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Nuclear Waste Shipment Enters Caribbean Despite Opposition

August 7, 1996

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ A British freighter carrying more than 20 tons of nuclear waste entered the Caribbean Sea on Tuesday over the protests of regional leaders and environmentalists.

``We’ve alerted all our member countries, and we’re doing our best to stop the shipments,″ said Edwin Farrington, secretary-general of the Caribbean Community, a confederation of the region’s 14 English-speaking countries.

The environmental group Greenpeace called it a ``disaster waiting to happen.″

The Pacific Teal, belonging to Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd., is carrying spent nuclear fuel from Japanese reactors for recycling in England and France.

British Nuclear Fuels Ltd., Pacific Nuclear’s parent company, said it has not had an accident in 30 years of transporting spent nuclear fuel by ship.

The ship left Japan on July 12.

Gavin Carter, a Washington, D.C.-based international transport coordinator for British Nuclear, confirmed the ship had entered the Caribbean via the Panama Canal. The company generally does not publicize its shipments because of widespread opposition.

``Greenpeace is committed to closing down the nuclear industry worldwide,″ Carter said. ``Unfortunately, it’s much easier to alarm than to reassure.″

Carter said the shipments comply with U.N. regulations for hazardous waste transport requiring that ships be fitted with double hulls and sophisticated fire fighting systems.

``In the worst-case scenario of a spill, studies have shown that the effects would be negligible,″ he said, noting the spent fuel is solid.

France has shipped recycled plutonium back to Japan without incident since November 1992.

Greenpeace claimed the Pacific Teal was scheduled to leave the Caribbean on Friday or Saturday via the Mona Passage between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Carter said the captain would decide the ship’s route.

It wasn’t known when the ship would reach Europe.

The Caribbean Community successfully diverted nuclear shipments from the region in 1992 and 1995, forcing the ships to head south around South America and Africa, Carter said.

In 1995, the British company obtained a court order threatening Greenpeace with a $60,000 fine if it interfered with a shipment of highly radioactive nuclear waste in French waters.

Greenpeace claims at least 10 shipments of nuclear waste pass through the Caribbean each year.

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