UK Government ‘reneges on commitments to eliminate marine pollution’

Greenpeace and other environmental organisations have fiercely attacked government proposals on cutting radioactive discharges and accuse it of reneging on a 1998 commitment to cut waste emissions.

In the Joint response to the “UK Strategy for Radioactive Discharges 2001-2020”, released on 22 September, NGOs accuse the UK Government of providing “a misleading and utterly inadequate response to the UK’s OSPAR obligations and commitments”.

The document outlines the NGOs response to the government’s own radioactive discharge strategy, released in June, which seeks to deliver on a 1998 commitment by 13 nations, including the UK, to the Ospar North Atlantic protection convention to add virtually nothing to historic levels of marine radioactivity by 2020.

Ospar proposes an 85% overall cut in radioactive discharges and a 70% reduction from nuclear reprocessing to less than 30 terabecquerels per year by 2020, but the environmentalists, who include Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, describe the plan as “misleading” and “utterly inadequate”.

The NGO’s report argues that, by using 2001 as the baseline for radioactive emissions, the government had disguised a “massive increase” in discharges since 1998. “The Government has tried to disguise increases in discharges by choosing a baseline for its graphs of the period 2001-2005, which are higher than those at present and higher than those in 98, when the agreement was signed,” one of the NGO report’s authors, Dr. Helen Wallis, told edie. “The Government report has also included decisions not yet taken, but which seem to have been assumed, such as to restart processing at Dounreay.” Another move which is criticised in the new report is the doubling of throughput at the Magnox reprocessing plant at Sellafield.

The new report also accuses the Government’s strategy of misrepresenting the views of groups that participated in a stakeholder dialogue with British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), the state-owned nuclear reprocessing firm. “The DETR said that none of the groups involved in the dialogue thought that reprocessing should end immediately, which is a misrepresentation of our views,” Wallis said.

The campaigners further criticised the Government for failing to consider dry storage of spent nuclear fuel instead of reprocessing. “The government has completely ignored that there are alternatives and that spent waste should be stored to avoid these discharges,” Wallis said. “Increasing volumes of waste are causing significant discharges into the sea from Sellafield, which has made the Irish sea the most radioactive in the world and polluted areas as the Arctic.”

Wallis then went on to summarise the groups’ wish in publishing their report. “We want to see a proposal which implements the Government’s commitments to end nuclear reprocessing. It is difficult to see how the Government can continue nuclear reprocessing in the context of the commitments it has made to Ospar,” she said.

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