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Monday, March 2,1998

CONTACT: Sharon Tanzer, (202) 822-8444


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A British ship carrying the largest cargo yet of deadly, nuclear waste is now en route through the Pacific Ocean from France to Japan. Its route has been kept secret by the shippers, except for announcing the ship would pass through the Panama Canal. The ship, the Pacific Swan, traversed the Canal on February 6, and is expected to reach a Japanese port on March 10.

This is the first shipment of highly radioactive waste to take the Panama Canal route into the Pacific. Two previous shipments sailed around Cape Horn and around the Cape of Good Hope, respectively, and through the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of a number of Pacific nations. South Pacific Forum countries and other en-route states have condemned the shipments of waste resulting from plutonium production for Japan. Over the next 12 years, there could be several dozen shipments involving about 3,000 canisters of the waste from Britain and France to Japan.

Members of Congress from the Caribbean and Pacific regions sent a strongly worded letter to President Clinton, protesting the shipment, but they have yet to receive a reply. The letter, dated January 15, expressed their "deepest concerns" about the potential for catastrophic consequences from an accident or act of sabotage during the voyage. The Congressmen called on President Clinton to notify the countries involved to halt the shipment of waste derived from U.S.-supplied nuclear fuel, until the United States reviews outstanding safety and security questions. Signing the letter were Neil Abercrombie (D-Puerto Rico), Robert A. Underwood (D-Guam) and Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa), as well as representatives from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Caribbean nations and regional associations protested use of the Caribbean Sea and the Panama Canal. A coalition of environmental and economic associations filed a lawsuit to keep the ship from entering the Caribbean. And a group of peaceful Greenpeace protestors boarded the ship in the Panama Canal, demonstrating the ship's vulnerability to attack or sabotage had the demonstrators instead been terrorists.

"If these shipments cannot be stopped, they should proceed only after the complete route is announced well in advance, emergency planning is worked out with en-route states, all outstanding safety questions are resolved to meet severe accident conditions, and adequate security, liability and salvage arrangements are made beforehand," said Paul Leventhal, president of Nuclear Control Institute, a Washington think tank on nuclear proliferation problems.

Dr. Edwin S. Lyman, NCI's scientific director, has documented the consequences of an accident if the ship were to sink or be damaged. Dr. Lyman has warned that radiation leaks following a collision at sea or explosion on board such a vessel could pose severe risks to marine life and to human populations dependent on fishing for their livelihood and seafood for their diet.


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