Ships would carry radioactive cargo to and from Japan

Posted: Friday, February 23, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles has written to officials in Washington D.C. and Russia in an effort to block the shipment of nuclear waste through the Arctic Ocean.

A Russian shipping company has offered to use icebreakers to escort freighters laden with nuclear waste bound from Europe to Japan across its northern coastline, according to national and international news accounts, concerned northern nations and environmental organizations.

In letters dated Feb. 16, Knowles asked Sen. Ted Stevens and Secretary of State Colin Powell for help in clarifying the talks between Russian and Japanese companies. Knowles additionally asked Stevens to help ''stop the marine transport of these dangerous materials.''

In his letter to Powell, Knowles said: ''Any accidental release of this material could have a devastating effect on the fragile Arctic environment and the health and welfare of the people who live there. In Alaska, where most of our indigenous people live a subsistence way of life, any threat to their resources would have a devastating effect on their way of life, not to mention their health.''

Stevens is out of the country and could not be contacted this week.

Knowles also mailed the letter to Roman Abramovich, who was inaugurated as governor of Chukotka a few weeks ago.

''I hope you will join me in registering our mutual concerns with our respective federal administrations over this matter of Arctic marine transport of nuclear material,'' Knowles wrote to Abramovich.

Hard facts about the nuclear shipping proposal are difficult to come by. The environmental organization Greenpeace issued a press release in January saying it had learned of the negotiations, and news organizations in the United States, Europe and Russia have reported on the proposal.

In Washington, D.C., Knowles aide Anna Kerttula said contacts in Moscow have confirmed there is a proposal to ship nuclear waste through the Arctic Ocean.

''We're not sure how close they are to cutting a deal,'' Kerttula said. ''We're trying to find out how real this is and when is the possibility (that shipments might begin).''

Japan uses nuclear fuel to power some utilities and sends spent fuel to reactors in Britain and France, where it is reprocessed. The reprocessed fuel and nuclear waste created in that process are shipped to Japan. The exchange has been going on for about a decade, with freighters transiting traditional sea routes around South Africa and South America and through the Panama Canal. Resistance to shipping the nuclear material has been growing in countries adjacent to those routes.

Damon Moglen, a Washington, D.C.-based spokesman for Greenpeace International who works on nuclear issues, said more than 50 countries have protested the two-way shipments between Japan and Europe.

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