The departure of a shipment of reprocessed nuclear fuel from France to Japan has been delayed due to the breakdown of loading equipment, a French nuclear technology company announced Wednesday.
The setback came as environmental campaigners denounced the practice of transporting such highly radioactive materials.
The shipment arrived on two separate lorries under heavy security in the small hours of Wednesday morning at the French port city of Cherbourg. It was bound for Japan for use in a power plant.
But French nuclear technology group Orano, which is handling the transport, said Wednesday that the breakdown of one of its lifting gantries had prevented the loading of one of the two packages.
It would therefore be returned to the Orano site 20 kilometres (13 miles) from the port.
The company was doing what it could to organise a fresh sea transport as soon as possible, Orano added.
The previous transport of Mox fuel to Japan, in September 2021, drew protests from environmental group Greenpeace.
Yannick Rousselet of Greenpeace France had already denounced the latest planned shipment.
“Transporting such dangerous materials from a nuclear proliferation point of view is completely irresponsible,” he said.
He described the latest development, in which part of the shipment had had to be returned to the Orano facility as unprecedented.
“A boat loaded with Mox is going to circle in the water while they make a round trip (of 40 kilometres) with a container of Mox,” he said.
Japan lacks facilities to process waste from its own nuclear reactors and sends most of it overseas, particularly to France.
The load of highly radioactive Mox, a mixture of reprocessed plutonium and uranium, was transported overnight from a plant in the Hague in secure containers on two trucks, Orano said.
The convoy arrived around 3:45 am (0145 GMT) at the port surrounded by law enforcement vehicles, according to an AFP photographer.
Shortly after 6:00 am, the first fuel package was loaded aboard a specially designed ship from British company PNTL, which has extensive experience with this type of transport, Orano said.
That ship has taken up a holding position out at sea, said the company. Armed British police were still on board the vessel, it added.
It will take a little more than two months for the ship to reach Japan, said Orano — the eighth such shipment from France since 1999.
Mox is composed of 92 percent uranium oxide and eight percent plutonium oxide, according to Orano.
The plutonium “is not the same as that used by the military,” it said.