UK hand forced over radioactive discharges

Last edited 26 June 2003 at 8:00am
26 June, 2003

An international meeting of Environment Ministers ended today with the UK being forced to accept, in writing, the concerns of European countries over radioactive discharges into the North Seas (1) from the Sellafield nuclear installation in Cumbria.

London had previously successfully resisted attempts to record criticism of the UK's failure to meet its commitments to reduce radioactive discharges at the OSPAR conference (2,3). Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden were particularly critical of the UK's role.

The discharge of Technetium 99 in particular was the subject of intense negotiation at the meeting. In the last week - after six months of prevarication - the UK Environment Minister Margaret Beckett was pressured into writing to BNFL to ask the company for a 9 month moratorium on technetium 99 discharges. It is expected that research and development will take place over the next 9 months to see if technology to stop the discharges is feasible by March 2004.

"This decision may come back to haunt the UK", said Greenpeace's Jean McSorley at the OSPAR Conference. "The UK Government will be dreading March 2004. They either have to ensure the technology is in place or announce a resumption of the radioactive technetium discharges."

"The UK only moved on this issue because a coalition of countries led by Norway and Ireland, refused to allow Britain to go unchallenged," said McSorley. "The lack of progress in reducing discharges, due to the intransigence of the UK and, to a lesser extent, France", meant that this OSPAR meeting was not able to celebrate significant reduction in radioactive discharges to European waters," he said.

Greenpeace welcomed the adoption of guidelines on offshore wind farm development which will facilitate and encourage the development of clean renewable energy.

For more information please contact the Greenpeace press office on 0207 865 8115.


(1) The North Sea and NE Atlantic.

(2) OSPAR Convention deals with marine pollution of the North East Atlantic and North Sea. Member states are: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the European Commission.

(3) Five years ago in Portugal OSPAR Ministers agreed to "work towards achieving further substantial reductions of discharges, by the year 2000" and to "progressive and substantial reductions in radioactive discharges to achieve by the year 2020 close to zero concentrations in the marine environment above historic levels". The discharges from Sellafield have increased since 1998 and are set to double in the coming years. Technetium has a radioactive half-life of 210,000 years.


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