Carmelo Ruiz

(Puerto Rico. March 3 1999) Puerto Rican activists are joining the
international campaign against the maritime transport of nuclear waste
through the Caribbean sea and the Panama Canal.

The focus of the campaign is the voyage of the Pacific Swan, a
British-flagged ship that left France on February 25 and is headed to
Japan with a cargo of 1067 tons of reprocessed nuclear waste. Although
its route is being kept secret, it is expected to travel through the
Caribbean and cross the Panama Canal.

In order to enter the Caribbean sea, the ship will have to go through
the Mona canal, which is between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Last year, the Pacific Swan sailed across the Caribbean with a similar
cargo, in spite of heated protests from environmentalists and
governments in the area.

The ship contains forty cylinders of vitrified nuclear waste. "(These)
glass blocks are in fact so radioactive that a person standing within
one metre of an unshielded block could receive a lethal dose of
radiation in less than one minute", said a Greenpeace press release.

"This shipment constitutes an element of enormous danger for
ecosystems and populations all over the Caribbean", said Jorge
Fernández, environmental adviser to the Puerto Rico Independence Party
(Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño/ PIP). "The fact that the
ship's route and schedule are a secret, like thieves in the night,
aggravates the potential danger of these shipments".

"We add our voices to the global call against the reprocessing and
transport of radioactive materials because of the danger that it
represents to public health and the marine environment in case of an
accident", declared Wanda Colón, coordinator of the San Juan-based
Caribbean Project for Justice and Peace. "We must phase out nuclear
power and give a real chance to sustainable alternatives, like solar,
wind and geothermal energy".

The opponents of these shipments faced a major setback when in late
February, United States federal judge Salvador Casellas dismissed a
lawsuit by a coalition of local groups. The plaintiffs, which included
Puerto Rican environmental groups and fishermen's associations, sought
to ban the passage of ships carrying radioactive materials through the
Mona canal.

In his 20-page opinion, Judge Casellas, ruled that the US government
has no right to interfere with the shipments, except in case of an
accident on board.

"The judge erred in his decision by not considering the dangerous
nature of the material and the level of risk involved in transporting
it through the Mona canal, known for its rough currents", said Luis
Silva, spokesman for the plaintiffs, to the local press.

The plaintiffs are appealing judge Casellas's decision in the US Court
of Appeals in Boston.

On February 26, PIP senator Rubén Berríos presented a resolution that
expresses, in the name of the people of Puerto Rico, repudiation
against the nuclear waste shipment.

The brief document, which describes the Pacific Swan as "a floating
Chernobyl", states that the technology for transporting these nuclear
wastes is unsafe. It also refers to a Princeton University study that
concludes that there are no adequate methods for insuring that the
ship's containers will be airtight under normal travel conditions.

The resolution also mentions that the Pacific Swan had a fire on board
in 1990 during a trip through the Atlantic Ocean. "An accident of that
nature but of greater proportions could cause a repetition of the
Chernobyl inferno, this time all over the Caribbean".

According to Greenpeace and press reports, CARICOM leaders will put
the nuclear transport issue in the agenda of their summit meeting,
scheduled for March 4-5 in Suriname.

One of the local groups active in this protest campaign is the
Committee Against Experiments on the Environment, which last year led
the opposition to a series of NASA experiments in Puerto Rico.

The Committee is tying its campaign against the Pacific Swan's passage
with its campaign against NASA's unmanned Cassini space probe.
Cassini, headed to Saturn, was launched in 1997 with 72.3 pounds of
highly radioactive plutonium on board.

In August 1999, the spacecraft will approach Earth for a fly-by
manoeuvre to help it gain speed. Environmentalists and scientists all
over the world have deemed this manoeuvre to be too risky, and are
calling on NASA to reroute the spacecraft.

"We insist that the threat of a global disaster caused by plutonium is
real", said the Committee in a recent press statement. "It's up to all
of us to put a stop to these demented nuclear projects".

The Committee is planning major protest actions against both the
Pacific Swan's passage and the Cassini Earth fly-by.

Posted 3/6/99 11:25:18 AM