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Antinuclear Activists Criticize U.S. Plan to Ship Plutonium to France

Antinuclear activists have strongly criticized a U.S. Energy Department plan to ship weapon-grade plutonium to France for conversion into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel assemblies, Energy Daily reported today (see GSN, Oct. 10).

Energy is planning to ship up to 140 kilograms of weapon-grade plutonium to a French facility to be made into MOX fuel assemblies to be tested as nuclear reactor fuel at a U.S. nuclear plant. The plan is intended to accelerate a U.S.-Russian nonproliferation agreement to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium by converting it to MOX fuel, according to Energy Daily.

Antinuclear activists, however, have criticized the U.S. decision to ship plutonium to France, citing both proliferation and security concerns. 

“DOE’s scheme to ship weapons plutonium reveals that the U.S. refuses to apply nonproliferation standards to itself which it is attempting to dictate to the world,” said Tom Clements of Greenpeace International. “If this shipment were being carried out by Iran or North Korea it would be interdicted on the high seas,” he said.

Clements also said the transport of the plutonium from when it arrives at the French port of Cherbourg to the Cadarache MOX fabrication facility in southern France poses increased security risks. Greenpeace has been able to locate plutonium shipments within France and recent French reports have said that a captured terrorism suspect has listed overland plutonium shipments as a possible target for attack, Clements said.

“We feel the shipments are vulnerable in France,” he said. 

Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis, however, defended the plutonium shipment plan, saying it would help advance U.S. nonproliferation efforts. He also said that, while the United States would not handle security for the plutonium shipments at all points, they would have the same level of protection as similar shipments between U.S. nuclear weapons facilities (George Lobsenz, Energy Daily, Oct. 15).

NTI Analysis

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