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Monday, 16 September, 2002, 18:06 GMT 19:06 UK
Protesters reach nuclear cargo
The Nuclear Free Irish Sea flotilla
The flotilla reached the shipment
A flotilla of environmental campaigners has reached two ships carrying nuclear fuel to Cumbria.

The lightly armed ships with their cargo of radioactive fuel are heading to the Sellafield nuclear processing plant and are due to dock in Barrow-in-Furness on Tuesday.

Protesters - led by the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior - reached the vessels at 1500 BST off the Welsh coast on Monday.

Greenpeace activist Mhairi Dunlop, on board the organisation's flagship Rainbow Warrior, said they were determined to carry out a "peaceful protest" against the shipment of potentially weapons-usable material.

Map of Irish Sea area
The transport could pass Ireland or Wales

The environmental group said the protest was not designed to stop the ship, but highlight an embarrassing three years for British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL).

The BNFL's shipment has caused protests around the world since setting off from the Far East on its 18,000-mile voyage in July.

Environmental groups and governments of countries the shipment passed feared the mixed uranium and plutonium oxide (Mox) fuel could prove a target for terrorists.

Ms Dunlop said: "The international trade in plutonium must stop.

"It is unnecessary, it is not wanted and it is not needed.

"We will be peacefully protesting against the two nuclear freighters. We will not be impeding the safe navigation of either ship but we will make sure the ships see us."

A second flotilla of protest yachts was heading for Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, to meet the shipment at its destination.

Security risk

BNFL's marine transport head Malcolm Miller said: "We recognise individuals and groups have the right to peacefully and lawfully protest about our activities."

The company said it expected the two ships, the Pacific Teal and Pacific Pintail, to reach Barrow-in-Furness at about 0900 BST on Tuesday.

Nuclear fuel container being lifted
Container flasks like this carry nuclear fuel

Irish pop star Jim Corr, from the group The Corrs, is one of the protesters onboard the Rainbow Warrior.

The ships are part of a purpose-built fleet carrying more than 200 kilos of Mox fuel.

The cargo of fuel, which came from Sellafield originally, has been sent back from Takahama in Japan after safety records at the plant operated by BNFL were exposed as false in 1999.

Mox fuel is made by reprocessing spent uranium fuel rods from nuclear plants.

The Sellafield plant separates the rods' plutonium radioactive waste from the remaining unused uranium.

Recycled uranium and plutonium is made into ceramic pellets which can be used again in a nuclear power plant.

BNFL said one fingernail-sized pellet could generate as much energy as a ton of coal.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
"This won't be the last confrontation"
Greenpeace's Shaun Burnie
"This has to be the end of the plutonium trade"
BNFL head of transport Captain Malcolm Miller
"We specialise in safe transport"

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