Plutonium ship arrives at French port

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The first of two ships carrying weapons-grade plutonium from the US docked in France early this morning, Greenpeace said today.

The first of two ships carrying weapons-grade plutonium from the US docked in France early this morning, Greenpeace said today.

The British-registered Pacific Pintail, said to be carrying enough plutonium to make 40 nuclear bombs, reached the port of Cherbourg after more than a fortnight at sea.

Campaigners on board the environmental group's own ship MV Esperanza are waiting off Cherbourg for a second vessel, Pacific Teal, to arrive.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Louise Edge said the group had been told that only Pacific Pintail was carrying the nuclear cargo.

She added: "We are not sure if that is a ruse or not - Pacific Teal is not in the area at the moment."

The Esperanza located the two ships about 20 miles off the French coast at 4.20am today and accompanied them towards Cherbourg.

Greenpeace has also begun staging protests ashore, which it has pledged to maintain as the plutonium is transported 745 miles by road to Cadarache, southern France, where it will be processed into experimental fuel.

Five protesters against the shipment, including world-famous yachtsman Eugene Riguidel, were arrested in Cherbourg days ahead of the arrival of the two ships.

The vessels are carrying the material for the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

The plutonium is being carried by vessels operated by the PNTL shipping company, whose main shareholder is British Nuclear Fuels.

NNSA spokesman Bryan Wilkes has said from Washington DC that the 275lb (125kg) of plutonium was being shipped across the Atlantic as a result of an agreement between the US and Russia to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium.

It was being sent to a nuclear reprocessing plant at Cadarache - a facility not yet available in the US.

There the plutonium would be converted into plutonium-uranium oxide fuel rods which would be returned to the US for use in a nuclear reactor.

If the treatment was successful, the "green light" would be given for such a facility in the US, negating the need for further plutonium to be taken overseas, said Mr Wilkes.

Once converted into fuel rods, the plutonium could not be used in a nuclear weapon or for a nefarious purpose, he said.

The two ships left Charleston, South Carolina, on September 20.

The US government has said the plutonium was being transported by sea as a one-off exercise.

But Shaun Burnie, nuclear co-ordinator for Greenpeace International, said the shipment "did not need to happen".

He added: "This is bomb material that cannot be, and should not be, treated as if you're just handling bananas or something."

A BNFL spokesman said PNTL had carried more than 170 shipments for a total of about five million miles without any incidents.

It has been reported that the ships have double hulls and are each guarded by 13 commandos and armed with a 30mm cannon.

Before the two ships arrived in Cherbourg, Greenpeace activists blocked the road to be used for transporting the plutonium.

A truck was bolted to the main road between the Cherbourg military port and the state nuclear company Areva-Cogema reprocessing complex on the La Hague peninsula. Ten activists were locked to the truck and the road.

Greenpeace said that, after being unloaded on the dockside, the plutonium would be escorted by the French army 11 miles to La Hague, before being transported to Cadarache.

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