Dirty Men of Europe facing fury

Time to face up to the Atlantic's future - nuclear seas or clean energy?

Press release - 24 June, 2003

Environment Ministers from 15 countries and the European Commission will meet tomorrow to decide the future for environmental protection of the North East Atlantic. High on the agenda will be discharges of radioactive substances from nuclear reprocessing plants at Sellafield in the UK and La Hague in France - the 'Dirty men of Europe'.

Ministers will be faced with a stark contrast as they adopt guidelines promoting offshore wind energy against a background of continued and increasing radioactive discharges from reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel to the sea. These guidelines are designed to facilitate and speed up the development of offshore wind, in an environmentally sustainable way (1).

"This meeting mixes the old and dirty with the new and clean, nuclear power and renewable energy. Many countries are angry at the legacy of nuclear power and want to see clean offshore wind providing the energy for the future", said Simon Reddy, Greenpeace delegate to OSPAR. "These guidelines are a positive step forward, but any initiative Ministers would have gained from their adoption will be lost unless they are also prepared to tackle radioactive discharges head on", he explained.

The meeting of Ministers, under the OSPAR Convention (2), is the first since the historic meeting in Sintra, Portugal, in 1998, which set groundbreaking commitments for action on radioactive discharges - all parties committed to "progressive and substantial reductions -, hazardous chemicals and dumping of oil platforms. Since then, however, the UK and France have simply failed to live up to their promises. In fact, discharges from UK reprocessing activities have actually increased since 1998 and are set to rise further under current business plans.

Greenpeace is following the proceedings in Bremen where progress on reducing discharges is supposed to be reviewed. The problem, says Reddy, is that there is no progress to review. In a cynical move by the UK this week, they indicated their intention to announce a nine-month moratorium on technetium99 discharges (3). This, according to Greenpeace, has been timed to draw attention away from the fact that the UK has increased its discharges over the past five years." Technetium has a half-life of over 200,000 years. A nine-month moratorium is useless unless it leads to a permanent ban and an end to reprocessing and all nuclear discharges," he said.

German Environment Minister Jurgen Trittin, who represents the Green Party in Germany and is anti-nuclear, will chair the meeting. Norway is expected to be highly critical of the UK and France over their failure to reduce radioactive discharges. Greenpeace has called on Minister Trittin, as chair, to ensure that the UK and France are held to account for their failure to reduce discharges.

"In 1998, the UK 's deputy Prime Minister John Prescott hailed the decision to reduce radioactive discharges as the UK shedding its tag as the 'dirty man of Europe'. The failure to do so is yet another example of the UK Governments empty rhetoric", said Reddy.

"Until this meeting in Bremen is over, the non-reprocessing states can firmly lay the blame for OSPAR's failure to control radioactive pollution at the door of the UK and France. But after Bremen, unless they are prepared to take the dirty men of Europe fully to task, the blame will lie with all of them", he concluded.

Notes: (1) Guidance on a Common Approach for Dealing with Applications for the Construction and Operation of Offshore Wind-Farms. (2) OSPAR Convention deals with marine pollution, in 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. This year the Ministerial Meeting is being run jointly with that of the Helsinki Convention (HELCOM). HELCOM deals with marine pollution in the Baltic Sea. Member States are: Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany and Denmark.(3) Radioactive waste