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Caribbean objects to Japan-bound shipment of reprocessed nuclear waste through region

Caribbean officials on Thursday called for an immediate halt to a European shipment of reprocessed nuclear waste that will pass near the islands on its way to Japan, calling it a risk to the region’s people.

Caribbean Community trade bloc spokesman Leonard Robertson said regional officials were informed by British authorities that a radioactive waste shipment would soon pass through on the way to the Panama Canal. He said no specifics about the vessel were given to them for security reasons.

For years, waste from Japanese nuclear reactors has been sent on specially equipped and armed ships to Britain and France for reprocessing, then returned for storage in Japan. They pass through the Caribbean and South Pacific islands, prompting fears from local officials that there could be an accident or even a terrorist attack on a ship.

Caribbean authorities have objected to the shipments for more than a decade. But in the wake of the March accident at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant following a devastating earthquake and tsunami, the practice has become intolerable, Caricom chairman Denzil Douglas said.

“Caricom vehemently condemns as unacceptable and injurious the practice by the United Kingdom, France and Japan of transporting hazardous waste through the Caribbean Sea, thus risking the very existence of the people of the Caribbean,” said Douglas, who is prime minister of the Caribbean country of St. Kitts and Nevis.

Debate over the safety of nuclear energy has raged since the March 11 quake and tsunami crippled the Japanese plant.

Ben Todd, a spokesman for the British company Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd., confirmed it would have a ship carrying casks of nuclear waste packed in solidified glass in coming days.

Todd said such shipments don’t pose a risk. He said shipments of casks holding byproducts of used nuclear fuel have been transported over oceans for decades without a single incident involving the release of radioactivity.

“There’s never been an incident. The industry has a world class safety record,” said Todd, who said the company never discloses the exact route or approximate date of arrival for ships transporting such materials.

Lauri Myllyvirta, an Amsterdam-based energy campaigner with the environmental group Greenpeace, said moving toxic nuclear materials around the globe is an unnecessary risk.

“No sustainable solution for the highly radioactive waste exists on either side of the oceans,” she said.

Source: The Associated Press



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