Ship of fools sails of laden with nuclear fuel

Ship of fools sails of laden with nuclear fuel

Greenpeace volunteers protest as a container of plutonium nuclear fuel is driven past in Cherbourg, France

Mention Cherbourg and what springs to mind? Brigit Bardot skipping through the rain with a song on her lips, twirling one of those famous umbrellas? Sadly, that was all a long time ago and the quaint port of Jacques Demy’s masterpiece is now a major link in the fuel chain for Japan’s nuclear power stations.

Yesterday, a shipment of plutonium mixed oxide (Mox) fuel left France bound for Japan. It’s the first shipment of Mox fuel to Japan in eight years, and the largest shipment of plutonium the world has ever seen – 1.8 tonnes of it in fact, enough to make 225 nuclear weapons.

The Pacific Pintail and Pacific Heron are currently being loaded with the fuel elements and, despite the cloak of secrecy, Greenpeace volunteers have been out protesting to make sure the shipment doesn’t go unnoticed.

Check out the photo on the Nuclear Reaction blog. As you can see from the picture, taken in Barrow-in-Furness last week before the Pintail sailed for Cherbourg-Octeville, security is tight – those are armed policemen and the shrouded lump behind them is the starboard naval gun.

Why the heavy armour? Mox fuel is a better source of weapons-grade plutonium than plain old spent nuclear fuel, and there’s a lack of evidence concerning the integrity of the transport containers in an accident.

That’s wonderfully reassuring. Even more so is the fact that our colleagues at Nuclear Reaction will be following the progress of the shipment closely.



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