- March 1 - The two British-flagged ships carrying plutonium fuel from Europe to Japan were sighted today 300 nautical miles south-west of Tasmania in southern Australia, Greenpeace Australia announced today.
The ships, the Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal, are carrying 230 kilograms of plutonium in the form of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel and will transit the Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand, then the South Pacific on their way to Japan. The ships were sighted today by an aircraft chartered by Greenpeace Australia.
Greenpeace Australia's nuclear campaigner, Stephen Campbell, said this was the third dangerous shipment of plutonium to take the route past Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. He said all shipments so far were futile since none of the plutonium fuel shipped through the Tasman Sea had yet been loaded into reactors in Japan.
"The Japanese MOX program is in disarray in the face of increasing domestic and international opposition," Stephen Campbell said. "Just this week, the governor of Fukushima - the Japanese prefecture that received the first shipment of MOX plutonium in 1999 - stated that community mistrust of the nuclear program had made it impossible for him to allow the MOX fuel to be loaded."
Given that Fukushima was to have been the first nuclear power station to load MOX, the governor's statement has effectively derailed the entire MOX program in Japan. It makes it very unlikely that the current shipment of MOX will ever be loaded into a reactor in Japan.
On their current position off the southern coast of Tasmania, it is likely that the plutonium ships will enter the Tasman Sea on Saturday.
Greenpeace has a yacht, "Tiama", in the Nuclear-Free Tasman Flotilla which is currently in position between Lord Howe and Norfolk islands in the north-west Tasman Sea. The flotilla plans to form a symbolic chain across the 75 miles of international waters between the two islands. The plutonium ships have used this route before and are likely to do so again.
Earlier this week, the flotilla yachts (four from New Zealand and three from Australia) met up and unfurled a 40-metre banner that read: "Close the Nuclear Highway".
One speck of plutonium smaller than a grain of sand can cause lethal cancer and birth defects in people and animals. Plutonium is a hazardous radio-toxic waste with a half-life of 24,000 years, and is radioactive for over 250,000 years.