Flotilla Crews Bow Heads in Silent Protest as N-Cargo Passes Wales; IRISH SEA: Campaigners `to Act Again' Should Traffic of Plutonium between Sellafield and Japan Become Regular Occurrence

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A SHOWDOWN in the Irish Sea between anti-nuclear protesters and two freighters carrying enough plutonium to make 50 nuclear bombs passed off without incident yesterday.

The two British Nuclear Fuel freighters passed through a flotilla of boats 20 miles off the Pembrokeshire coast just after 4.30pm.

Crews bowed their heads in a silent protest as the freighters passed by on their way to the Sellafield power plant. One passed within 200 metres of one demonstrating yacht, the Noble Warrior.

A BNFL spokeswoman said last night the company was pleased it had passed off without incident.

``We have no problem with people protesting peacefully and safely in a democratic society,'' she said.

Yesterday's showdown in the Irish Sea marked the end of a worldwide cat and mouse struggle between the anti-nuclear protesters and the energy company.

Ever since the two BNFL freighters left Japan for the Sellafield power plant in July, protesters have been determined to highlight the dangers of carrying radioactive cargos on the high seas.

The shipment had already been waylaid once on the other side of the world by protesters from Australia and New Zealand, but yesterday's showdown in the Irish Sea was the biggest demonstration yet.

It faces more boats from the flotilla near Barrow-in Furness before it is due to dock there this morning at nine o'clock. Several extra security measures will be in place at the port.

Campaigners say they are ready to take to the seas again should the traffic of plutonium between the reprocessing centre at Sellafield and Japan become a regular occurrence.

``This is the first time that the Irish sea flotilla has set sail and we have amassed 20 boats; that's quite impressive,'' said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace aboard Rainbow Warrior yesterday.

``It underscores the strength of feeling, particularly on the Irish side, against these shipments. There's also strong opposition from Wales and we even have a boat from Cumbria.

``The protest won't shut down Sellafield and it won't stop the transport of plutonium, but it will help the campaign against it.''

Irish skipper Paul Barrett, from Arklow, said, ``We have struck a chord with a lot of people. It's an imaginative way of protecting the sea. It's a sea, after all, that we all share.''

The controversial cargo of plutonium Mox fuel (plutonium-mixed oxide) was sent out to Japan from BNFL, which is owned by the British Government, in 1999.

However, Japanese scientists discovered that safety data had been falsified and as a result the Japanese government and fuel owner Kansai Electric refused to accept it and demanded it be returned.

The two British-registered freighters, Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal, left Britain in April on the 18,000-mile voyage to Japan to pick up the rejected fuel and bring it home.

They left Takahama harbour on July 4 with the Pacific Pintail carrying 255kg of weapons-useable plutonium and the Pacific Teal acting as its escort.

Both freighters are armed with 30mm cannon and have officers of the UK Atomic Energy Constabulary on board. A Royal Naval vessel travelled with them through the Irish sea while the shipments are also believed to have been tracked by two British nuclear submarines. …