REPORT FOR EP COMMITTEE EXAMINES
REPROCESSING PLANTS' 'TOXIC EFFECTS'
A report prepared for the European Parliament's (EP)
Scientific & Technological Options Assessment (STOA)
Program by antiplutonium consultants WISE-Paris says
European reprocessing plants discharge the radioactivity
equivalent of a large nuclear plant accident every year. It
concludes that-in light of uncertainties over assessments of
population doses and health effects-the continued release
of radionuclides from the plants violates the precautionary
principle of European environmental law, as well as several
other European Union (EU) statutes.
The report, which was commissioned to address concerns
raised in a 1995 petition to the EP on the plants' discharges,
recommends the legislators study alternatives to reprocessing,
notably dry storage of spent fuel. Pronuclear EP members,
who claim the report was biased, said a new "impartial"
report might be commissioned.
The 155-page report on "Possible Toxic Effects from the
Nuclear Reprocessing Plants at Sellafield and Cap de la
Hague" was prepared by a team of international consultants
under WISE-Paris director Mycle Schneider. It is essentially a
compendium of available data, associated with an analysis of
potential health effects and other aspects of reprocessing in
the U.K. and France. It questions the conclusions of an
official French report that analyzed population doses around
La Hague and uses the plants' large quantities of radioactive
discharges to draw conclusions on collective dose over large
areas and long periods.
Among other conclusions, the authors assert the plants'
operation "violates the letter and the spirit" of the Ospar
Convention governing marine pollution of the North Atlantic
because of trends to increase discharges of certain radionuclides.
They question whether releases from the plants are
justified, as is required by international recommendations and
under EU radiation protection legislation, given what they
consider large amounts of radioactivity discharged-over a
decade, the cumulative collective dose from both is equivalent
to one-seventh the collective dose from the 1986 explosion at
Chernobyl. The report makes several other points to back its
conclusion that reprocessing is unjustified, illegal, and
The EP's STOA panel, meeting Oct. 23, did not adopt the
report and did not intend to make it public, members said.
But that was soon overtaken by events as the report was made
available to several journalists, and STOA said it would
release it along with the evaluation reports by external
reviewers. The package was to be posted on the STOA web
site soon (http://www.europarl.eu.int/stoa).
Meanwhile, EP Green party representative Yves Pietrasanta
said French ecologists would use the document in negotiating a
nuclear phase-out with the ruling Socialist Party. But Labor
Party member Gordon Adam, an EP member from the district
around Sellafield, declared that the "deliberately alarmist"
approach taken by WISE-Paris was "absolutely unfounded."
In the critiques of the report commissioned by the STOA
committee before publication, several experts said the
consultants didn't follow the guidelines set down for the
report and that there was little evidence they had sought a
broad range of opinion on the topic, as had been asked. "As a
result, the final study seems to express nothing but the personal
views of the contractor's team members," wrote one reviewer.
The STOA-sponsored report had been the object of
speculation for weeks, since it was cited by the French media
in September as underlining the huge potential consequences
if La Hague or Sellafield were targeted for suicide attacks by
terrorists piloting large aircraft. Last week, Schneider said:
"No other high-risk industrial site has such potential longterm
implications on such a scale" in the context of a terrorist
attack threat. In fact, the report devotes very little space to
analyzing the impact of a crash on the plants.
In late September, WISE-Paris posted a "briefing" on its
web site (www.pu-investigation.org) that it said was adapted
from the yet-unpublished study for STOA (NF, 1 Oct., 10). It
said that a major accident in a single spent fuel pool at La
Hague could release up to 67 times as much cesium as was
released during the Chernobyl accident. Cogema contested
that maximum-risk scenario and said national defense would
intervene if there was a suicide jetliner attack on La Hague.
WISE-Paris, in turn, called into question the efficacy of the
site's defense in late September. Last week the French air
force began installing ground-to-air missiles around the site.
Some 8,000 metric tons of spent fuel are stored at La
Hague awaiting reprocessing. That fuel, WISE-Paris points
out, contains 200 times more cesium than was released
during Chernobyl. There are 55 MT of plutonium stored in
oxide form, about 10 times as much reprocessed uranium, as
well as some 1,300 cubic meters of vitrified high-level wastes
and various other conditioned and unconditioned wastes.
In a related development, EP members at their plenary
Oct. 22 exchanged views with the European Commission on
the issue of safety at nuclear plants since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Caroline Lucas (Green, Ireland) asked for anti-terrorist steps
to be take at all nuclear sites and called for a halt to the
transport of nuclear materials.
The EU Commission representative, on behalf of Energy
Commissioner Loyola de Palacio, stressed that "the events in
New York resulted in the need to consider the factors making
nuclear plants vulnerable." The risks are related not only to
the plants but also to the transport of nuclear materials and
the use of nuclear materials for terrorist purposes. The EU
Commission said that it and the IAEA were assessing
measures to be taken at the EU and international levels for
mitigating such risks.
-Ann MacLachlan, Paris; Hughes Belin, Brussels