Barrow ships Pacific Egret and Pacific Heron, moved from the Ramsden Dock nuclear terminal in the early hours of this morning 19th January, sailed from the port on the 7am high tide. Though the destination of the empty ships has not been officially disclosed, the dockside activities around them in the days prior to departure indicate that the ships are bound for Japan where they will pick up a consignment of plutonium for onward shipment to the United States. The Pacific Egret and Pacific Heron, each fitted with naval canon, are operated by Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd (PNTL) and managed by International Nuclear Services, INS – a wholly owned subsidiary of the NDA. The presence of a heavily armed security squad (provided by the Civil Nuclear Constabulary’s Marine Escort Group) on both ships, the earlier loading of stores and the craning on board of live ammunition yesterday points to a long and security-conscious voyage ahead rather than a sunset cruise around Morecambe Bay or routine sea trials in the Irish Sea. The shipment of plutonium from Japan to the United States falls under the US-led Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) or M3 – Material Management & Minimisation programme whereby weapons-useable material such as plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) is removed from facilities worldwide for safekeeping in the United Sates. The cargo to be loaded onto the two UK ships in Japan consists of some 331kgs of plutonium from Japan’s Tokai Research Establishment. The 331kgs of plutonium –a substantial fraction of which was supplied to Japan by the UK decades ago for‘ experimental purposes’ in Tokai’s Fast Critical Assembly (FCA) – is described by the US Department of Energy (DOE) as ‘posing a potential threat to national security, being susceptible to use in an improvised nuclear device, and presenting a high risk of theft or diversion’ or, as another US expert puts it‘is sufficient to make up to 40 nuclear bombs’. ‘The practice of shipping this plutonium to the US as a safeguard is completely undermined by deliberately exposing this prime terrorist material to a lengthy sea transport during which it will face the everyday maritime risks and the targeting by those with hostile intentions. Whilst the Barrow ships may have been empty when they left the port today, we condemn their use for such a shipment which we see as being wholly unnecessary and a significant security threat in today’s volatile and unpredictable world’.
CORE 19th Jan 2016 read more »
A controversial plan to remove plutonium from Japan for shipment to the United States has now begun with departure of two empty transport ships from the United Kingdom. The transport mission begins under intense pressure to complete the shipment before the Nuclear Security Summit begins in Washington, DC in late March. The UK-flagged transport ships Pacific Egret and Pacific Heron, both outfitted with deck-mounted weapons, departed their home port of Barrow-in-Furness, UK in the early morning of January 19, as informed by the UK group Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE). The ships, operated by Pacific Nuclear Transport limited (PNTL), are bound for the Tokai nuclear facility, north of Tokyo. At Tokai, 331 kilograms of plutonium that has been used for nuclear reactor research at the Fast Critical Assembly (FCA) will be loaded onto the vessels for shipment to the US. The cargo may also contain highly enriched uranium now at the FCA. All of the plutonium, which originated in the United Kingdom, United States and France, is likely to be transported to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina, via the military port of Charleston, South Carolina.
Savannah River Watch 19th Jan 2016 read more »