Governments Fear Nuclear Ship in British, French Waters

GRANTFIELD, Lerwick, Shetland, November 21, 2006 (ENS) - The Shetland Islands Council is worried about the safety of its coastal communities during the next few days when a shipment of highly radioactive nuclear fuel is shipped from British to French waters in a vessel the Council says is inadequate for the job.

A former roll-on roll-off ferry, the Atlantic Osprey, owned by the British Nuclear Group, will transport 1.25 metric tons of mixed oxide fuel, MOX, from a UK nuclear reprocessing facility to Swiss power utility Nordostschweizerische Kraftwerke.

MOX is mixed uranium-plutonium fuel for nuclear power plants, and this shipment contains about 90 kilograms of highly radioactive plutonium.

The MOX will be transported by sea from Sellafield on the Irish Sea in Cumbria, UK to Cherbourg, France before it is delivered overland to the Beznau plant in Switzerland.


The Atlantic Osprey is a former ferry, not a purpose-built nuclear transport vessel. (Photo courtesy KIMO)
The Atlantic Osprey has a single hull, just a single engine and will travel unescorted throughout its journey.

By contrast, when MOX is transported to and from Japan by British Nuclear, purpose built vessels are used - vessels with twin engines, double hulls and naval armament. Two vessels travel together to provide support in case of an attack.

The Council reflects the fears of a wider group to which it belongs - KIMO, the international environmental organization of local governments in 10 European countries.

KIMO International President Councillor Angus Nicolson said, "The arrangements surrounding these proposed shipments are flawed and second rate."

"It is absolutely irresponsible in this day and age," he said, "where we are requiring super tankers carrying oil to have double hulls to protect our marine environment that these dangerous cargoes are being transported in an ex-roll-on roll-off ferry with a single engine and single hull through some of the most populated areas of Europe with no escort."


KIMO International President Angus Nicolson serves on the Western Isles Council on Scotland's Isle of Lewis. (Photo courtesy KIMO)
The route will pass close to one of the most densely populated areas in the world and will cross some of the busiest shipping lanes. Nicolson points out that the ship is therefore at increased risk of collision or terrorist attack.

There has been a lack of emergency planning in the event of a marine accident involving nuclear material, warns KIMO, which also has concerns about "the questionable integrity of the flasks used to transport nuclear fuel."

KIMO officials say fires aboard ship "last longer on average and at a more intense heat than the safety criteria used in flask stress."

KIMO takes the position that the transport of nuclear materials should be halted and that nuclear materials should be stored at the point of production.

Speaking for the KIMO Secretariat, Rick Nickerson said the potential impact on coastal communities from an accident or terrorist attack on the Atlantic Osprey would be devastating.

"Many coastal communities, including KIMO’s members, depend on an environment that provides fresh, clean and healthy resources," he said. "The irreparable damage to the environment, public health and economy that could arise as a result of an accident involving a ship carrying nuclear waste would have disastrous consequences."

Nickerson says KIMO members are worried because shipments of MOX to Switzerland, of which this is the second, are using the Atlantic Osprey.


The MOX fuel is fabricated at the Sellafield nuclear complex on the Irish Sea. It will be shipped south to Cherbourg, France. (Photo courtesy Sellafield Local Liaison Committee)
If an attack by terrorists succeeds in an incident involving a severe long-term fire, breaching shipping casks and/or sinking a nuclear transport vessel," Nickerson says, "the consequences would be comparable to the most severe accident that authorities insist is too improbable to be considered."

KIMO hopes to brings its concerns to the attention of the many other organizations in which it participates. KIMO holds nongovernmental organization status at the North Sea Ministerial Conferences, the Committee of North Sea Senior Officials, the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic, and the International Maritime Organization as part of the WWF delegation.

KIMO counts 128 local authorities as members in 10 countries - the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, and the Republic of Ireland with associate members in Germany, the Faeroes Islands and the Isle Of Man.

Formed to clean up marine pollution in North Sea, Irish Sea, ArcticSea and the Northeast Atlantic, the organization has links with the European Parliament and Commission and sends representatives to stakeholder dialogue processes in many countries.

A full report on the Transport of Mixed Oxide Fuel and other Radioactive Cargoes by Ship in Europe is available on the KIMO website: