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World: Pilots Protest Relaxation Of Safety Rules For Nuclear Fuel

  • Stuart Parrott

London, 6 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Airline pilots are protesting plans to relax safety rules for the air transport of radioactive nuclear fuel, saying an accident could lead to an environmental disaster.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is expected next week to agree to a revision of ten-year-old safety standards governing the transport of radioactive materials by air, sea and land.

The International Federation of Airline Pilots and environmental groups say proposed containers for a new type of reactor fuel -- a mixture of plutonium and uranium -- are dangerously inadequate.

They say if a plane were to crash at more than 50 kilometers an hour the containers would fail, allowing leakage of the plutonium-laced fuel. The pilots say that this could cause "a major ecological catastrophe." If inhaled, plutonium causes lung cancer.

IAEA spokesman David Kyd told RFE/RL today that the safety rules have been brought up to date, not relaxed. It is the view of experts that, in the event of an air crash, plutonium would not disperse into the atmosphere since it is blended with uranium inside metal rods.

Kyd said flights carrying nuclear fuel are likely over Western Europe, but not over Central or Eastern Europe. An airport in Britain has already been used to fly two tons of fuel to Zurich for a Swiss nuclear reactor.