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Ukraine safety upgrade program: precondition for lifetime extension

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Antonia Wenisch & Patricia Lorenz

In November 2010 the EBRD and the European Union's Euratom announced plans to finance what is called by Ukraine a safety upgrade project, but what is in fact a precondition for the lifetime extension of the reactors. European public money would therefore be used to expand the lifetime of Soviet-era nuclear reactors instead of investing in safe closure and decommissioning - costs which haven't been accounted for yet in Ukraine's plans.

An expert review of Ukraine's Nuclear Power Plant Safety Upgrade Program, that is to be financed by Euratom and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), shows that some of the measures included in the SUP are necessary for the lifetime expansion of the plants and not for their regular functioning until the initially planned term.

According to the ecological assessment (EA) report released in October 2011, the safety upgrade project (SUP) program costs around 1.34 billion euro, though EBRD estimates are upwards of 1.45 billion. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development intends to grant up to 300 million euro (US$ 400m) for the project, and 500 million euro (US$ 665m) is to be provided by the Euratom loan facility. Currently both institutions are preparing loans and the EBRD’s Board of Directors is scheduled to decide on this loan on 18 September, 2012 and Euratom in May 2012.

The EBRD and EC have requested a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) for the SUP. However as early as the project’s scoping stage, the public was informed that EBRD staff and Energoatom agreed only to an ecological assessment (EA) for the project in line with procedures outlined in European SEA Directive 2001/42/EC regarding public participation.

SUP includes measures for the safe modernisation of all of Ukraine’s 15 operating nuclear reactors and should be implemented by 2017. Twelve of these reactors were designed to finish operations before 2020, and two units were supposed to be taken off the grid in 2010 and 2011 but received licenses to operate for additional 20 years. The SUP is therefore designed for nuclear reactors that face the end of their designed lifetime.

In 2005 Ukrainian nuclear power plants provided about 50 percent of the electricity produced in the country. According to Ukrainian energy strategy, this proportion of nuclear power should remain until 2030. This decision is justified by the presence of domestic uranium deposits, the stable operation of existing nuclear power plants and the high costs of constructing new nuclear power plants.

According to the Energy Strategy, by 2030 seven units will have received a license for a lifetime extension of 15 years, including Zaporizhia 3-6, Rivne 3, Khmelnitsky 1, South Ukrainian 3 and two units that started operation in 2004: the Khmelnitsky 2 and Rivne 4. In 2004 the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers approved the “nuclear reactors lifetime extension plan”, which foresees extending the lifetime of all operating nuclear reactors by an additional 15 years.

Prolonging the operation of the nuclear power plants from 30 to 45 years requires a huge effort in terms of modernisation and safety improvements in order to reach internationally-acceptable status. The EA SUP however concerns only the safety improvements, and this is only one side of the development. The other side is the material degradation of reactor components of which the most important is the reactor pressure vessel (RPV). The RPV is the only component which cannot be replaced. Due to harsh conditions in the primary system (high temperature and pressure and high neutron flux), embrittlement, corrosion, cracks and abrasion weaken the primary cooling system material. A failure of primary system components could lead to a loss of coolant accident.

To prevent the development of a severe nuclear accident, so-called accident management measures are implemented. The SUP mentions such measures as guidelines for organisational activities and emergency measures.

Another important influence is from the European Union nuclear power plants “stress test” that Ukraine has agreed to participate. In its report the Ukrainian nuclear authority has already defined some measures that are to be completely implemented at the nuclear reactors, if the operators wish to apply for lifetime extension. The peer-reviewed results will not be known until May 2012 and may offer new insights and subsequently new safety measures to be required at the Ukrainian nuclear power plants.

In fact, Euratom and the EBRD have been asked to finance a program labelled only as ‘safety upgrades’, though it is impossible to argue this both technically and economically.

SUP precondition for lifetime extension
Proponent of the SUP, the Ukrainian state nuclear operator NEC Energoatom claims that SUP measures will address only safety measures and are not a precondition for the lifetime extension of reactors. However a new report shows this claim is misleading: SUP measures will be used to provide a sufficient safety level to extend operations and are not necessary for safely shutting down the reactors.

