Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 7, 2000
'Floating Chernobyl' plays nuclear roulette
Last summer the Korean Herald reported that Japan is planning to expand its shipment of weapons grade plutonium from Europe to the Takahama plant on Wakasa Bay.
The route of this toxic cargo goes via the narrow Korea Straits, heedless of the potential ecological danger should an accidental leak occur. From our own experience with the Valdez oil disaster off the B.C. Coast, such a possibility is not too farfetched.
There have been several shipments of high-level radioactive material from Europe to Japan before and one shipment of plutonium in the 1990s. The current shipment is the first transfer of mixed plutonium uranium oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel and could be followed by as many as 80 such shipments over the next decade, unless international opposition stops the trade.
The Japanese project has been criticized as a "floating Chernobyl," because it is difficult to overemphasize the potential hazards. The consequences of fires and collisions would be environmentally catastrophic.
Another danger is the possibility of hijacking. Last year's shipment of 444 kg of plutonium was sufficient for 50 to 60 nuclear weapons.
The present agreement between the Japanese electrical utilities and Europe would make it possible for Japan to stockpile 50 tons of plutonium, enough to manufacture 10,000 nuclear bombs. The potential alone is enough to raise tensions in an already volatile region of the world where Asian tigers are in mortal combat for economic supremacy or mere survival.
To make matters worse, cost cutting and secrecy have only heightened the possibility of disaster. The ships are inadequately designed and international standards fall short of guaranteeing safety in case of fire. In order to save money and keep a low profile, no official military escort will accompany the convoy.
The less attention this dangerous mission gets from the environmentalists the better it is for the folks who stand to profit by the transaction.
Past experience seems to suggest however that it takes more than protests of environmental groups such as Greenpeace to stop the Japanese project.
In 1992 Japan shipped plutonium from France and England in spite of strong opposition from 50 nations along the route. What is required is a global outcry to ban nations from playing nuclear roulette.
It is not likely that Canada will join such an international alliance of protestors. Our home and native land is quite actively and secretively engaged in its own dirty business of shipping plutonium from the U.S. to the Chalk River CANDUs. Strong protest, especially from First Nations people, was expected along the proposed route.
To avoid the hassle of confrontation, the toxic material was helicoptered from Sault Ste. Marie to its northern destination before anyone discovered what had happened.
If we accept similar shipments from Russia, will we use the polar route?
Plutonium is highly toxic. It is not biodegradable. It may cause bone cancer, lung cancer and leukemia. An accident would result in the contamination of food and water supplies for years to come.
Planes have been known to fall out of the sky. Technical failure and human error remain relevant factors. There have been several near misses and some major disasters in almost every country that relies on nuclear power.
If our government chooses to act irresponsibly then the people must learn to speak out. Perhaps we could start by questioning the Klein government why it is soliciting foreign hazardous waste for its plant in Swan Hills.
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