updated 4/13/2005 10:57:22 AM ET 2005-04-13T14:57:22

A French shipment of nuclear power plant fuel made from weapons-grade plutonium arrived in the United States despite protests it poses environmental and terrorist risks.

The shipment of mixed-oxide fuel arrived in Charleston early Tuesday, Duke Power spokeswoman Rose Cummings said. The MOX fuel, a mixture of plutonium oxide and uranium oxide, will be tested at the Catawba Nuclear Station on Lake Wylie, which is about 20 miles south of Charlotte, N.C.

A small group of protesters tried unsuccessfully to follow a convoy thought to be carrying the fuel.

Tom Clements of Greenpeace International said he was concerned the Catawba plant doesn’t meet Nuclear Regulatory Commission security requirements; the NRC said last month several conditions were still unmet.

“It’s quite clear that their scrambling to meet the conditions of storage,” Clements said. “To me it represents the poor planning for the overall plutonium disposition program and they’re just trying to make up things as they go along.”

He also complained about how easily he was able to “get right up near the trucks” in the convoy as it left the Charleston Naval Weapons station. “If we could identify them with minimal resources then anyone could identify them,” he said.

The National Nuclear Security Administration and Duke Power officials dismissed the concerns. They said the nuclear plant will have met NRC requirements by the time the shipments arrive at Catawba.

“The fuel assemblies are secure and have been secure without any significant incidents,” NNSA spokesman Bryan Wilkes said. “Everything is on schedule, it’s been on schedule and according to plan.”

The Energy Department shipped the plutonium to France for conversion because there’s no U.S. plant that can do it. Officials want to build a conversion facility near Aiken but construction has been delayed.

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