Seven arrested in plutonium protest

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The Independent Online
SEVEN GREENPEACE protesters were arrested in Cumbria yesterday as they tried to block the shipment of weapons- grade plutonium to Japan. The organisation has also received notice of legal action to be taken against it by British Nuclear Fuels Limited.

The activists were among a group of 12 in two high-speed boats who towed a banner showing a white elephant - "symbolising the folly of the nuclear industry" - across the harbour entrance at Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria to halt the departure of the freighter Pacific Teal. The ship is scheduled to pick up 220 kilograms of plutonium from the Cap de La Hague nuclear reprocessing plant, near Cherbourg, for transport to Japan.

A second ship, the Pacific Pintail, is due to take a similar load direct from Barrow, Greenpeace said.

Cumbria police said that the freighter had returned to its berth because of the protest, and that five men and two women were being questioned over public order offences. An injunction had been granted to BNFL on Friday, preventing Greenpeace disrupting the shipments. Yesterday, Greenpeace said it had received notice of fresh legal action.

Armed officers from the UK Atomic Energy Authority were on board the Pacific Teal, which is equipped with naval guns. A Royal Navy warship was also standing by to escort the loaded ship. Late yesterday afternoon, Greenpeace reported that both ships had left the harbour. Its own vessel, MV Greenpeace, moved alongside carrying a banner announcing "Plutonium Kills".

Greenpeace claims that the plutonium could be used in nuclear weapons and that the first deliveries could set the precedent for 80 further shipments to Japan over the next decade. It says the nuclear material will be loaded into reactors not designed for that type of fuel. Mike Townsley, spokesman on MV Greenpeace, said: "We are sending the equivalent of 60 nuclear warheads worth of plutonium into East Asia, at a time when nuclear tensions there are at an all-time high."

BNFL said the shipments met all the international agreements for the peaceful use of nuclear energy. "As a company [we] have no problem with peaceful protest," added Alastair Thomas, BNFL's head of transport. "However, we would not want to see the safety of the ship's crew, the escort team, or the public put in danger by some irresponsible media stunt by Greenpeace."

He added that US government "experts" had reviewed the shipments' security and that the cargo had "multiple" layers of protection.