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Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 12:33 GMT
Protests greet Japan nuclear cargo
British ship carrying nuclear fuel arrives in Japan
There is growing mistrust of Japan's nuclear industry
A controversial shipment of spent nuclear fuel has been met by hundreds of protesters on arrival in northern Japan for reprocessing.

It is incredibly rash that they push overflowing, dangerous nuclear waste into a facility that is still under construction

National Christian Council of Japan statement
The ship was carrying the first batch of spent uranium bound for the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, which is currently under construction.

Officials said the ship had docked successfully and had started unloading its cargo.

The Rokkasho plant, on the northern tip of Honshu Island, is intended eventually to receive spent uranium from nuclear power stations across Japan.

Radioactive waste has been building up ever since the country's only other reprocessing plant - at Tokaimura - was closed down after a number of accidents.

'Nuclear dump'

The ship arrived with 24 tonnes of spent fuel from Fukushima Prefecture on the south of the island.

The fuel will be stored in Rokkasho until the plant is operational.

But it was met with shouts of "Don't turn Rokkasho into a nuclear dump" by demonstrators.

Greenpeace Japan, which is campaigning to scrap the country's nuclear industry, has accused the government of failing of explain properly what will happen to the fuel.

And the National Christian Council of Japan accused the companies involved of negligence.

"It is incredibly rash that they push overflowing, dangerous nuclear waste into a facility that is still under construction," a council statement said.

But Japanese Science and Technology Agency head Nobutaka Machimura said the shipment was a first step towards providing safe reprocessing.

The country's 51 nuclear reactors have run out of storage space for used fuel rods, and spent fuel has been sent to Britain and France.

The fuel will be stored at the plant until it opens in 2005.

Declining confidence

There has been a public outcry against Japan's continued dependency on nuclear power following the accidents at Tokaimura, the country's only existing reprocessing plant.

Inquiries into the accidents, one of which resulted in two deaths, revealed that safety regulations had been flouted.

As a result, the government was forced to abandon plans to build 16-20 new nuclear power plants over the next 10 years.

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See also:

30 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan urged to ditch atomic power
30 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Tokaimura: One year on
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13 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
Japan tightens nuclear safety
09 Nov 99 | Asia-Pacific
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