Thursday, February 25, 1999

worried about nuclear
shipment to Japan

By Pete Pichaseke


WASHINGTON -- A fourth shipment of nuclear waste is set to sail today from Europe to Japan, probably through the Panama Canal and the South Pacific, prompting warnings of a potential ecological disaster from environmentalists.

At the same time, a shipment of more potent, weapons-usable nuclear material is being readied to sail later this year and perhaps along the same route, prompting sharp questions from Hawaii lawmakers about security.

Forty blocks of glassified, highly radioactive nuclear waste have been loaded on a British ship that was to leave today from Cherbourg, France for Japan.

It is the fourth such shipment in the last four years, and while no incidents have been reported and the shippers and the Japanese government insist the shipments are safe, each has prompted an outcry from environmental organizations.

"The chances of a cataclysmic accident are very small, but if it happened, the impact would be enormous," said Damon Moglen, coordinator of plutonium programs for Greenpeace International. "There are very, very serious environmental risks with this."

If the ship had an accident, he said, the surrounding water and, in case of a fire, the atmosphere, would be badly contaminated.

In addition, if the accident occured in the South Pacific, Hawaii, with its Navy bases, would be a logical place for the ship to sail for help.

Hawaii's congressional delegation, meanwhile, is more worried about nuclear fuel being shipped from Europe to Japan. The date and the route for the shipment has not been determined.

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