENTED WILL BE NO LESS RIGOROUS THAN THE MEASURES APPLIED TO JAPAN'S SUCCESSFUL 1992 SHIPMENT OF BULK PLUTONIUM DIOXIDE FROM FRANCE TO JAPAN.
Q. Can you provide any details about the security arrangements currently under discussion?
A. -- MOST OF THE SPECIFIC PROVISIONS REMAIN CONFIDENTIAL FOR SECURITY REASONS. HOWEVER, I CAN CONFIRM THE MAIN POINTS THAT HAVE BEEN DISCLOSED BY THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT:
-- THE PLAN ENVISAGES TWO TRANSPORT SHIPS OPERATED By PACIFIC NUCLEAR TRANSPORT LTD. (PNTL), WHICH IS A SUBSIDIARY OF BRITISH NUCLEAR FUELS LTD. (BNFL). BNFL IS A CORPORATION WHOLLY OWNED BY THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT.
--THE TWO SHIPS WILL BE FITTED WITH DEFENSIVE ARMAMENTS AND TRAVEL TOGETHER, EACH PROTECTING THE OTHER.
-- THE ARMAMENTS WILL BE UNDER THE CONTROL OF SPECIALLY TRAINED OFFICERS OF THE UNITED KINGDOM ATOMIC ENERGY AUTHORITY CONSTABULARY ON BOARD EACH SHIP.
Q. I understand that the relevant provisions of the US-Japan Agreement actually require that "the transport ship will be escorted from departure to arrival by an armed escort vessel unless alternative security measures, documented in the transportation plan, effectively compensate for any absence of an armed escort vessel." The 1992 shipment of plutonium dioxide from France to Japan entailed an unarmed transport ship protected by an armed escort vessel provided by the Japanese Maritime Safety Agency -- in effect the equivalent of a US Coast Guard cutter. Isn't this new arrangement sufficiently different as to constitute an "alternative security measure?"
A. -- NO. AS I HAVE SAID, WE REGARD THE ARRANGEMENTS CONTEMPLATED FOR THE UPCOMING SHIPMENT AS PROVIDING THE "ARMED ESCORT VESSEL" CALLED FOR BY THE US-JAPAN AGREEMENT, IN FACT THERE WILL BE TWO ARMED ESCORT VESSELS. AND I WILL REPEAT ONCE AGAIN, THE LEVEL OF PHYSICAL PROTECTION ACCORDED TO THE MOX SHIPMENT WILL BE AT LEAST AS RIGOROUS AS IN THE CASE OF THE 1992 BULK PLUTONIUM DIOXIDE SHIPMENT.
Q. When is the MOX shipment expected to take place?
A- -- THAT DECISION WILL BE MADE BY THE JAPANESE AUTHORITIES. THEY HAVE NOT YET FORMALLY PROVIDED US WITH THE FINAL TRANSPORTATION PLAN, AND WE HAVE THEREFORE NOT YET UNDERTAKEN OUR FORMAL REVIEW OF THE PLAN.
Q. What route will be followed?
A. -- THAT IS ALSO A DECISION THAT WILL BE MADE LATER BY THE OTHER PARTIES INVOLVED. THE UNITED STATES EXPECTS TO BE CONSULTED, BUT WE HAVE NO RIGHT UNDER THE US-JAPAN AGREEMENT TO UNILATERALLY PRESCRIBE A PARTICULAR ROUTE.
Q. Is it not the case that if these new arrangements were to be judged to constitute an "alternative security measure," the 'Administration would have to treat the transportation plan as a "subsequent arrangement" under the US Atomic Energy Act and report it to Congress? Aren't you trying to avoid reporting it to Congress by adopting a strained interpretation of "armed escort vessel" to include armed transport ships?
A. -- IN THE US JUDGMENT THE ARRANGEMENTS THAT I HAVE JUST OUTLINED EASILY FIT THE DEFINITION OF "ARMED ESCORT VESSEL." THEY ARE VESSELS, THEY WILL BE ARMED, AND EACH WILL ESCORT AND PROTECT THE OTHER.
-- MOREOVER, WE HAVE MADE A POINT OF KEEPING CONGRESSIONAL STAFF MEMBERS INFORMED AS THE PLANNING HAS PROCEEDED, AND WE INTEND TO PROVIDE A WRITTEN NOTIFICATION TO THE CHAIRMEN OF THE HOUSE INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS COMMITTEE AND SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE AFTER JAPAN FORMALLY PROVIDES US WITH THE FINAL PLAN AND BEFORE WE FORMALLY COMPLETE OUR CONSULTATIONS WITH JAPAN.
Q. Can this shipment be carried out safely and without threat to the environment?
A. -- YES.
-- BNFL, THE SHIPPER, HAS EXTENSIVE EXPERIENCE AND A PROVEN RECORD OF SAFETY IN THE TRANSPORT OF RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS BY SEA.
-- IN SEPTEMBER 1988 THE US DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY DETERMINED, BASED ON AN "ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS OF SEA SHIPMENT OF PLUTONIUM FROM EUROPE TO JAPAN" PREPARED BY ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY, AND AN EARLIER DOE "ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT... FOR THE RETURN OF RECOVERED PLUTONIUM FROM EURATOM TO JAPAN," THAT THERE WOULD BE NO RISKS To THE GLOBAL COMMONS FROM NORMAL SEA TRANSPORT OF THE PLUTONIUM, AND THAT THE MAXIMUM RISK FROM AN ACCIDENT AT SEA WOULD BE INSIGNIFICANT.
-- SIMILARLY, A DOE STUDY PUBLISHED IN SEPTEMBER 1993, "SAFETY OF SHIPMENTS OF PLUTONIUM BY SEA," CARRIED OUT AT THE DIRECTION OF THE CONGRESS (SECTION 2904 OF THE ENERGY POLICY ACT OF 1992), CONCLUDED THAT PLUTONIUM CAN BE SHIPPED SAFELY BY SEA, AND THAT EVEN IN THE EVENT OF A SEVERE ACCIDENT "THE RISKS TO PEOPLE AND THE BIOSPHERE ARE EXTREMELY SMALL."
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