Greenpeace delivers Niger's waste at EU's Door

Press release - October 7, 2010
Brussels, October 7 2010 – Samples of radioactive waste from Niger were among those taken by Greenpeace today to the entry of the European Parliament as a reminder that there is no solution to nuclear waste. This comes as the parliamentarians prepare to consider a new nuclear waste directive proposed by the European commission.

Two Greenpeace radiation specialists delivered four radioactive samples in two concrete and lead-lined containers to Parliament’s twin entrances on Rue Wiertz. Dozens of trained Greenpeace volunteers zoned off areas with tape before handcuffing themselves in rings around the containers to ensure their safety. MEPs and staff looked on as Greenpeace climbers scaled 16 nearby flagpoles to hold out banners reading ‘Nuclear waste, no solution’ below the flags of those countries with nuclear energy programmes producing the largest amounts of nuclear waste [1].

“Over and above the impact of climate change, the cost of radioactive pollution and human health risks to Nigeriens and many others exposed to this waste is incalculable,” says Greenpeace Africa’s Rianne Teule. “The gamble with people’s lives has got to stop. There is no place for dangerous and dirty nuclear power whether in Africa or anywhere else in the world”.

Four samples of radioactive waste were collected from unsecured public locations: Sellafield beach in the UK; the seabed at la Hague in France; the banks of the Molse Nete River in Belgium; and from the uranium mining village of Akokan in Niger [2]. Despite their danger, the materials are not classified as radioactive waste when discharged or left in the open environment as they stem from so-called ‘authorised emissions’ or from uranium mining. Yet, when collected and put in a container, the samples are classified as radioactive waste that needs to be guarded for centuries until decayed [3]. There is no way of securing this waste over such long time periods with guaranteed safety, and it continues to pile up all over the world.

Parliament will consider a nuclear waste law for Europe next month [4]. But early drafts exclude the type of radioactive waste Greenpeace delivered and paper over the fears of scientists who say that disposing of highly radioactive waste deep underground could be disastrous [5].

 Greenpeace EU nuclear policy advisor Jan Haverkamp said: “It is a scandal that the waste Greenpeace delivered today is being pumped into our seas, rivers and left to accumulate near where people live. As the vast majority comes from the power sector, the only logical step is to phase out nuclear power. Parliamentarians must ensure that radioactive waste is treated severely, since it must be safeguarded for longer than people have existed on Earth. As it stands, the proposed directive is little more than a PR exercise to smooth the way for new nuclear power stations.”

Greenpeace is calling for a phase-out of nuclear power in favour of an energy revolution based on sustainable, cheap and safe renewable energies and energy efficiency across the continent.

ENDS

Pictures, Video & Twitter

For pictures from the action and images of waste samples being collected, contact +44 (0) 7801 615 889 or

For video from today’s action, plus b-roll of Greenpeace actions and sample collections at nuclear facilities in the UK, Belgium, France and Africa, contact +31 635 504 721 or
Follow a Greenpeace climber live from the heart of the action: www.twitter.com/greenpeaceEU


Notes to Editors:

[1] Greenpeace climbed the flagpoles of the following countries: Bulgaria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The slogans were in each national language.

[2] Further information on the samples are as follows:

Sand (1.2kg) from Sellafield, contaminated by waste water from the nearby reprocessing facility. The sample contains 11,670 Bq/kg Americium-241 and 5,990 Bq/kg Cesium-137. The levels of Americium-241 are 11 times over the limit set by Belgian authorities for radioactive waste of 1,000 Bq/kg. The Sellafield reprocessing facility, owned by the British Nuclear Decommissioning Authority – a state institution - takes spent fuel from nuclear power stations in the UK, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Japan. It extracts usable uranium and plutonium while producing vast amounts of radioactive waste. Part of that is emitted into the Irish Sea, where it contaminates shores, seabed, plants and fish.

Soil (300g) from near a mining vent at Akokan, Niger. This is waste material from uranium mining by French company Areva, which produces nuclear fuel for nuclear power stations worldwide. The sample contains 6,200 Bq/kg Uranium-238, 6,700 Bq/kg Radium-226 and 6,900 Bq/kg Lead-210. The Uranium-238 levels are six times over the Belgian limit of 1,000 Bq/kg. The uranium mining region in Niger is continuously polluted by radioactive dust, waste rocks and radon gas from mining operations and tailings. Greenpeace found not only contamination near one mining vent, but also in the streets of Akokan and on vehicles at scrap metal dealers. More information can be found at: www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/reports/Left-in-the-dust/

Sludge (50g) from the seabed near the la Hague reprocessing facility in France. This sludge is contaminated by the reprocessing facility owned by French company Areva. The sample contains 1,210 Bq/kg Americium-241, 2,840 Bq/kg Cesium-137 and 1,016 Bq/kg Cobalt-60. The Americium-241 is over the Belgian limit of 1,000 Bq/kg. La Hague reprocesses spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power stations in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, Italy, en Japan. It extracts still usable uranium and plutonium while producing vast amounts of radioactive waste. Part of that is emitted into the English Channel, where it contaminates shores, seabed, plants and fish.

Soil (1kg) from the Molse Nete River, near Dessel in Belgium. The Molse Nete is contaminated by the nuclear fuel factory FBFC and Belgonucléaire, the nuclear waste management factory Belgoprocess and the nuclear research centre SCK. The waste sample contains 1,700 Bq/kg Americium-241 and1,800 Bq/kg Cesium-137. The Americium-241 levels are over the Belgian limit of 1,000 Bq/kg. The largest proportion comes from waste management in the former reprocessing plant Eurochemie and the treatment of waste in the Cilva waste incinerator. Contamination has spread through sludge in the river. Dredging throws sludge onto the river banks and some sludge is spread on agricultural fields. Other waste was removed to an unknown location, likely to be spread on fields elsewhere.

[3] The authorities will examine the waste to determine its radioactivity and how long it should be kept out of the environment. This could be decades, or over 100,000 years.

[4] In the second half of October, the European Parliament is expected to receive a proposal for a Euratom directive on nuclear waste from the European Commission. Under the Euratom Treaty, the European Parliament has to advise the European Council on new nuclear laws.

[5] For more information see Dr Helen Wallace’s report, Rock Solid? A scientific review of geological disposal of high-level radioactive waste, London / Brussels (2010), of GeneWatch UK www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/press-centre/reports/rock-solid-a-scientific-review

 

Africa Contacts

Rianne Teule, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner: +27 (0) 795129304
Fiona Musana, Communications Director Greenpeace Africa: +27 (0) 795129381

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