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Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK
Is nuclear tide turning?
Flotilla of protesters was small
There were half a dozen protest boats taking part
Pallab Ghosh

From the environmentalists' perspective, the return of nuclear cargo to Cumbria on Tuesday was symbolic of the failure of the route to nuclear energy.

What it showed was that time after time, since the beginning of Windscale in 1947 - with its fire, leaks and high level emissions of radioactive waste, cover-ups and more recent accidents at the renamed Sellafield - nuclear power wasn't working.

The Japanese had decided they didn't want the consignment of fuel from BNFL after they admitted that certain manual checks hadn't been carried out.

So, for many, this was a case of the bad old nuclear industry up to it again.

Safe transportation

However, for British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL), the shipment provided an opportunity to show that for over 25 years they have been transporting nuclear material safely.

Their shipments have covered 4.5 million miles across seas and lands without a single incident - something the company believes will restore confidence in its operations and assure the public that it is now business as usual.

BNFL was very open about allowing media complete access to the port.

It provided information, acknowledging the right to protest while warning the protestors not to obstruct the vessel, creating a new image of openness and a willingness to debate the issue rather than just denying everything.

There was a protest organised by Greenpeace, but this was a damp squib.

Greenpeace were talking of a flotilla of at least 20 vessels, there were half a dozen or so.

There were no huge demonstrations on the ground - the only incident was a person attempting to make a citizen┐s arrest of a BNFL representative inside the controlled press area.

The lack of opposition possibly reflects BNFL's popularity in the area - it employees 10,500 people and beyond that tens of thousands more depend on the wealth created.

The local opposition group, Cumbrians Opposed to Radioactive Environment (CORE), has only a handful of members here.

The economic values of nuclear power appear to outweigh any worries the locals may have - taxes and roads appear to be higher on their agenda.

Nuclear route

Also, there is a sense that the tide of opinion on nuclear fuel is beginning to turn.

It has been very unfashionable to think of nuclear energy as sound - largely because of the nuclear waste it produces and disposes.

But in order to meet our Kyoto requirements there is a growing body of independent scientific opinion that renewables and energy saving isn't going to make up the shortfall.

We either continue pumping out carbon dioxide or change to nuclear, or reduce energy consumption and lose jobs.

This is the bullet that has to be bitten sometime in the next year or so.

See also:

17 Sep 02 | England
13 Sep 02 | UK
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