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Another nuclear Cape Horn crossing?

Wednesday, December 12th 2001 - 20:00 UTC
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Chilean Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Heraldo Muñoz expressed this week Chile's concern over the possible crossing in Cape Horn of the British vessel, "Pacific Sandpiper" transporting spent nuclear fuel, en route from France to Japan. "We're extremely concerned about these radioactive and nuclear waste shipments and have insisted in several occasions for a more transparent information", said Mr. Muñoz. "Sandpiper" left a week ago from Cherbourg expecting to reach Japan in the second half of January 2002. Environmentalists claim the ship will actually be crossing the Panama Canal, but don't discard that "Sandpiper" might attempt reaching Japan through Cape Horn. A press release from BNFL/COGEMA/ORC responsible for the radioactive spent fuel transport, indicates the shipment includes six containers with 152 drums of vitrified waste, and "not plutonium as has been announced by anti nuclear groups". The company also points out that the shipment abides by international rules from the Maritime World Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency and Panama Canal Authority. Chilean officials revealed that together with Ecuador, Peru and Colombia in the Pacific, plus Argentina, Uruguay and even New Zeland and Australia, they have asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to help with the issue since "there are legal vacuums regarding possible accidents and compensations in the event of this happening". COGEMA the company responsible for the reprocessing operation confirmed that this was to be the last transport between Japan and France under the existing reprocessing contracts. However environmentalist groups argued that "people in France, Britain and Japan and around the world have a right to know the status of new reprocessing contracts", and demanded the information be revealed. In 1995, "Pacific Pintail" belonging to BNFL was the first vessel ever to cross Cape Horn with a shipment of 14 tons of radioactive waste. The vessel was closely followed by the coastal countries in the South Atlantic and Pacific, and most officially expressed their concern to the three countries involved, Britain, France and Japan.

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