Recycled Japanese nuclear fuel loaded in France

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A major shipment of recycled nuclear fuel has been loaded by Areva onto a ship bound for Japan despite fears it could be hijacked and used in bombs.

CHERBOURG – French nuclear group Areva early Thursday started loading a major shipment of recycled fuel onto a ship that was then to head for Japan, despite fears it could be hijacked and used in bombs.

Environmental group Greenpeace said it was "the biggest cargo of fissile material ever transported.

The loading of the specially adapted Pacific Heron began in the northwestern port of Cherbourg in the early hours of Thursday, shortly after the ship's arrival.

The convoy of recycled nuclear fuel had moved under police escort Wednesday to Cherbourg to be shipped half way round the world to Japan. A second convoy arrived early Thursday.

The mixed oxide, or MOX, is a blend of plutonium and reprocessed uranium that Japan, which has virtually no natural energy resources of its own, wants to start using as nuclear fuel for the first time.

Areva insists the production of MOX is safe and that it helps reduce nuclear waste, and industry players say the risk of the civilian-grade plutonium contained in MOX being extracted to make atomic weapons is negligible.

But Greenpeace has asked the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to stop the shipment of "an extremely dangerous and proliferating substance," saying it is "unsafe and unnecessary".

It says the recycled fuel to be sent to Japan contains 1.8 tonnes of plutonium, theoretically enough to make 225 nuclear bombs, making it the biggest plutonium transportation in history.

Greenpeace unsuccessfully tried to block the last French MOX convoy to Japan in 2001.

Areva has confirmed the shipment is being prepared, but not its exact size, nor when it would leave for Japan.

MOX has been used as fuel in several countries across the world for more than three decades.

The nuclear fuel reprocessed by Areva came from three regional Japanese power companies and is intended for use at light-water reactors in southern and central Japan.

Japan, which relies on nuclear power plants for nearly one-third of its power demands, has also built its own reprocessing plant, which is expected to begin operating soon.

AFP / Expatica

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