Thousands of radioactive waste barrels rusting

Last edited 19 June 2000 at 8:00am
19 June, 2000

Greenpeace research unveils nuclear legacy

Paris, 19 June 2000 Greenpeace today released new images of the legacy of radioactive waste dumping at sea from ships. The shocking footage was taken in the Hurd Deep, in UK territorial waters just off the Channel Islands and some 15km north-west of Cap de La Hague (France).

It shows corroding, broken and disintegrated barrels of radioactive waste, remnants of some 28,500 barrels tipped into the sea by the UK between 1950 and 1963. Hurd Deep is one of many such dumpsites used until a global ban was agreed in 1993.

Two Greenpeace vessels, the MV Greenpeace and the Twister, spent the last two weeks scanning the seabed at depths up to 100 meters. Once they located radioactive waste barrels, a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) fitted with cameras was dispatched to the seabed to make a closer inspection. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency's 1999 Global Inventory of Radioactive Wastes in the Marine Environment, the total radioactive inventory of the Hurd Deep is a staggering 57,942 GigaBequerels.

"Although dumping radioactive wastes at sea from ships is now banned, paradoxically the discharge of radioactive wastes into the sea via pipelines from land is not," said Mike Townsley of Greenpeace. "Such 'double standards' are not maintained for technical or scientific reasons, but only because the operators of the nuclear reprocessing facilities in La Hague (France) and Sellafield (UK) want to save money."

"It is cheaper for them to continue to use the sea as a radioactive garbage bin than to store this radioactive waste on land; for the nuclear industry, money comes first and the environment second", said Mike Townsley (2).

Each year, Europe's giant nuclear reprocessing facilities at Sellafield in the UK and La Hague in France, discharge hundreds of millions of litters of radioactive waste into the sea. The amount of radioactivity discharged from La Hague and Sellafield in only 9 months exceeds that dumped in the Hurd Deep.

"Hurd Deep and the other former ocean dump sites stand testament to the irreversibility of dumping radioactive wastes in the ocean -- regardless of whether from a ship or a land-based pipe", said Mike Townsley.

Carried by the ocean currents, radioactivity from La Hague and Sellafield has already been detected in sea life around the coasts of Scandinavia, Iceland and the Arctic, and will continue to build up in the food chain, threatening the health of millions of people, unless the discharges stop immediately.

Next week at the annual meeting of the OSPAR Commission, the intergovernmental organisation that regulates marine pollution in the North East Atlantic (from Gibraltar to the Arctic), Denmark, Ireland and other countries are proposing to ban nuclear reprocessing in the region. Greenpeace supports the move to harmonise international regulations by banning all dumping of radioactive waste into the sea, whether it be from ships or from a land-based pipeline. (3)

Notes to editors:
(1). In 1993, the Contracting Parties to the London Convention, the UN treaty which regulates the dumping of wastes at sea, banned the dumping of all radioactive wastes from ships, aircraft, platforms and other man-made structures at sea. However the agreement does not cover the dumping of radioactive wastes in the sea from a land-based pipeline.

(2) The plants in La Hague and Sellafield are responsible for approximately 90% of all radioactive waste discharged into the European environment

(3)The member states of the OSPAR Commissions are: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, as well as the European Union. A three quarter majority (12 votes) is required for the proposal to be adopted. Hosted by the Danish government, the meeting will take place 26-30 June in Copenhagen.

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