Nov 18, 1992


BRUSSELS, NOVEMBER 16 (IPS) The European Community (EC) is hoping Farm Commissioner Ray MacSharry's visit to Washington Wednesday will finally end the long-running dispute between the EC and the United States over cuts in oilseed production.

If the issue is resolved this week, the stalled Uruguay trade talks can resume among 108 developed and developing nations. But a repeat of the collapse in talks two weeks ago at Chicago could spark a U.S./EC trade war and derail negotiations in the "Uruguay Round" of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) for months.

In its new book, "Plutonium: Deadly Gold of the Nuclear Age", the IPPNW recommends that all military and civilian plutonium be treated as highly radioactive waste and put under international controls.

"Plutonium is one of the deadliest substances known. Studies suggest that as little as a millionth of an ounce (one on- thousandth of a gram) lodged in a lung, will produce cancer with virtual certainty", according to Dr. Howard Hu, Director of a special IPPNW commission which compiled the book.

"Two new scientific papers published this year indicate that significant risks may be associated with even lower doses", according to Hu, who added that "Global controls are needed now to prevent further damage to human health". Hu also called on U.S. President-elect Bill Clinton to make such controls a "high priority" for his administration.

In addition to the health hazards, the new book addresses the security risks created by plutonium.

"Whether it is currently in military or civilian hands, plutonium can be used to make nuclear weapons and as a toot for radiological terror", said Dr. Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) and principal consultant for the IPPNW project. "The new (U.S.) administration must act to stop risky international transportation of plutonium, such as the current shipment of 1.7 tonnes from France to Japan", he said.

Using radioactive materials to sow terror, even without a nuclear explosion, was considered as early as World War II, according to the book. After the war, a document produced by the office of the Armed Services chief pointed to the ability of severe radioactive contamination to provide "psychic stimuli" that could "break the will of nations and of peoples by the stimulation of man's primordial fears, those of the unknown, the invisible, the mysterious".

According to Dr. Katherine Yih, the Commission's Coordinator and co-author of the book, "The threat of radiological warfare using plutonium is a very real one", especially in view of "recent evidence of a rising traffic in Germany of radioactive materials such as cesium-137 and enriched uranium".

Clinton referred last week to the recent discovery of a truck loaded with highly radioactive materials at a German border station as grounds for serious concern about proliferation.

The new book argues there are great risks of explosions and fires in tanks storing highly radioactive liquid wastes from plutonium production. One such facility, according to the report, exploded in the Chelyabinsk region of the Soviet Union in 1957 with disastrous consequences. In addition, several dozen tanks near nuclear power stations where plutonium was produced pose similar risks in sites all over the United States, Russia, France, Britain, and seven other nations, according to the report.

"The dangers of international trafficking in plutonium, of increased weapons proliferation and of environmental contamination require that all plutonium production be stopped", Hu said. "We must also begin to deal with the tonnes of plutonium from dismantled weapons".

Finding safe disposal sites for plutonium, which has a half-life of 24,000 years, also poses a major problem and offers an additional argument for stopping production now, the book said.

Daryl Kimball of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), the U.S. affiliate of IPPNW, charged that the health effects of plutonium on nuclear weapons workers in the United States have generally been understated and urged the new administration to "aggressively expand efforts" to study the problems.