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 April 17, 2002 | 1750 IST

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Greenpeace warns of nuclear threat to World Cup

Greenpeace warned on Wednesday that a planned nuclear shipment from Japan to Britain in June could become a terrorist target, posing a major security threat to this summer's soccer World Cup.

The environmental group said the shipment of a controversial nuclear fuel was irresponsible at a time when around half a million people are expected to visit Japan for the month-long tournament being co-hosted with South Korea.

"Those responsible for this nuclear shipment must be aware that the Japanese authorities have prioritised security for the World Cup," the group said in a statement.

"This is completely irresponsible. All plans for this shipment must be scrapped immediately," it added.

Greenpeace said that Kansai Electric, Japan's second largest power company, was planning to ship 255 kg (500 lb) of MOX fuel, a blend of uranium and plutonium, to Britain some time in June.

A spokesman for the company said that no date had been decided yet, but added that it wanted to make the shipment at an early date this year.

"Nothing has been decided, not even the season," he said.

The Japanese utility and British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) agreed to ship the fuel back to Britain after it was discovered in 1999 that BNFL had deliberately falsified data on the fuel.

But Shaun Burnie, research director at Greenpeace's plutonium campaign, said that based on information the group has gathered, he was sure that preparations were being made for a June shipment.

"In the event of an accident or terrorist attack, very large amounts of nuclear material would be dispersed into the environment and the consequences for the public in the vicinity would be catastrophic," the group said.

Greenpeace said a June shipment would also jeopardise security at the World Cup as it would divert security resources from matches.

Another Kansai Electric spokesman said he believed the governments of both countries would provide proper security, but Greenpeace's Burnie said it had written to FIFA and Japanese organisers of the World Cup calling on them to urge for a change in the shipment date.

Spent nuclear fuel from Japanese nuclear reactors is routinely shipped to Europe for reprocessing and later returned as MOX and waste resulting from the reprocessing, sparking protests from anti-nuclear campaigners both abroad and in Japan.

Energy-starved Japan operates 52 commercial nuclear reactors, which supply roughly a third of its power.

In September 1999, two workers died and hundreds of residents exposed to radiation near a uranium processing plant in Tokaimura, 140 km (90 miles) northeast of Tokyo, in Japan's worst nuclear accident.

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