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Argentine Court bans Japanese nuclear waste shipment


11 January 2001

Buenos Aires - A Federal Court of Appeal in Buenos Aires ruled yesterday afternoon that the government must take steps to prohibit a British-flagged nuclear freighter from transiting Argentina's 200 mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) waters. The court ruling sets the stage for a direct confrontation between Argentine authorities and the Japanese, French and British governments who are involved in the controversial nuclear waste transport.

In its ruling, the three judges of the Court of Appeal overturned a lower court ruling and instructed the Argentine government to prevent the nuclear waste shipment from entering Argentine waters. Citing the possibility of "irreversible" damage to the public health and the environment, the court ruled that such action is required of the government. The court supported its ruling by stating that international norms confer on Argentina "ample powers to prevent contingencies that have aptitude to produce irreversible ecological damage in the habitat of our territorial sea and exclusive economic zone". 


The court ruling comes as the Japan-bound nuclear freighter "Pacific Swan" is inside Argentina's EEZ waters on its route via the notoriously dangerous waters off Cape Horn. The Swan is carrying 192 blocks of vitrified highly radioactive nuclear waste. The waste contains a staggering 96,000,000 curies of radioactivity. The transport is the largest nuclear waste shipment in history and has been dubbed a "floating Chernobyl".

PACIFIC SWAN Nuclear Ship transporting plutonium
on Argentine Sea


The waste is a by-product of plutonium separation from Japanese irradiated nuclear fuel at the French state-controlled COGEMA La Hague reprocessing plant. This waste is among the most radioactive material ever produced - the glass blocks are in fact so radioactive that a person standing within one metre of an unshielded block would receive a lethal dose of radiation in less than one minute. If released into the environment, the waste would be a deadly environmental pollutant for hundreds of thousands of years.

"We applaud this court ruling," said Martin Prieto of Greenpeace in Argentina. "The ruling is clearly in line with Argentine Constitution and recognizes developments in international law which seek to protect the environment and public health. The Argentine President, Mr De la Rua, should take immediate action to force this deadly shipment out of our waters and should support our neighbours in doing the same. Ultimately, we hope that this ruling will encourage and enable the government to take a leadership role in seeking to ban these hazardous cargoes at the regional and international levels as well."

Greenpeace has repeatedly called on the Japanese government to stop its controversial program to procure a massive stockpile of weapons-usable plutonium. The program, which currently generates no electricity, can not be justified on economic, energy-production, safety, security or nuclear non-proliferation bases.

In addition to this high level waste shipment currently off the coast of Argentina, Greenpeace revealed on Tuesday that secret preparations for a plutonium fuel shipment have been finalised in France and Britain. This shipment is due to depart, with its cargo of nuclear weapons-usable material, as early as the middle of next week. The route remains secret, however past shipments of plutonium fuel (MOX) and high level nuclear waste have gone via the Caribbean and Panama, South Africa and the South Pacific, and most recently South America/ Cape Horn.


- Juan Carlos Villalonga, Greenpeace Argentina, mobile (+54) 11 51 094 166
- Martin Prieto, Greenpeace Argentina, mobile (+54) 11 44 280 597
- Luisa Colasimone, Press Office, (+54) 11 41 444 835

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