While the Ecological Assessment (EA) for the safety upgrade project claims that the planned safety upgrade measures are not part of extending reactor lifetime beyond their designed 30-year lifetime, this study shows that the safety measures for 15 reactors are in fact connected to the lifetime extension program. SUP measures like those related to component integrity are conditions for extending the lifetime of reactors. The reasons for this are as follows:

  • Measures to address only safety issues and not lifetime extension simply do not exist. The EA SUP explains that “security systems and other essential safety equipment are kept operating until the final stop and first phase of the decommissioning, i.e. until the unloading of the spent nuclear fuel.” The dates on which Ukraine’s reactors reach the end of their design lifetime are indicative of the need of reactor’s life-time extension one unit in 2012, two in 2014, two in 2015, two in 2016, two in 2017 and two in 2019.
  • Economic viability - both loans need to be repaid, and Euratom cannot grant loans without a statement from the European Investment Bank (EIB) showing that the loans can be repaid, likely to be based on the future operation of those nuclear power plants.

Officially these European institutions have been asked to finance the programs labelled as safety upgrades, though it is impossible to argue this technically or economically. This claim seems to have been chosen because:

  1. EBRD and Euratom financing conditions allow only for safety upgrade financing so the lifetime extension needs to be concealed;
  2. this avoid a discussion about ageing problems of Soviet-era nuclear power plants once the lifetime extension plans for all 15 reactors by 15 years would become known
  3. this avoids conducting an strategic environmental assessment (SEA); the SUP is not only called a safety upgrade program but also substitute sectoral policy by intending to modernise and prolong a whole nuclear power-producing sector; even pilot projects were run. A full SEA would require assessment of alternatives to reactors life-extension and transboundary involvement.

This report finds that no information about the SUP was provided outside of Ukraine, and it is probable that neighbouring states would demand full transboundary SEA and EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) for such a sensitive topic.

Instead only the EA designed solely for the SUP was conducted in Ukraine without any transboundary assessment. The report shows that this approach is far from best practice in the nuclear field and does not comply with international conventions like the ESPOO convention on transboundary impact assessments or the Aarhus Convention on access to environmental information, nor does it even come close to fulfilling EU legislation. The EU’s SEA directive would have to be applied to assess alternatives to safety upgrades and lifetime extension; instead the EA concludes that there are no alternatives to safety upgrades and claims those measures are needed even for safe closure.

We expect Euratom, the European Commission and EBRD to follow their guidelines and to enforce good governance, public participation and information disclosure and good practice with respect to international conventions like the strategic environmental assessment protocol, Espoo and Aarhus.

More broadly nuclear energy today is causing even more concern than before the nuclear accident at Fukushima. European institutions should encourage project applicants to inform the public about their projects in line with all available tools like Espoo contact points. It is unacceptable that a major, high-risk project is being considered for financing from European institutions without the public in EU member states being informed.

One year after the Fukushima accident, the European public would welcome information about the lifetime extension of nuclear power plants that are already three decades old.

The SUP was prepared prior to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, and it is not acceptable that decisions on the program are taken before the stress tests are completed and the EU draws its first conclusions about reactor safety. We believe that these institutions will not finance Ukrainian reactor safety measures before the peer review of Ukraine’s stress test report has been prepared.

The EBRD and Euratom want to hide the fact that they are contributing both financially and politically to at least another 15 years of nuclear risk. The argument that Ukraine would go ahead and operate the reactors even without EBRD and EURATOM funding is troubling and implicitly alleges that the Ukrainian operator and regulator would act irresponsibly.

The Ukrainian authorities already licensed lifetime extensions at Rivne reactors 1 and 2 without first applying the Espoo Convention. The Espoo implementation committee is now inquiring about violations in this case. We expect both Euratom and the EBRD to withhold a decision about SUP pending a resolution to the Rivne 1 and 2 lifetime extension decision.

Some modernisation measures are “significant changes” e.g. the planned nuclear fuel exchange and call for EIA implementation. One of the first SUP objectives is the introduction of second generation fuel with improved cycles in order to reduce neutron fluence on the reactor vessel to mitigate embrittlement effects. The switch to longer fuel cycles is not mentioned in the SUP but is an objective of the energy strategy. High fuel burn-up increases the risk of accidents, because it accelerates the accident progression.

The reliability of the Ukrainian nuclear safety programs are cause for concern. A 2006 EBRD press statement says “…a modernisation programme for all nuclear power plants in Ukraine currently being implemented will upgrade all 13 nuclear reactors to internationally recognised nuclear safety level by 2010.“ Thus the question of why are new programs, including the SUP within the „Comprehensive Safety Upgrade Program,” necessary? This study provides an overview of the very non-transparent management of safety improvement programs in Ukraine. It seems that all safety measures not implemented by 2010 were merely incorporated into the SUP for the period 2010 to 2017.

Source: 'Critical Review of the “Ukraine NPP Safety Upgrade Program” - Why the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and EURATOM should not finance the lifetime extension program of Ukrainian nuclear power plants'; March 2012 by Antonia Wenisch & Patricia Lorenz; Commissioned by CEE Bankwatch Network. Available at:
Contact: David Hoffman, Na Rozcesti 1434/6, 190 00 Praha 9 – Liben, Czech Republic
Tel: +420 274 822 150
Email: david.hoffman[at]

Austria: referendum on Euratom membership

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Roland Egger

In January 2007 five organizations expressed their discontent with the role of Austria within Euratom, the European Union’s nuclear energy authority. The press conference was held in Vienna with Greenpeace, Umweltdachverband, Global 2000, Salzburger Plattform gegen Atomgefahr and Atomstopp – and they all demanded that Austria should unilaterally withdraw its membership from Euratom if Austrian politicians are not willing to enforce the Austrian antinuclear consensus within Euratom. “Out of Euratom” became the slogan.

All five organizations, participating in the "Raus aus Euratom" campaign, agreed: Euratom is undemocratic because it excludes the European parliament from decisions on nuclear issues. Because all struggles for a Euratom revision conference failed, single countries should come up with initiatives to leave the Euratom-treaty.

The Austrian organizations were deeply frustrated that despite the Austrian antinuclear consensus in the population and the legendary fight against nuclear power plants near Austrian borders like Temelin in the Czech Republic, Mochovce in Slovakia or Isar 1 in Germany, the decisions of Austrian politicians in Brussels did not reflect this rejection of the population on nuclear energy.

Anyway – the press conference in January 2007 later turned out to be the beginning of a campaign having lasted now for more than four years, bringing together regional parliaments, municipalities, organizations, churches – with the demand to leave Euratom. So by gaining strength on the one hand, the campaign was more and more discussed, became  controversially and was attacked on the other hand. Atomstopp also had to face financial cuts being the driving force behind the campaign.

The campaign “Out of Euratom”
Starting with five organizations the campaign “Out of Euratom” comprises now 86 organizations with various background: antinuclear, renewable energies, ethics, environment – even the Catholic and the Evangelic Church in Upper Austria gave favorable statements on the campaign – showed solidarity with the demand that Austria should also leave Euratom because the membership of an organization that promotes the nuclear industry is not compatible with the Austrian rejection of nuclear energy. Opinion polls showed that in 2006 63% of Austrian population was in favor of a unilateral withdrawal from Euratom – in 2008 that number already rose to 78%. While 81% disapprove that Austria supports the European nuclear industry financially.

177 municipalities throughout Austria strengthened the campaign “Out of Euratom” by resolutions to the Austrian government saying with the end of the Austrian Euratom membership the financial means formerly spent on the nuclear industry should be transferred to renewable energies.

All nine regional parliaments in Austria treated the Euratom membership in critical resolutions, expressing at least their wish to prepare the requirements for a unilateral withdrawal from Euratom if a Euratom-revision conference is unlikely in the near future.

In the last four years the opposition parties in the Austrian parliament brought eleven (11!) applications on an unilateral withdrawal from Euratom – another eleven (11!) inquiries were addressed by the opposition parties to the Austrian government on the financial aspects of the Euratom membership and the question “how much pays Austria for its nuclear membership”?. The Austrian government refused all applications in parliament. Also the inquiries on the financial aspects remained unanswered.

The government did not show any motivation to end Austrian membership of Euratom and did not show any motivation to bring antinuclear aspects to Euratom.

