Chile alarmed by ship carrying nuclear waste
SANTIAGO - The Chilean government and environmentalists on Thursday objected to the scheduled passage of a ship carrying French-processed nuclear waste to Japan via Cape Horn because of potential environmental hazards.
Japanese industry officials said earlier this month that the vessel "Pacific Swan," owned by a unit of British Nuclear Fuels, is loaded with 76.8 tonnes of vitrified spent fuel - a highly radioactive product made of waste material from Japanese nuclear reactors mixed with glass. The ship is expected to arrive in Chilean territory in the middle of January.
"We have made it known that we are upset about this and we will do everything possible to avoid this kind of transport off our coastline," said Luis Winter, director of foreign policy in Chiles Foreign Ministry.
But Winter admitted there was little the government could do since this type of cargo is permitted under international law.
The Cape Horn route was last used to ship nuclear waste in 1995. At that time, the Chilean navy blocked the vessel from entering the countrys 200-mile (322-km) maritime limit, government officials said.
Greenpeace, the international environmental activist group, is scheduled to hold a demonstration on Friday in Santiago, Chiles capital, to urge the government to take strong stance and block passage of the "Pacific Swan" off the coast.
The vessel left the French port of Cherbourg on Dec. 19 and is scheduled to dock in Aomori in northern Japan in February.
It is due to sail past the Atlantic coastlines of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina before swinging around the icy tip of South America, an area renowned for its fierce gales and strong currents that make navigation difficult.
Greenpeace officials said they fear the Cape Horn route will become the preferred route for shipping nuclear material between Europe and Japan, replacing the shorter and, until now, preferred Panama Canal route.
Greenpeace said cargo ships now prefer the longer - and colder - southern journey through subarctic waters because of difficulty getting permits from Panama since the United States returned the canal to Panamanian control on Dec. 31, 1999.
"Because the protests of the government of Panama and the Caribbean countries were on the rise, the shipping company decided to use the Cape Horn route," Greenpeace Chile said in a statement.
Greenpeace activists say the amount of radioactivity that would be released into the environment if the "Pacific Swan" were to have an accident would be comparable to that of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident in Ukraine.
The Chilean government said it is working within the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency to create laws outlining responsibilities for environmental damage caused by accidents involving radioactive material.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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