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BNFL Nuclear Ships Bound for France Through Irish Coastal Waters, Disregarding International Law and Concerns of Coastal Nations


The Irish Seas Nuclear Free Flotilla Demands a Moratorium on All Such Shipments Until Concerns are Addressed, and Plans October 3 Peaceful Protest

DUBLIN - September 24, 2004 - The Irish Seas Nuclear Free Flotilla (ISNFF) will stage a peaceful protest on October 3 in Dublin, opposing a plutonium shipment from the U.S. that is currently bound for France and due to pass within 150 miles of Ireland's south coast, breaching the nation's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 miles. The ISNFF points out that the countries participating in this shipment - France, the U.S. and U.K. - have failed to comply with international law, and have shown a blatant disregard for the concerns of coastal nations.

The ISNFF is calling for an immediate moratorium on all nuclear shipments until the safety concerns of every coastal nation affected are addressed. They state that, "In light of the continued and increased trafficking of plutonium that these and other nuclear nations such as Japan are planning, the ISNFF is demanding that the Irish government take action to stop them." They are insisting that "certain minimum standards must be met, including environmental impact assessments for the entire passage, full prior consultation on shipping routes and emergency response, a full and unconditional undertaking of liability, and emergency response preparedness in case of accident or terrorist attack." They add that similar safety concerns on land have also not been addressed, including a September 3rd accident in France at the same nuclear plant that is waiting to receive this plutonium for reprocessing.

The ISNFF has referred to the landmark 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea treaty, signed by over 140 nations around the world including Ireland, France and the U.K., which proclaims that a coastal state has sovereign rights, duties and jurisdiction within the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone for "the protection and the preservation of the marine environment." In accord with this treaty, Ireland and other coastal nations have an obligation to prevent pollution to their coastal waters. Some ISNFF members have asked - what would happen if an accident occurred 205 miles off Irish shores? The bottom line, they point out, is that if there is an accident, then there are many questions regarding whether the U.K., U.S. and France would be liable and would pay full compensation and clean-up.

Other nations have taken active precautionary measures in exercising their obligation to protect their environment. In 1995, a plutonium shipment from the U.K. to Japan went through Chile's EEZ, and their government sent a warship out and forced the BNFL Pacific Pintail ship out of their zone.

In supporting an immediate moratorium, ISNFF member Paul Barrett stated that "The idea that these shipments will be a benign "recycling" of former weapons for peaceful purposes will not wash. The prospect of poorly protected plutonium being transported off our shores for years to come, will bring little peace to the hearts and minds of the Irish public."

Duncan Currie, an international legal and political advisor in maritime law for over 20 years, points out that it is up to coastal nations to take a stand and defend their marine environment and economy. "In January of this year, the U.S. was planning to ship a decommissioned nuclear reactor from their west coast all around South America to South Carolina on the east coast. They did not want to transport it across their own country, because the liability costs were too high - it was much cheaper to ship it. Within weeks of finding this out, the Argentinian Court ruled that the shipment could not go through Argentinian waters - and it stopped the shipment. The fact that they stopped the shipment showed that it wasn't necessary - it didn't have to happen - but if they can get away with it, they will." He also pointed out that "especially the U.K., U.S. and France have been trying to push MOX fuel reprocessing as the preferred way to deal with their plutonium, and this means a great deal of land and sea shipments around the world. It's not necessary, it's inherently dangerous and it is a proliferation hazard."

Neil McCann, ISNFF member and barrister, called on the U.S., U.K. and France to fulfill their international obligations, pointing out that in the summation statements for the final session of the U.N. Law of the Sea, "it expressly points out that a State cannot choose what laws it likes and disregard the rest." Duncan Currie concurs, stating that, "under the Law of the Sea Convention, cooperation is an obligation and gives rise to specific rights which the International Tribunal for the U.N. Law of the Sea will enforce."

In the past there have been concerns voiced that the U.S. never signed the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention, but in light of this shipment, ISNFF members see a common disregard among these nuclear nations in failing to honor responsibilities of global interdependence, and note little difference between nations who refuse to sign, and nations such as the U.K. and France who sign the treaty and then choose to ignore it.

On September 20, two BNFL (British Nuclear Fuels) ships, the Pacific Pintail and the Pacific Teal, left Charleston harbor in South Carolina for Cherbourg, France, carrying a shipment of weapons-grade plutonium - enough material to make 40 nuclear bombs. The shipment is part of a joint U.S.-Russia disarmament treaty to dispose of this material by converting it into plutonium and uranium mixed oxide, or MOX fuel, for commercial use in nuclear reactors. The ships are due in Cherbourg sometime during the end of September.

The Irish Seas Nuclear Free Flotilla will be supporting the Atlantic Nuclear Free Flotilla and Greenpeace, now awaiting the arrival of the BNFL ships in Cherbourg, France. For information on joining the flotilla in France, call Neil McCann at 087 257 3482. If you are interested in joining the Dublin flotilla on October 3, contact Paul Barrett at 087 259 7010.

The following websites have further information:

Greenpeace website:
Nuclear Free Flotilla website:
Citizens Against Plutonium (CAP) website

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CONTACT: Paul Barrett, ISNFF: 353 (0)87 259 7010

Neil McCann, ISNFF: 353 (0)87 257 3482 E. Lockwood, ISNFF: 353 (0)86 085 3033

Note to Editor:

(1) For more information on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea: rview_convention.htm

(2) Information on the accident at the Cadarache, Provence nuclear plant is available on the Greenpeace website at