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Paris commission strikes blow against UK reprocessing plans

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(June 25, 1993) The Paris Commission, at its recent meeting in Berlin, Germany, has given a clear message to the UK government that any increases in radio-active discharges into the northeast Atlantic resulting from its plans to open the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) in Cumbria are unacceptable.

(393.3831) WISE Amsterdam - The commission agreed:
(i) to adopt further measures including the application of Best Available Techniques for the reduction or elimination of inputs of radioactive substances to the maritime area;

(ii) that a new or revised discharge authorization for radioactive discharges from nuclear reprocessing installations should only be issued by national authorities if special consideration is given to:

(a) information on the need for spent fuel reprocessing and on other options;
(b) a full environmental impact assessment;
(c) the demonstration that the planned discharges are based upon the use of the Best Available Techniques and observes the precautionary principle; and
(d) a consultation with the Paris Commission on the basis of (a), (b) and (c) above.

The UK government, which was faced with a storm of protest from neighboring countries over its reprocessing plans when the meeting opened, was the only government to vote against the motion. While the 13-member commission (which includes Germany, France, the UK, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland) prefers to work by consensus rather than take decision to a vote, a three quarters majority can pass a motion.

For a long time now, the Nordic countries and Ireland have been concerned about the increased radioactive contamination of the marine environment caused by the plutonium factory at Sellafield in Cumbria, UK. They are also annoyed about the negative effects on their fisheries. What especially outrages them now are plans by the UK government to increase radioactive discharges by 900% into the sea, and 1100% into the air, by expanding its Sellafield reprocessing operations and opening the newly-built THORP.


The Paris Commission delegations were greeted on the first day of the Berlin meeting by Green-peace members with banners, a 2.5 meter high hourglass ("No time to Waste!") and four barrels containing radioactively contami-nated sand from the Sellafield area. Loudspeakers played the ticking noise of radioactive decay and every delegation was handed a specially prepared lead container filled with radioactive sand. "This sand," said Roland Hipp of Greenpeace, "comes from publicly accessible places, from beaches where children play and families go to for picnics. It is so highly contaminated that it has been classified as nuclear waste under German law."

In June 1992, scientists at the University of Manchester made analyses of sand samples taken from the Sellafield area and found activity concentrations per kilogram of as much as 13,000 becquerels of cesium-137, 27,000 becquerels of amencium-241 and 10,800 becquerels of plutonium-239/240. If THORP goes into operation, radioactive emissions from the whole Sellafield complex will total 27.5 million curies of radioactivity every year. (For comparison, official figures put the amount released at Chernobyl in 1986 at 50 million curies.) The governments of Ireland and Denmark therefore put forward a resolution at the Paris Commission meeting in order to prevent an increase in radioactive discharges.

The Berlin meeting did little to convince other Paris Commission members that THORP is either safe or necessary, despite the fact that some of them - Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden - have contracts with THORP to send waste there for reprocessing.

THORP was built to reprocess European and Japanese nuclear waste. German utilities have already made contracts with Sellafield for the reprocessing of a total of 885 tonnes of spent fuel rods. The VEBA power station Unterweser has already delivered 100 tonnes to the facility. This, it would appear, violates the German Nuclear Act, which stipulates in Part 9a that nuclear waste must be "harmlessly reutilized". This is obviously not the case in Sellafield and with THORP.

Sources: Greenpeace press releases (GreenNet,, 4 June, 9 June, 14 June and 17 June 1993).

Contacts: Rick Le Coyte, Greenpeace, tel: 0831 656123. NENIG, Bain's Beach, Commercial Street, Lerwick, Shetland; tel: + 44-595-4099; fax: 595-4082. CORE, 98 Church St., Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, LA14 2HT, UK; tel: + 44-229-833 851; fax: 812 239.