Position of the Austrian government
Confronted with the demand for a unilateral withdrawal from Euratom, the Austrian  government says that (a) a unilateral withdrawal is not possible for legal reasons, (b) will result in a more pro-nuclear Europe as Austria does no longer take part in nuclear decisions, (c) the financial means of Euratom are mainly spent on fusion and safety issues, (d) Euratom covers vital aspects as radiation protection and non-proliferation of fissionable material and (e) Austria is and will always be keen on a Euratom revision conference.

These arguments are very weak when analyzing the influence of Austria on the European nuclear policy in the last 15 years. There is already a pro-nuclear Europe – even with Austrian Euratom-membership: the Euratom budget was trippled in 2006 – with Austria's approval! And Austria's representative in Brussels did not hesitate in summer 2010 to give his OK for another 1400 million euro to cover the additional costs for the planned fusion reactor ITER in Cadarache. Austria gave its approval also for weak directives on safety of nuclear installations (2008) and did not show any discontent with the controversial directive on nuclear waste disposal (2010). With Austria's approval 223,5 million euro were granted as a Euratom loan for the completion of the Romanian nuclear power plant Cernavoda (2004) – and by the way: Austria's radiation protection was more rigorous before the Euratom-membership.

For the legal possibility of a unilateral withdrawal from Euratom see: Heinz Stockinger – Euratom: Countries free to step out. (Nuclear Monitor 658, 13 July 2007, p. 4). With the Lisbon Treaty being in force since December 2010 the possibility of a unilateral withdrawal is seen in Art. 50 with a reference to Art. 106a of the Euratom treaty. And those in favor of a Euratom-revision conference have to remember that one single Euratom member state can block any initiative. Who really expects France, or Great Britain, or the Czech Republic to allow any changes of the Euratom treaty as it is still their basis and legitimation for their nuclear programs?

To sum it up: If Austrian politicians made, and encouraged, a strong anti-nuclear policy within Euratom there would be no need for a campaign like “Austria -  Out of Euratom”. In such a case, all antinuclear organizations would be happy with the Austrian politicians and would have supported them in their struggle against the nuclear industry in Europe. Or will this remain a naive dream? Is it realistic to think Euratom will allow antinuclear positions? Is it realistic to hope to change Euratom from inside? Reality – and the experience of the past 15 years - shows a different picture.

The referendum
After four years campaigning, there is no sign that the Austrian government is willing to deal with the demand of regional parliaments, with the demand of the opposition parties, with the demand of 86 organizations joining the campaign and with the call from municipalities: “Out of Euratom”. A government not willing to meet NGO demands is a very common counterpart and in fact one of the reasons why we work on this topic in the first place, so to stop the campaign, as some suggested, was no option. Atomstopp_Upper Austria had no choice than to bring the campaign to a next level.

Because the Austrian government continues to ignore the demands of regional parliaments, organizations and municipalities, it was decided by atomstopp Upper Austria in spring 2010 to start with the preparation-work for a referendum on this issue to bring direct pressure on the government – direct pressure from the Austrian population. Starting the preparation-work turned out to be the end of some funding: one of the organizations stopped financial support for the "Out of Euratom" campaign.

Within a few months it was possible to collect 8.032 signatures (confirmed by municipalities) necessary to launch the referendum. Municipalities were part of this first (launching) phase. In every third municipality in Austria people signed the referendum in this phase. All political parties from the right (freedom party) to the left wing (communist party) supported this phase. Green groups supported it, mayors from the people's party supported it, too. And the socialist party in Upper Austria gave a strong signal: all delegates signed the referendum already in the launching phase, too.

100,000 signatures needed
During eight days between February 28 and March 7, it will be possible throughout Austria to sign the “Out of Euratom” referendum. When the referendum gets more than 100.000 signatures the parliament has again to handle with the demand. With this referendum we want a commitment from the Austrian government to follow the outcome and end the Austrian membership of Euratom. The unilateral withdrawal of Austria from Euratom can be the start of a Europe-wide campaign – with affects on the European nuclear and anti-nuclear policy. Every member state of the European Union should have the choice either to finance nuclear industry via Euratom or finance renewable energies.

Source and contact: Roland Egger, atomstopp_Upper Austria, Promenade 37, 4020 Linz, Austria.

