Radioactive waste discharge banned in North Atlantic

European environment ministers have voted to ban nuclear reprocessing and radioactive waste discharges into the sea at the OSPAR conference, which ended today.

Delegates at the conference adopted the legally binding decision after ministers from 12 European states voted to end discharges, France and the United Kingdom were the only countries to abstain from voting. (see related story).

The decision requires the urgent review of current authorisations for discharges and releases of radioactive substances from nuclear processing plants, with a view to implementing the non-reprocessing option, for example dry storage, for spent nuclear fuel management at appropriate facilities. As France and the United Kingdom abstained they are not bound by the agreement.

The decision means that OPSAR may try to coerce France and the United Kingdom into making reprocessing illegal at Sellafield, north west England, La Hague, northern France and Dounreay, northern Scotland. According to Greenpeace, Sellafield and La Hague account for 90% of radioactive waste being discharged into the northeastern Atlantic.

Greenpeace International Political Director Remi Parmentier said: “This is a decisive moment with far reaching consequences, never before has such a strong message been sent by so many countries calling for an end to reprocessing. This truly isolates the UK and France.

“The UK and France will argue that they are not bound by a decision that they did not support, but in reality they are politically and publicly isolated if they continue to pollute the oceans against the wishes of their neighbouring countries, and the public. The truth is that they will now have to stop nuclear reprocessing sooner rather than later.”

The OSPAR Commission, the intergovernmental organisation that regulates marine pollution in the North East Atlantic, brings together Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the European Commission.

The Commission also adopted several measures to control chemicals from both offshore and land-based sources. A new international standard for the regulation of the use and discharge of offshore chemicals and drilling fluids was set and three Recommendations were made on the agricultural and non-agricultural use of pesticides and emission limit vales for the emulsion PVC sector.

Throughout the conference Greenpeace broadcast live images of a liquid radioactive discharge, via a webcam, from French firm Cogema’s nuclear reprocessing plant in La Hague.

According to a Greenpeace report published days before OSPAR’s decision, eight out of ten people who live in European countries which have spent nuclear fuel reprocessing contracts with Sellafield or La Hague said that they want the discharges of radioactive waste into the sea to be stopped and prohibited.

The polls, carried out by independent agencies, asked a representative sample of 1,000 individuals in the seven countries with contracts for spent nuclear fuel processing and who are also members of the OSPAR Commission, if they through that land-based radioactive discharges into the sea should be banned, as is already the case with dumping at sea from ships.

The majority of citizens in each country where the polls were conducted expressed their support for a European ban on radioactive discharges (94% in Germany, 87% in Switzerland, 85% in the United Kingdom, 81% in the Netherlands, 80% in France, 79% in Spain and 69% in Belgium.)

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