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Environmentalists Protest Shipment of US Plutonium to France  - 2004-10-05


A shipment of American weapons-grade plutonium to France has sparked protest by environmental groups which claim it poses an ecological and security risk. The controversial shipment is due to arrive shortly to the French port of Cherbourg.

Protesters from the environmental group Greenpeace Tuesday blocked a road leading from the Cherbourg port to the plant where some 300 pounds of U.S. plutonium is to be reprocessed. The plutonium is being carried on two vessels, and Greenpeace says it may arrive in French waters by Wednesday. The exact time of arrival of the shipment is being kept secret for security reasons.

Shaun Burnie, nuclear campaign coordinator for Greenpeace, says the shipments may mark a dangerous new precedent of shipping nuclear waste for reprocessing overseas. And he says this shipment of plutonium is particularly dangerous.

"This particular shipment is significant in itself in that it's a very dangerous cargo of weapons-grade plutonium," he said. "The ships are elderly. They're lightly armed; they're vulnerable to accidents and to deliberate attack."

But the French state-owned nuclear group Areva, which has agreed to reprocess the plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel rods, argues the ships are in good condition and well protected. A spokesman for the group told VOA it is making the plutonium, which was part of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, safe by reprocessing it.

The plutonium shipment is part of a post-Cold War deal between Russia and the United States designed to get rid of the material from excess nuclear warheads. Areva is being paid $250 million to reprocess the plutonium into fuel rods.

Once reprocessed, the plutonium is expected to be shipped back the U.S. for use in nuclear power plants. The French group says it may ultimately build a reprocessing plant in the U.S.

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