Proposed Euratom nuclear waste directive

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace International

European Union Member States should be aware of significant and potentially costly omissions from the European Commission’s proposed Euratom directive, delivered by Commissioner Oettinger on 3 November 2010. The risk is that a sub-standard Commission proposal leads member states to invest heavily in facilities which fail, with costly financial and environmental effects. However, Greenpeace welcomes some areas of increased transparency on the issue.

“This proposal is little more than a PR exercise to try and persuade Europeans that nuclear waste can be dealt with. What we need is a serious attempt to reduce the burden that radioactive waste is putting on future generations and the environment. It would take an engineering genius to safely bury white hot, highly-dangerous nuclear waste deep underground for longer than mankind has been on the planet. There are gaps in the science and no disposal site currently exists, yet the Commission is claiming this is a proven method. We fear a disposal facility could rupture high level nuclear waste into the water table for a hundreds of thousands of year,” says Greenpeace EU dirty energy campaigner Jan Haverkamp

A PR exercise
A 2008 Eurobarometer poll (‘Attitudes Towards Radioactive Waste’) showed that nuclear waste is a major barrier to public acceptance of nuclear power. The nuclear industry wants to overcome public resistance to new nuclear power stations. Greenpeace believes this proposal as drafted with this aim in mind. Instead of being an honest attempt to improve waste management and lessen the burden of nuclear waste on society, it is a reckless attempt to paper over the hazards of waste disposal and achieve industry aims.

The nuclear industry has been searching for a long-term disposal method for 60 years. Deep disposal has dominated the research effort put into the management of highly radioactive nuclear waste for over 30 years and takes centre stage in the proposed directive. The Commission claims a scientific consensus has been reached and construction should proceed. However, it makes no reference to scientific studies and has not ordered a literature review of research (for more information see Rock Solid? - A scientific review of geological disposal of high-level radioactive waste, Genewatch UK, 2010, see Nuclear Monitor 717, 8 October 2010). The risk is that a sub-standard Commission proposal leads member states to invest heavily in facilities which fail with costly results, both financially and environmentally. The documents do not propose to shield deadly waste from future human interference and there are no measures to monitor and retrieve waste in case of leaks.

The proposal sets out to deal with an environmental issue, yet under its ‘impact assessment’ section rules out the need for any environmental impact assessment. It also underestimates the large potential costs of long-term radioactive waste management, masking the true cost of nuclear power. The document presents no ‘plan B’ in case the scientific/engineering uncertainties are not overcome.

The proposal fails to set standards for so-called ‘authorised emissions’ allowing harmful radioactive waste from reprocessing plants and power stations to be released into the environment. Additionally, both the newly proposed Euratom directive and the EU Directive 2006/21/EC (covering waste from extractive industries) point to each other for the management of waste from uranium mining, meaning that the sector falls between the gap and is in effect unregulated. Many regions and even human settlements are blighted by radioactive waste from uranium mining, such as in Australia, the Americas, Central Asia and Africa. Additionally, the proposal fails to safeguard against international disposal sites being created, exposing less developed parts of Europe to the possibility of becoming ‘nuclear waste dumping grounds’.

Out of line with EU hazardous waste laws
The major omission in the Commission’s proposal is any attempt to harmonise radioactive waste legislation with laws covering other hazardous wastes. The Commission should integrate basic principles from EU hazardous waste legislation into this new law. This would require the EU to implement the precautionary principle and oblige firms to only use the best available technologies for nuclear related infrastructure and phase-out processes that produce waste but are not essential. In effect, this omission creates a far less stringent policy for radioactive waste, despite it being one of the most hazardous waste categories.

Civil society marginalised
Input from outside the nuclear industry amounts to two out of 17 pages. Arguments from environmentalists, concerned citizens and local municipalities were marginalized as stemming from a “fundamental opposition towards nuclear energy” instead of being judged on their merits. That the logical consequence of many of those arguments may be a phase-out of nuclear energy should not be a reason to, in effect, exclude them from the public consultation.

