October 9, 2004 in Nation/World

U.S. plutonium arrives at French factory

Associated Press
 

CHERBOURG, France – A trans-Atlantic shipment of plutonium from the United States arrived by guarded convoy at a factory in southern France Friday, amid protests by environmental groups.

French state-run nuclear company Areva said the delivery to the Cadarache factory near the port of Marseille was made under “optimal safety and security,” the company said.

Greenpeace and other environmental campaigners led a string of protests against the shipment of 275 pounds of military-grade plutonium taken from U.S. nuclear warheads. The protests are fearful of terrorist attacks, accidents and the fuel itself.

A court in Aix-en-Provence on Thursday barred activists from protesting within 100 yards of the factory.

The plutonium arrived in France on Wednesday at the northwest port of Cherbourg, aboard one of two heavily armed vessels that left from Charleston, S.C., on Sept. 20. It was transported more than 600 miles in a heavily guarded convoy of trucks.

Areva will turn the plutonium into the commercial fuel known as MOX – a mixture of plutonium oxide and uranium oxide. France has received shipments of radioactive material in the past for conversion into MOX fuel, but this is the first time weapons-grade plutonium is involved.

The U.S. Energy Department shipped the batch of plutonium to France for conversion into MOX because there isn’t a plant in the United States that can do it. The shipment will serve as a test for the use of MOX in American nuclear reactors. If it works, as expected, a MOX factory is to be built in the United States and another in Russia.

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