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Monday, Sept. 27, 1999

MOX ships said prone to attack, accident

Staff writer

OSAKA -- Two British ships carrying nearly 500 kg of mixed plutonium-uranium fuel are in Japan this week unloading their cargo. But, as the ships prepare for the second leg of their journey to Fukui Prefecture, local and international criticism over the security arrangements is growing.

The 4,600-ton Pacific Teal, carrying about 210 kg of MOX fuel, unloaded its cargo Monday in Fukushima. Docking of the ship, which arrived off Fukushima on Sept. 22, had been delayed due to adverse weather conditions.

The Pacific Teal is traveling with the 5,000-ton Pacific Pintail, which is also carrying about 220 kg of MOX fuel for use in the Takahama power plant in Fukui Prefecture.

While both ships arrived in Japan without incident, local and international activists, as well as defense experts, criticized the security arrangements. Past MOX fuel shipments from Europe to Japan have been accompanied by an armed vessel. But for this trip, the two ships traveled without escort, sparking concerns from the U.S., Europe, South Africa and New Zealand about their safety on the high seas.

"Various defense experts, including Jane's Defense Review, which tracks international defense issues, have stated that the security arrangements for the MOX shipment are insufficient," said Greenpeace International nuclear materials research director Shaun Burnie, who is in Japan this week.

"Our position is that, although we'd rather not see the MOX sent at all, if you are going to do it, have an armed vessel accompany the shipment."

The lack of an escort has added to concerns about the shipment around the world. Last spring, U.S. congressmen expressed their concern to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that not providing an armed escort was in violation of previous agreements between the U.S. and Japan concerning the transportation of nuclear materials.

Concerned about both the security arrangements and a possible accident, governments from South Africa to New Zealand had said they would not allow the ships to dock.

And, worried about increased tensions with North Korea, South Korean activists traveled to Japan several weeks ago to protest the shipment and demand that the Pacific Pintail in particular not enter the Sea of Japan.

Both ships are armed with three 30mm cannons and 26 British antiterrorist police to repel boarders. But while trained in protecting nuclear power plants in Britain against terrorist attacks, the police have no maritime operation experience.

After leaving Fukushima, the ships are expected to travel side-by-side up to the Tsugaru Straits and then down toward Fukui Prefecture. Arrangements with the Japanese government call for the antiterrorist police to be disarmed when they enter Japanese waters, 12 miles from shore. At that point, the ships will be guarded by the Maritime Safety Agency.

"The police will only be given their weapons back when they are out in international waters again," Burnie said. Their worst fear, activists say, is an attack on the Pacific Pintail by a North Korean spy boat or submarine.

The central government, Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Kansai Electric Power Co., the two utilities whose reactors will use the fuel, dismiss that possibility, saying security arrangements are adequate and noting that the MSA will be guarding the ships.

"Every precaution has been taken," a Kepco spokesman said.

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The Japan Times

Article 2 of 9 in National news

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