Greenpeace welcomes areas of the proposal showing greater transparency, greater independence of nuclear waste authorities and an obligation to implement the polluter pays principle, though questions remain how the Commission wants to secure this. Greenpeace also welcomes the obligation placed on member states to work out radioactive waste policies and implementation plans, but urges the Commission to guarantee that these are based on science and responsibility towards people and environment in this and future generations, and not, as seems to be the case now, on the short-term interests of the nuclear industry.

During his November 3, press conference, Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger declared repeatedly that he was of the opinion that waste would have to be reachable for inspection and oversight at all times. This could mean that the Commission is prepared to include retrievability in the conditions for radioactive waste management, a possibility that was welcomed by Greenpeace. His spokeswoman Marlene Holzner, however, retracted on that during a debate on BBC Newshour on the same day in which she limited oversight for the period in which a deep geological disposal site is filled up.

The proposal will now be forwarded to the European Parliament, where it will be discussed in the ITRE (Energy) and the ENVI (Environment) Committees for advisory comment. Parliament cannot take binding decisions under the Euratom Treaty. The proposal also will be tabled to the European Council, where it will first be discussed in the Atomic Questions Group (ATO), which consists of nuclear experts from the 27 EU Member States. The final version of the directive will then be adopted in a formal session of the General Affairs Council in about half a year from now.

Source: Greenpeace Briefing, 26 October 2010; personal mail Jan Haverkamp, 6 November 2010
Contact: Jan Haverkamp – dirty energy campaigner Greenpeace EU Unit.

Consulation for a new Euratom directive on radioactive waste

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jan Haverkamp - Greenpeace EU Unit

The European Commission has started a consultation for the preparation of a new Euratom Directive on nuclear waste. The goal of this Directive is basically to try to convince the citizens in Europe that the radioactive waste problem is solved, in order to make a large group of those who oppose nuclear power change their mind. We ask your help to prevent this from happening. To be clear: we feel an EU Directive on Nuclear Waste Management could be beneficial - but it should not be used as a tool of nuclear manipulation. We therefore ask you to participate in this consultation.

Over the last weeks it has become increasingly clear that the Commission is wanting to push deep geological storage through the throats of European citizens as the solution to nuclear waste. It furthermore becomes clear that it wants to do so in breakneck speed - this generation needs to 'solve' the problem and wipe all open issues under the carpet (with the waste - deep deep geologically under the carpet - out of sight, out of mind), and that in order to be able to support a new wave of new nuclear power stations that will increase the problems for another three generations more. Another issue that becomes increasingly clear is that the Commission wants to step away from the national responsibility for nuclear waste and open the options for regional dumps. That combined with the current trend to locate possible dump-sites on the location with the lowest public resistance instead of best technical suitability (see Finland, Sweden, Belgium, UK, Czech Republic, Slovenia) is enough reason to raise the alarm.

Here some recent quotes from EU and Euratom Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger during a conference on 4 May for the nuclear lobby group Deutches AtomForum in Berlin. Oettinger wanted "concrete steps" toward construction of "modern, operational final" nuclear waste repositories in the EU. He said that Europeans must resolve the nuclear waste disposal issue "in our [countries], in our generation." and that it was unacceptable that no final repository has been built despite decades of work on the issue and that operation of a repository is still decades away. 

He announced that the nuclear waste directive will ban export of nuclear waste outside of the EU. The reason is not responsibility, but to ensure European control over final waste management. This is as such good as it would stop Bulgaria hopes on exporting waste to Mayak for indefinite storage or packages with the Russians in which they deliver fuel and take back the waste (although that is currently more strictly forbidden already under Russian law). But... it will NOT stop the exports of Depleted Uranium wastes to Russia, as DU will not be defined as waste but resource (for future fast breeder reactors - remember Monju in Japan was just restarted last week after a repair that took 14 years...). Nor will it stop export of spent nuclear fuel to Mayak or other places outside the EU, because SNF is not defined under nuclear waste.

He furthermore said that the idea of state responsibility would not rule out the possibility that "two or more" EU states with small nuclear programs could construct a common dump, "But please, not outside the EU."

Please, get experts in your country, region, town, get mayors and interested inhabitants from locations that oppose a nuclear waste dump, get other NGOs express their concerns in the consultation.

