MOX Fuel Shipment Completes Japan-UK Journey

BARROW-IN-FURNESS, United Kingdom, September 17, 2002 (ENS) - A shipment of defective radioactive plutonium and uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel being transported from Japan back to the United Kingdom today reached its destination at the British Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (BNFL) Sellafield complex in West Cumbria.

The BNFL nuclear freighters Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal left Japan on July 4 and have sailed about 18,000 miles back to the UK carrying the eight MOX fuel assemblies.

The MOX fuel, delivered to Japan in 1999, was rejected by Kansai Electric Power Company for its Takahama nuclear generation facility when BNFL employees were found to have falsified data sheets related to the manual confirmation of automated checks during the manufacturing process.

BNFL agreed to compensate Kansai and return the fuel to the United Kingdom at its cost. The embarrassing lapse forced the resignation of BNFL's top executive and several others and led to three separate inquiries by branches of the UK government. Nuclear power companies in Germany and Sweden cancelled their MOX contracts as the data falsification scandal emerged.


BNFL chief executive Norman Askew
(Photo courtesy BNFL)
Today, BNFL chief executive Norman Askew, speaking at Sellafield, said with relief, "The safe and secure delivery of this fuel is a very important milestone for BNFL and our customers. This now draws a line under the MOX quality assurance issue."

"I promised our Japanese customers that we would return the fuel in 2002, and we have now delivered on that promise," said Askew. "I now look forward to continuing to improve our relationships with our Japanese customers."

Greenpeace ships have been shadowing the two nuclear freighters along much of their supposedly secret route.

As the two freighters entered the port of Barrow this morning, they were met with a peaceful demonstration by the yachts of the Nuclear Free Irish Sea Flotilla, protesting the transport of nuclear materials through the Irish Sea. Boats from the Republic of Ireland, Britain and the Isle of Man took part.


Nuclear Free Irish Sea Flotilla protests against BNFL shipment of plutonium. The City of Dublin gave its official support to the flotilla. (Photo Greenpeace/Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert)
Captain Malcolm Miller, Head of BNFL's Marine Transport business said, "As the ships sail through the Irish Sea, we recognize that individuals and groups have the right to peacefully and lawfully protest about our activities.

"I very much welcome the public assurances repeatedly given by Greenpeace that they will not interfere with the safe navigation of our ships," Miller said. "I hope they will be true to their word and that other members of the Greenpeace organized flotilla will also respect the rules of the sea."

The ships were escorted through the Walney Channel by a police launch, seven police inflatables and a security helicopter. The yachts from the Nuclear Free Irish Sea Flotilla fell into formation behind the Pacific Pintail once the nuclear freighter carrying the cask of rejected plutonium MOX had passed them at the entrance to the Channel.

"The Flotilla is a partnership of individual seafarers who use the Irish Sea," said Dr. Warren Scott, skipper of the yacht Swn y Mor from Glasson Dock. "We wish to let BNFL and the UK and Japanese governments know that we are no longer willing to sit back and allow the Irish Sea, or any sea, to be used as a nuclear highway."


Demonstrators aboard the Swn y Mor (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
En route, countries called for the BNFL ships not to enter their 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zones, a call which the ships did not obey. The BNFL transport was less than 30 miles from the Irish coast when it encountered the Irish Sea Flotilla Monday afternoon.

Greenpeace said that more than 80 governments condemned the shipment, citing environmental, security and safety concerns.

BNFL says there is no danger of radiation from MOX fuel pellets, which are a hard, ceramic, stone-like material. "The pellets are so durable that if dropped into water, they would take thousands of years to dissolve. The pellets are loaded into fuel rods made from zirconium alloy which are corrosion-resistant and able to withstand depths of several thousand metres of water," the company said.

The rods are loaded into fuel assemblies which are then loaded into the transport casks. The fuel assemblies are safe enough to allow workers to work immediately next to them, says BNFL.

For this voyage, the fuel assemblies were transported in Excellox 4 MOX transport casks which have been built to, and certified to meet, the standards required by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The fuel assemblies have been transported from Barrow to Sellafield by rail. The MOX fuel will be placed into temporary storage at Sellafield, BNFL said, before the constituent parts are recovered prior to re-manufacture into new fuel.