Growing opposition to nuclear shipment
Front page story Vanuatu Trading Post - Saturday 13th July
Foreign Ministry angry over nuclear shipment
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is livid over reports that a shipment of plutonium is scheduled to pass through the national exclusive waters.
A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, Miss Wendy Himford said they were not aware of any request for permission from either the Japanese Embassy in Fiji or the British High Commission in Port Vila for the possible use of the country's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by the ship, Pacific Pintail which is carrying the nuclear waste.
Miss Himford said although the Vanuatu Government is surprised at the news that the route taken by the ship might pass through Vanuatu waters around July 17 2002, it is again another clear example of aid donors' developed countries not respecting the protocol procedures.
She described the attitude as disrespectful of the sovereignty and dignity of Vanuatu and also the other islands countries in the Pacific. The Foreign Ministry official said it might be possible thoughthat the Department of Foreign Affairs in Vanuatu had received appropriate notification but the Ministry itself and especially the Minister For Foreign Affairs, Mr Serge Vohor has not been aware of any request of authorisation.
The Office of the Prime Minister has confirmed being aware of the situation and was supposed to issue a press statement yesterday morning to all the media organisations. However at time of going to press, Trading Post had not received any statement.
Speaking on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Government on the issue, Miss Himford said Vanuatu is shocked by the fact that the vessel called Pacific Pintail containing the toxic nuclear wastes might pass through Vanuatu waters.
The issue of the plutonium shipment is expected to be tabled at the agenda of the ACP/EU summit in Fiji next week and also at the next month South Pacific Forum meeting in Suva.
Miss Himford also reiterated on behalf of Mr Vohor that Vanuatu is a sovereign and democratic nation which believes in the Christian principles and therefore every issue like the OECD pressure on Vanuatu to comply with international taxation system, represents a typical attitude from the developed nations towards the aspirations of developing as well as least developed countries.
Vanuatu has always been supporting a nuclear free pacific. The stand taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in line with the country's traditional stand.
The late Father Walter Lini had been a staunch critic against all kinds of nuclear activity in the Pacific Region. The Vanua'aku Pati has been widely regarded as one of the pioneers of the anti-nuclear and nuclear free Pacific political parties. The stand has since been adopted by many other countries in the region.
It is understood that plans are in place for some 100 shipments of plutonium to travel between the United Kingdom and Japan during the next 10 years to come.
The mounting concerns and condemnation from the Pacific Islands countries is driving the decisions makers of the South Pacific Forum to elaborate on a common and final stand to completely ban the shipment of any toxic nuclear wastes through the Pacific Ocean.
Meanwhile the New Zealand Prime Minister, Miss Helen Clarke has fareweleed 9 yachts joining the Nuclear Free Pacific Flotilla on July 7 from Auckland. Two yachts also left Sydney while the NSW Greens Senator, Mr Ian Cohen has joined the Flotilla from Lord Howe Island.
The yacht Ranui is understood to be preparing to leave Port Vila tomorrow on Sunday to join them, taking this year's Flotilla up to 12 yachts.
The New Zealand Foreign Minister, Mr Phil Goff has strongly reiterated to the nuclear shipping states his country;s opposition to the shipment through the Pacific.
The New Zealand government has employed its P3 Orions surveillance aircraft up to monitor the passage of the ship through the South Pacific region.
The Cook Islands Prime Minister, Dr Robert Woonton has said he supports calls by leaders of other nations in the region to ban plutonium shipments through the Pacific.
He explained that the shipments are exposing the Pacific Ocean to unnecessary danger.
The Fiji Prime Minister, Mr Laisenia Qarase last week expressed concern over the possibility of accidents involving the shipment and said the matter would be raised in the Pacific Islands Forum meeting.
At the same time, the Fiji Labour Party spokesperson, John Ali has criticised the country's Prime Minister for not coming out strongly enough. He called on the government to lodge a formal diplomatic protest to Japan and UK.
The environmental group Greenpeace said 'there is a high likelihood the plutonium shipment will pass through Fiji or Vanuatu's EEZ around the July 17 during the ACP/EU summit in Fiji."
The two British flagged nuclear freighters carrying 255 kg of weapons-useable plutonium passed by the Federated States of Micronesia despite opposition from the country's government.
The shipment is returning rejected plutonium MOX fuel, which originally came through the Pacific to Japan in 1999. The fuel was rejected when it was discovered that BNFL has falsified crucial safety data.
This is the first plutonium shipment since the September 11 tragedy in the United States of America raising great concerns that it could be a terrorist target.
The New Zealand Foreign Minister clearly pointed out Wednesday this week on Radio New Zealand International that the context is wrong that the shipment leaves big worries to the Pacific Islands states. ' "The huge waves of concerns throughout the Pacific would not be the same if this particular shipment was to be carried out before September 11 of 2001", he said.
For the time being, Minister Vohor will leave Port Vila this weekend for the ACP/EU Summit in Fiji accompanied by the Director General of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Georges Maniuri.