UK Pressured over Radioactive Discharges

Press release - 26 June, 2003

Despite fierce opposition by Britain to head off criticism at the OSPAR meeting (1), the UK was forced to accept the concerns of Member States over radioactive discharges from the nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield. The dispute at OSPAR resulted from the UK's failure to meet its commitments over the past five years to reduce radioactive discharges (2).

The discharge of the radioactive waste 'Technetium-99' was, in particular, 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 the state-owned company British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) to ask them for a nine month moratorium on Technetium-99 discharges. It is expected that research and development will take place over these months to see if technology is feasible to stop the discharges by March 2004.

"This decision may come back to haunt the UK", said Greenpeace's Simon Reddy at OSPAR. "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 (Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, The Netherlands and Sweden) refused to allow Britain to go unchallenged. "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," Reddy concluded.

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

Notes: (1) 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. (2) 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.