FOR RELEASE AFTER 9:00 AM (EDT)
Wednesday, April 7, 1993
CONTACT: SHARON TANZER
GERMANY READY TO FLY PLUTONIUM TO BRITAIN IN CASKS NOT CERTIFIED AS CRASHPROOFWashington-The German government is poised to fly highly toxic, plutonium fuel from Frankfurt to Scotland in casks that meet weak international standards but have not been certified to withstand a high-velocity crash as required in the United States, according to a report released today by the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI). A similar plan to fly plutonium through the U.S. from France to Japan was blocked in 1987 when the U.S. Congress enacted strict, crashproof requirements for plutonium air shipment containers.
The NCI report calls on German state and federal officials, as well as British authorities, to bar plutonium air transports until stringent, crashproof standards are enacted. A 1991 draft report by the International Atomic Energy Agency's transport advisory group advised that "individual States have the option to forbid" transport of radioactive material by air under existing IAEA packaging standards, pending completion of an IAEA review of its air transport guidelines, due out in 1996. The IAEA is drafting new guidelines, exclusively for the air transport of radioactive material. Current regulations apply equally to road, rail, sea and air transport.
German authorities plan to fly within the next few weeks the first of seven shipments of 123 fuel assemblies containing about 500 kilograms of plutonium. The fuel was fabricated for the now defunct Kalkar breeder reactor and is to be shipped from Frankfurt to Scotland for storage. The flights, if allowed, would set a precedent for air shipment of tens of tons of plutonium oxide to Germany from Britain if the THORP reprocessing plant is started up. A British Department of Transport official, in a recent Parliamentary exchange, minimized the risks and consequences of an aircraft accident involving plutonium, citing a 1988 UK study. However, the study itself calls for a reappraisal of the IAEA regulations, noting that plutonium air traffic will increase in both number and amounts in the mid-199Os.
Since 1975, the U.S. has required that a plutonium container be able to withstand a high velocity crash and has imposed stringent testing requirements. In 1986, a Japanese prototype container failed the U.S. crash test in which it was rocket-propelled into a hard target at the required speed of 129 m/s (288 mph). In 1987, Congress required an actual drop test of a plutonium package from a cargo aircraft's maximum cruising altitude and an actual "worst-case" crash test, set by safety officials at 630 mph, of a cargo aircraft fully loaded with sample plutonium packages. By comparison, the IAEA requires a package be dropped 9 meters (30 ft.) onto a hard surface-equivalent to 30 mph.
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