Greenpeace activists 'risk their lives'

Monday, August 18, 2008

GREENPEACE ACTIVISTS protesting against a shipment of nuclear waste on its way to Sellafield are putting themselves at risk of death or injury, the UK nuclear security chief has warned.

Roger Brunt, the director of the government's Office for Civil Nuclear Security (OCNS), has accused the international anti-nuclear group of "recklessness" during attempts to board a boat carrying plutonium-contaminated waste from Sweden.


But Greenpeace insisted that its volunteers were "highly trained" and abided by rigorous safety procedures. The dangers they were trying to prevent were far greater than any they might have caused, the organisation argued.

The OCNS is the secretive government agency responsible for regulating security at 32 civil nuclear sites in the UK, including Dounreay, Torness and Hunterston in Scotland. Its 2007-08 annual report was posted online on Friday.

In the report, Brunt recalled the protests against a five-tonne shipment of radioactive waste from Studsvik in Sweden to the Sellafield nuclear complex in Cumbria on October 5 and 6 last year. Three Scandinavian activists were arrested after climbing onto the nuclear cargo ship, the Atlantic Osprey, from inflatables in the Baltic Sea.

Brunt said the protesters "gained a precarious foothold on the outer hull". To prevent injury or loss of life, he said, the crew then took protesters on board.

"Whilst I unreservedly support the democratic right of people to protest peacefully, I must register my concern at the reckless disregard for their own safety shown by the Greenpeace activists," Brunt stated.

Greenpeace strongly defended its protest, pointing out that it had a long history of taking direct action in potentially dangerous situations. "Rigorous safety procedures are always followed and are absolutely central to the planning and execution of our actions," said the group's spokesman, Nathan Argent.

Argent added: "The dangers involved in this unnecessary and irresponsible movement of radioactive material across our seas are, in our opinion, a far greater threat than the actions of a small group of highly trained volunteers."

The action against the Atlantic Osprey was organised by Greenpeace Nordic in Sweden after the organisation failed to win a court ban on the nuclear shipment. Greenpeace UK is barred from taking protest action against shipments to Sellafield by a legal injunction won by the nuclear industry in 1999.

Greenpeace Nordic argued the shipment broke Swedish radiation protection laws but the Swedish government maintained it was a special case as the nuclear waste came from a research reactor.

OCNS plays a vital role in minimising the risks of terrorist attacks on nuclear plants. Its latest annual report, written by Brunt, revealed that it had a budget of £2.5 million and a staff of fewer than 40, including 15 security inspectors.

According to Brunt, there were seven potential breaches of nuclear security reported by site operators in 2007-08. But he gave no details of the nature, timing or location of the incidents, saying: "I am satisfied that the security of nuclear material was not compromised on any of these occasions."

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