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Monday, September 27, 1999 Published at 04:16 GMT 05:16 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Nuclear fuel ship docks in Japan

The two month voyage raised security fears

An armed British ship carrying recycled nuclear fuel has docked in Japan amid protests by environmentalists.

Activists from pressure group Greenpeace, riding in inflatable boats, met the Pacific Teal as she arrived at Okuma about 250km (160 miles) north of Tokyo.

A second armed British ship, The Pacific Pintail, also carring nuclear fuel, remains offshore where it will wait for the Pacific Teal to unload before both head north to Fukui.

[ image: The ships are armed with guns to deter attack]
The ships are armed with guns to deter attack
The two-month voyage from Europe had raised security fears.

The cargo, known as MOX, is a mix of uranium oxide and plutonium recycled from spent nuclear fuel.

Greenpeace had warned that the shipment could have been converted into 60 nuclear bombs if the two ships had been hijacked at sea.

The vessels were each armed with three 30mm cannon.

Unloading was expected to start on Monday, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co said.


The voyage marks the first transfer since 1992 of so-called "direct use" nuclear material, considered easily convertible into weapons-grade material.

Nuclear power is the source of about 30% of Japan's electricity and is considered crucial by the government to meet the country's growing energy needs.

The Pacific Pintail is carrying MOX from Britain's Sellafield nuclear processing plant destined for a reactor operated by Kansai Electric Power Co (KEPCO) in Fukui.

Protests marked the departure of both ships from Europe, including one which delayed them in Britain for several hours.

The Pacific Teal was originally scheduled to enter port last Wednesday, but had to wait offshore for five days because of stormy weather.

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