It would be good if you send us a confirmation that you have filled in the form and a copy of your 'free space' submissions from question 7, so that we can keep an eye on whether the Commission takes your submissions into due account:

Or send a printed version to:

European Commission
DG ENER/Unit Nuclear energy, transport, decommissioning & waste management
(DDG2.D2) Euroforum building L - 2920 Luxembourg

In that case, also send a copy to:

Jan Haverkamp
Greenpeace EU Unit
Rue Belliard 199
B - 1040 Brussels


Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(May 7, 2004) Despite four years of public participation, expressions of opposition to and concern with the proposals by US agencies to "harmonize" with international transport recommendations, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Department of Transportation (DOT) adopted new regulations for radioactive transport in January 2004. NIRS and numerous other public interest, environmental and religious groups and individuals across the US are challenging a portion of the rule that reduces public protections by allowing more radioactivity to move on roads, rails, planes and waterways without regulatory control.

(609.5605) NIRS - Among other provisions that weaken public and worker protection from nuclear materials in transit, the regulations exempt various amounts of every radionuclide (radioactive forms of each element) from placarding, manifesting and tracking. A whole new category of exempt quantities "per consignment," which did not exist in previous regulations, is being adopted. In addition, the previously allowed exempt concentration level (70 bequerels per gram or approximately 2 nanoCuries per gram of any one or combination of radionuclides) is being replaced with different levels for each radionuclide. For more than half of the radionuclides, the exempt concentrations will increase, thus increasing the amount of unregulated nuclear material being shipped without any notice or regulatory control.

"At a time of heightened alert and concern about dirty bombs, the federal government is dramatically increasing the amount of nuclear material that can be transported routinely into and through the US without any labeling or controls. This is the exact wrong time for US agencies to let go of nuclear materials and wastes," stated Diane D'Arrigo, Radioactive Waste Project Director at Nuclear Information and Resource Service. "It will make it harder to watch for and detect dirty bombs because there will be more false positives in everyday transport."

"Workers and the public will be exposed to radiation without their knowledge or consent. It is forced radiation exposure," charged David Ritter, Policy Analyst at Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program.

Transport workers in both the rail and trucking industries and those involved in cleaning up accidents could be routinely exposed to radiation. First responders, customs agents and those who load and unload shipments will also come into contact with unlabeled nuclear materials. Since the materials could go to municipal and industrial landfills, incinerators and scrap recycling centers, workers at those sites could be regularly exposed to more radiation.

"NRC and DOT's generic exemptions will facilitate the deregulation of nuclear waste and use of contaminated materials to make household items and building supplies. That is the real motivation," said Dr. Judith Johnsrud of the Sierra Club, "to make it easier for other federal and even state nuclear agencies to treat nuclear waste as if it is not radioactive."

Neither NRC nor DOT can provide any meaningful justification for the exemptions for relaxing restrictions on nuclear materials. The exempt amounts are the same as those proposed by international nuclear advocacy organizations (IAEA and Euratom) to allow nuclear waste to be deregulated or "cleared." Once "cleared" from nuclear controls, the radioactive material can enter the marketplace as regular trash or be sold to recyclers to make consumer goods like cars and toys and to build civil engineering projects like roads, playgrounds or parking lots.

"It is not a coincidence. It's a deliberate attempt to by the Bush Administration agencies to bypass the American public's opposition to nuclear waste deregulation and get it into US law," said Michael Welch of the Redwood Alliance. "DOT and NRC are teaming up with the global nuclear power and weapons industry to make it cheaper to run and decommission nuclear reactors and support facilities."

The Environmental Protection Agency, Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Department of Energy are all in the various stages of deregulating nuclear wastes over which they have jurisdiction.

"Removing existing requirements for labeling in transit will make it easier for those agencies to let nuclear wastes to get out into commerce. The public will be exposed both during transport and then again from the products and buildings made from contaminated materials," explained Dan Hirsch, President of the Committee to Bridge the Gap.

Since both US agencies share responsibility for radioactive transport in the US, they coordinated adoption of the same exemption regulations. NIRS et al are challenging the rules of both agencies. The DOT is expected to respond to the challenge by May 25, 2004. The case against the NRC is on hold in the 9th Circuit of US Federal Court until the DOT responds.

Source and contact: