SOUTH AFRICA: Greenpeace urges SA to join coastal nations against MOX fuel shipments

Greenpeace International believes South Africa is in a unique position to fight against plans to route plutonium-rich MOX fuel shipments around the Cape of Good Hope several times a year. The first of such shipment rounded the Cape on 11 and 12 August, sailing no closer than 320 miles off South Africa's coast.

“South Africa is in a unique position because it is the only country to have developed and then destroyed its nuclear weapons,” Mike Townsley of Greenpeace International told edie.”So it has a high moral authority in this area.”

This first commercial shipment of plutonium fuel, bound for Japan, carries 450kg of mixed oxides of uranium and plutonium fuel and is carried aboard two British ships, the Pacific Pintail and the Pacific Teal. South Africa’s deputy environmental affairs minister, Joyce Madubafhasi, asked the companies organising the shipment to stay out of South Africa’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). “We accept that international law grants any state the right of freedom of navigation of its ships on the high seas through states’ EEZs and the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea of coastal states,” Madubafhasi said. “Notwithstanding, I have requested that the ships stay out of your territorial waters and EEZ”.

There was no firm assurance in advance of the cargo rounding the Cape that the request would be heeded. It was.

Townsley says that en-route countries have the opportunity to challenge established ocean law: “There is a basic notion that the UN law of the sea allows innocent passage of shipments through EEZs, but there are more recent legal developments – statements from the Rio Summit on the ‘precautionary principle’ of sustainability, for instance – that might challenge the legality of these shipments.”

“Greenpeace is arguing that a number of en-route countries need to band together to develop new legal strategies,” said Townsley. “They have to act collectively.” South Africa is in the process of setting up committees to examine the issue. En-route countries include many west coast African states, New Zealand, Australia, several Pacific Island countries and Ireland.

According to Greenpeace, about five shipments of MOX fuel from Britain and France to Japan are expected each year over the next ten to 15 years. According to the organisation, the cargo is highly radioactive and poses a threat to the environment and international security. Resistance from many coastal states to such dangerous shipments has led to a preference for the route around the Cape of Good Hope in favour of routes around Cape Horn or via the Panama Canal.

The MOX fuel shipment is a commercial shipment involving British Nuclear Fuels Ltd, Cogema (“The Full Cycle Fuel Company for North America”) and others (see related story).

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