New MOX-transports from Japan to UK

I slike beholdere lastes MOX-brensel ombord i Pacific Pintail. Skipet eies av det BNFL-kontrolerte selskapet Pacific Nuclear Transport ltd (PNTL).
Photo: BNFL

Publish date: April 26, 2002

Written by: Erik Martiniussen

Two armed vessels from British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) have left England heading for Japan. The ships are to bring back eight MOX-fuel assemblies, and ship them back to the company’s controversial Sellafield plant.

The two ships will arrive in Takahama, Japan, in June, where they will pick up the eight MOX-assemblies, and then return to BNFLs private dock in Barrow-in-Furnas, south of Sellafield, some time in August. Exactly which route the two ships will follow is not known, but last time BNFL transported MOX-fuel to Japan, the route went through the South Pacific and past the Cape of Good Hope.

Possible object for terror attack

Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) is a nuclear fuel which is produced at the two reprocessing plants at Sellafield and La Hague (France). As late as in December last year BNFL opened a new plant for production of MOX-fuel at the Sellafield site. MOX has been characterised by the company as a new way to earn money and recapture market shares.

BNFL regards Japan as a tempting market, and have plans to sell a lot of its MOX to costumers in the country. BNFL does also carry out some tests on MOX in the Norwegian research reactor in the town of Halden in order to further develop the fuel.

The MOX- transports have raised international concerns, as they, due to the high level of plutonium in the MOX-fuel, may represent a tempting object for terror attacks. The Al Quaida network and Osama-bin-Laden have notoriously been trying to get their hands on this kind of nuclear fuel. The reason is that there is quite easy to extract the plutonium out of fresh MOX.

It is fresh MOX BNFL now plans to pick up in Takahama.

657082a86a070ea470175c974c630864.jpeg Photo: Grafikk:

Falsifying safety analyses

In 1999 it was discovered that BNFL over a long period of time had falsified safety analyses of MOX-fuel produced at the Sellafield site. Some of this MOX had also been shipped to Japan. The discovery made waves in the international nuclear industry, and the Japanese customer cancelled all contracts with BNFL. In addition, the Japanese Kansai Electric Power Company demanded BNFL to bring back the MOX to England.

The falsifying scandal was vigorously criticised by the British Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), which claimed BNFL “had a serious safety culture problem”. Following the scandal, the BNFL Chief Executive at the time was forced to leave, like so many others holding leading positions.

As Japanese companies are regarded highly important future customers for the BNFL, it has been important for the new Chief Executive, Norman Askew, to rebuild trust in the company. The new MOX-transport is one way of doing this. BNFL will now bring the MOX, which have been lying unused in Takahama since September 1999, back to Sellafield. In connection with the planned transport Askew said:

“This is an important milestone for BNFL as it begins to draw a line under the issue and we now look forward to an increasingly positive relationship with our Japanese customers”.

0cbd617138a43b847c3227e6db206d04.jpeg Photo: Grafikk:

Large-scale protests

It is the two BNFL-owned ships Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal which will do the controversial journey; one as a transport ship, and the other as an armed escorter. Both ships have a deadweight of approximately 3,700 tons, and are armed with a 30 mm canon on deck. When the ships carry MOX-fuel it is also requested to have armed men on board.

Countries like Chile, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand have denied these kinds of transports allows to their territorial waters. The foreign minister of New Zealand has even demanded the ships not to enter the country’s 200 miles economic zone.

Because of all the protests, there have been talks between Japanese companies (the Federation of Electric Power Companies) to use the Northeast Arctic route for future transports, which in turn have raised concerns in Norway. In that case the transports would pass through Norwegian waters before entering Arctic waters, escorted by Russian nuclear icebreakers on its way to Japan. However these talks have not yet been formalised with BNFL.

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