The Japan-bound batch of high-level radioactive waste will be the first of many from the French nuclear reprocessing plant at Cap La Hague. Shipments will also be made from BNFL's plant at Sellafield.
Japan has a large programme of nuclear power stations but no large reprocessing plants. It contracted with BNFL and the French company Cogema to ship spent fuel rods from its reactors to the companies' reprocessing plants. Reusable uranium and plutonium would be stripped out as fuel for Japanese reactors, leaving waste.
After headlines in the mid-Seventies saying Britain would become the world's nuclear dustbin, the Government insisted return-of-waste clauses be written into BNFL contracts.
One plutonium shipment has taken place, attracting international headlines as it was stalked by Greenpeace. However, no significant quantities of high-level waste have been returned from Britain or France to its country of origin. This week's shipment will be the first attempt.
According to a leaked document that has found its way to Greenpeace, the French government will start to ship the highly toxic nuclear waste to Japan on Wednesday. It was to have been taken secretly and under heavy guard from the reprocessing plant to a train terminal last Friday night and then moved night through Cherbourg on Tuesday for loading.
Greenpeace and other environmental groups have protested about the shipment, citing the fears of countries along potential routes and a study raising safety questions. A Greenpeace ship, the Moby Dick, is tied up at Cherbourg quayside.
Greenpeace did not say how it obtained the document, but said it described a 31 January meeting between representatives of the French government, Cogema, police, intelligence services and nuclear-security authorities. "The port will be sealed off in a military-style police action with French military commandos held in `reserve'," Greenpeace said.
Jean-Louis Ricaud, head of reprocessing at the Cogema reprocessing plant, said a date would be chosen early this week.
Although the material was processed by Cogema, the specially converted transport ship is owned and run by a BNFL subsidiary. It has applied to the French courts for an injunction prohibiting any Greenpeace vessel from approaching within five nautical miles of the ship.Reuse content