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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nuclear Waste Shipment Met by Protesters in Japan

ROKKASHO, Japan -- A shipload of high-level nuclear waste arrived at a northern Japanese port Tuesday, and police scuffled with protesters blocking the path of trucks carrying the waste to a storage depot.


About 50 protesters, some chained to the port gates, sat at the entrance as drivers tried to transport out the 20 tons of waste. A shoving match broke out as police cleared away the protesters, but there were no arrests.


The Pacific Teal, carrying waste reprocessed in France, docked in the fishing village of Rokkasho, 520 kilometers northeast of Tokyo, on Tuesday morning and was inspected before it was unloaded.


Japan has little capability to reprocess spent reactor fuel, and it sends the waste to Britain and France where plutonium is extracted to be used as fuel in Japan's much-criticized fast-breeder program.


Tuesday's shipment contained high-level waste, the leftovers from the reprocessing. A shipment of plutonium arrived in Japan in 1993, and a shipment of high-level waste arrived in 1995.


The shipments have been denounced at home and abroad as risky. Critics say an accident could spill the waste into the sea, or that the cargo could be stolen or damaged by terrorists. Several countries banned the ship from their waters.


"This shipment has caused controversy around the planet and has become a symbol for the environmental, public health and proliferation risks'' of Japan's nuclear program, Hideaki Takemura of Greenpeace Japan said in a statement.


The ship was met Tuesday by about 300 demonstrators. A group of 30 put a line of old shoes at the port entrance and shouted slogans comparing Japan's nuclear program to useless footwear, Kyodo News said.


Later, police shouted at the protesters through bullhorns, ordering them to leave. When the demonstrators refused, the officers moved in, sawing the handcuffs holding some protesters to the port gates and pushing others away from the entrance.


One protester fell unconscious in the confusion, and it was unclear whether the person fell ill or was injured by the police. The protester was taken away in an ambulance.


An Aomori prefectural police spokesman said the demonstrations ended with no arrests. He said he did not know anything about a demonstrator being hospitalized.


The shipment arrived just a week after a fire at a nuclear reprocessing plant northeast of Tokyo sparked criticism of safety measures at Japan's nuclear facilities.


In the latest accident, 37 workers were exposed to low-level radiation, and the plant's operators have been accused of a slow and confused response that could have compounded the damage.