Questions being asked about mystery cargo
The nuclear fuel carrier Pacific Egret slipped into the harbour at Charleston, South Carolina, on March 19 and unloaded a top-secret cargo at the port’s Naval Weapons Station.
Fitted with naval guns, cannons and extensive hidden means of repelling a terrorist assault, the three-year-old British vessel was purpose-built to transport plutonium, highly enriched uranium (HEU) and mixed-oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel on the high seas.
Its previous publicly reported position had been exiting the Mediterranean at the Strait of Gibraltar almost two weeks earlier on March 7, carrying a delicate nuclear cargo loaded at the La Spezia naval base in northern Italy.
As the vessel entered the North Atlantic that day, its tracking image vanished from an online marine traffic monitoring system. The ship the size of a football field became all but invisible to unauthorized eyes.
Questions are now being raised about whether the sensitive cargo included recycled plutonium that originated here in Canada.
The clandestine business of transporting shiploads of fissile nuclear materials between nations rarely comes into public view. An eight-kilogram piece of plutonium-239 the size of a grapefruit could obliterate much of Ottawa in seconds — as it did to Nagasaki in August 1945. It’s aptly named after the ancient Greek god of the underworld.
taly announced the successful removal to the U.S. of 17 kilograms of plutonium and HEU to the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site nuclear waste complex near Aiken, S.C., a two-hour drive from Charleston.
A similar statement followed from Belgium, where the Pacific Egret loaded plutonium and HEU destined for Savannah in late January. Japan, another of the ship’s regular ports of call, said it would cede control to the U.S. of more than 300 kilograms of plutonium and 200 kg of HEU, enough to build about 40 nuclear warheads.
It’s believed that separated plutonium and HEU have been totally removed from 12 countries since U.S. President Barack Obama initiated the summits in 2010. In all, almost 3,000 kilograms of weapons-grade fissile materials have been removed or disposed of from 27 countries.
Yet there remains an estimated 490 tonnes of plutonium around the world for military and civilian use, plus approximately 1,250 tonnes of HEU, enough for more than 55,000 basic atomic bombs.
Read more at Covert mission: Plutonium source might be Canada