THE involvement of Barrow and West Cumbria in the movement of spent nuclear fuel from Japan for reprocessing now stretches back a half-century.

News of a major contract was announced in The Mail, on May 15, in 1968.

It noted: "James Fisher and Sons, the Barrow shipowners, have been awarded a contract by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority to carry irradiated nuclear fuel from Japan to Britain.

"The fuel will be processed at Windscale atom plant for the recovery of valuable residual contents."

The company's Stream Fisher had been moving similar nuclear fuel shipments from Mediterranean ports for the previous three years.

It carried fuel from Italy's Latina power station, via Anzio.

Company chairman, Sir John Fisher, expected the Japanese contract to extend over a number of years and the company was to have a cargo boat called Leven Fisher specially fitted out for the task.

The article noted: "The fuel will be carried in 45-ton protective steel containers, 12 at a time, from the Tokai Mura power station, near Tokyo, to Barrow docks and then by rail to Windscale.

"Altogether, 160 tons of spent fuel discharged from Tokai during the first three years of its life will be shipped.

"About 180kg of plutonium recovered from the fuel will be returned to Japan for use in Japanese reactor projects."

The contract was signed on April 10 by Tamaki Ipponmatsu, president of the Japanese power firm, and Tom Tuohy, managing director of the UKAEA's northern production group.

Alf Pidduck, deputy docks manager for Barrow and Silloth, welcomed the contract and said: "I only wish the operation was 1,000 times bigger."

Final preparations for the first journey to collect fuel from Japan were reported on April 14 in 1969.

The 14,000-mile round trip would start on May 2 under the command of Capt Jack Lundberg.

The 2,355-ton and 260ft-long Leven Fisher had been modified for its new role by W. Pirt and Sons, of Workington and the fuel flasks were made at Distington.

On August 26 it was reported that the Leven Fisher was a few days from docking at Whitehaven's Queen's Dock with the first cargo.

Barrow would later become the preferred landing place and this was hinted at in the article.

The Mail quoted a shipping company spokesman who noted: "It is quite possible that the Leven Fisher could come into Barrow as well.

"There is no special reason for it not coming into Barrow beyond one of circumstances and on this occasion the choice is Whitehaven."

One of the voyages to Barrow by Stream Fisher with fuel from Italy featured in a colour movie made in 1966 and called Return Journey.

The film was entered in the International Festival of Television Films at Rome and won first place in its category.

Leven Fisher was laid up in Barrow from 1980 and two years later was sold to Syrian owners and renamed Haj Hassan and later Allah Kareen and Doja.

The ship foundered in shallow water on July 23 in 1995 in the Sea of Azov while carrying a cargo of glass and wood pulp.