Illegal nuclear waste shipment blocked
International — In a daring 2AM action, twenty Greenpeace activists have blocked the loading of illegal nuclear waste in France.
A Russian freighter, the Kapitan Kuroptche, was preparing to transport more than 450 tons of radioactive uranium waste to Russia when the activists blocked cranes on the ship and the pier. The waste originated from the Pierlatte uranium enrichment plant in the Rhone Valley. It's part of a thirty-year-old practice of dumping nuclear wastes produced in Europe in Russia, where federal law prohibits the import of foreign waste.
We're just putting it there for now: honest!
France claims the waste is going to Russia for reprocessing -- the process by which plutonium is separated from spent fuel -- but in fact only a small portion is treated. In reality, it's simply being put out of sight, out of mind, with no long-term solution for what to do with it on the horizon. Greenpeace has filed a case in the Moscow district court against the Russian government nuclear export company, Tecksnabexport. The nuclear industry would prefer these shipments happened in secret, as they underscore a key reason why nuclear fuel is not a viable energy solution, and why nuclear power is not a solution to climate change.
Vulnerable to attack, dangerously shipped
But in addition to being illegal, the shipments are also highly dangerous. Shipments between west European ports are regularly transitting through the North Sea, Skagarak, the Baltic and the Gulf of Finland before arriving at St Petersburg. The shipments are made on general Russian-owned cargo vessels rather than purpose-built ships, despite known hazards and risks. The transportation route goes through major cities such as St Petersburg (5 million population) and Tomsk (0.5 million) and passes the coasts of Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Finland. An accidental release or terrorist attack could be devastating.
A new report from Greenpeace, "Europe's Radioactive Secret", details the illegal nuclear waste trade between Europe's nuclear industry and the Russian Federation.
The nuclear wastes concerned are of two types: contaminated uranium resulting from reprocessing at the Cogema/Areva facilities at la Hague, Normandy; and depleted uranium (DU) from nuclear fuel enrichment at facilities in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. These facilities support the day-to-day operation of Europe's 135 nuclear reactors.
The containers used to transport the uranium waste do not meet current International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards and pose a serious risk during the thousands of kilometres journey to the Russian dump sites, where they are illegally stored or disposed. A large percentage of the waste is in the form of hexafluoride crystals which can react violently to water leading to dispersal of toxic gas, inhalation of which can be fatal.
The world urgently needs to shift its energy supply to clean, safe, renewable energy. Delegates meeting in Montreal to discuss the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol need to remember that nuclear power is not an answer.