European Commission criticised for inability to guarantee nuclear safety standards

A controversial report on possible toxic effects from nuclear reprocessing at Sellafield and La Hague points the finger at the European Commission for failing to verify the accuracy of safety data. The political and environmental debate over nuclear reprocessing is set to continue, as the report concludes that the European Commission cannot ‘guarantee’ that standards are being met.

European Parliament Committees prepare reports defining the Parliament’s position on various issues. For expert, independent assessments of scientific or technological issues, Parliament’s Scientific and Technological Options Assessment Unit, STOA is used.

In November 2000 the Scientific and Technological Options Assessment Panel commissioned WISE-Paris to produce a report on possible toxic effects from nuclear reprocessing. This was in response to concerns and petitions (lodged in 1995) from individuals concerned about radioactive discharges in the North Sea and the Atlantic from Sellafield in Cumbria and La Hague in France.

Mycle Schneider, Director of WISE-Paris directed a team of nine experts from France, UK and United States working on the report. However, WISE-Paris’ objectivity was questioned in the European Parliament and consequently in June 2001 the STOA Panel asked three further independent experts to evaluate the report.

The report was handed over by WISE-Paris at the end of August 2001 and finally published on the European Parliament website on 22 November. The body of the report concludes that there are great uncertainties in the assessments of doses of toxic releases subsequent health effects. It points out that radioactive discharges from both sites violate the Ospar Convention for the Protection of The Marine Environment of The North-east Atlantic; that reprocessing operations cannot be ruled out as a cause of higher leukaemia rates near the plants; and that the ‘great uncertainties’ in assessment of health effects means that reprocessing runs contrary to the precautionary principle.

It makes a raft of policy recommendations that would restrict or end reprocessing. It also lists a range of measures to improve public access to data and expert opinion on health risks.

In an introductory letter published at the beginning of the report, the Chairman of the STOA Panel presents it as “a first contribution to the scientific debate”, and points out that as with all commissioned reports, the study does not represent parliamentary policy. He also criticises WISE-Paris for making public parts of the report before publication.

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