vent anger at nuclear waste
BBC News, Lofoten, Norway, 15 April, 2003
By Jorn Madslien, BBC News Online business reporter
Original address: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/2941073.stm
A group of Norwegian fishermen are meeting British
Nuclear Fuels at a conference near Sellafield this week to discuss discharging
radioactive waste into the sea.
The fishermen are angry because they believe the waste is contaminating
marine life after it is carried with ocean currents north from the Irish
Sea to the North Sea.
BBC News Online finds out whether they have a point.
Wedged between alpine mountains and choppy seas,
far North of the Polar circle, a small fishing community is facing a
new threat which they fear could put their entire existence at risk.
The 25,000 people who live on the remote Lofoten
islands, just off the Northern Norwegian coast, are totally reliant
on the sea that surrounds them.
And it is here, at sea, that the threat has made
its presence felt.
During the last half of the 1990s, scientists have
identified a sharp rise in the concentration of radioactive waste in
marine life off the Norwegian coast.
For now at least, everyone seem to agree that the
fish and seafood remains safe to eat.
But Norway's fishermen are concerned that the rise
could spark a major food scare.
"Norwegian fish is the cleanest in the world,"
fisherman Hans Nybakk told BBC News Online.
"But if the world markets think the fish
and seafood is contaminated with dangerous materials, then they won't
want to buy it from us," added fellow fisherman Haakon Solheim.
"It's quite simple; if we don't have the
sea and what it brings then we can't live here."
The fishermen know who to blame for their woes.
For although the nuclear pollution of the North
Sea is not visible to the naked eye, it can easily be traced back to
its source, namely Sellafield, the nuclear waste reprocessing plant
in Cumbria in the North West of England.
The radioactive waste is carried north by the Gulf
Stream to the Norwegian coast where it is accumulated in fish, shell
fish and seaweed.
Such deliberate pollution of Norway's waters has
sparked a stern reaction from the Norwegian government.
"We are finding rising radioactive levels
in many marine species all the way to the North Pole," Norway's environment
minister Boerge Brende told BBC News Online.
"It is simply a matter of a neighbour who,
quite unnecessarily, pollutes a food resource in a neighbouring country.
"There is no need to treat radioactive waste
in this way. Instead, it should simply be stored and cleaned on land."
Fish and seafood are Norway's second largest exports,
earning the country more than 31bn Norwegian kroner (£2.7bn; $4.3bn)
every year, so this is a problem for all the country's coastal people.
|We see it as a problem that our neighbours
object, but we fail to see the rationale behind it
BNFL spokesman Nigel Monckton
Japanese fish importers have already raised concerns
with the Norwegians.
And the Norwegian seaweed industry - which produces
by products that are used by health food and cosmetics firms or in animal
feed - has been contacted by worried consumers.
Contaminated seas also pose a threat to Norway's
image as a clean tourist destination, and this has angered Petter Stordalen,
chief executive officer of Choice Hotels Scandinavia, who was recently
involved as an environmental activist outside the Sellafield plant.
"The crabs I fish with my son, the lobster
I eat already contain radioactive pollution from Sellafield," Mr Stordalen
told BBC News Online.
"I am firmly anchored in the Norwegian tourism
industry, with many hotels along the coast, and I have children who
are going to grow up here."
BNFL, the owners of the Sellafield plant, admits
that it has been discharging a low level nuclear waste called technetium-99
directly into the Irish Sea for years.
The problem with technetium-99, BNFL spokesman Nigel
Monckton told BBC News Online, is that "we do not have a disposal technique
on land for this."
And storing it until such techniques have been
developed is not an option since the UK's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate
has put pressure on BNFL to get rid of it.
"You shouldn't store this on land in a liquid
form any longer than you have to because it is not a failsafe strategy,"
explained Mr Monckton.
Hence, the least damaging option left for BNFL
is to release the waste into water where the discharges "put nobody
at risk," he said.
"What we're doing is not contravening any
national or international law," said Mr Monckton, adding that the discharges
are made in line with recommendations made by the UK's Environment Agency.
Besides, BNFL's technetium-99 discharges are gradually
and quickly being reduced, Mr Monckton stressed.
The processing plant which is the source of the
releases will be closed by 2012 and by 2020 new laws will pretty much
put a halt to the discharges altogether.
BNFL is loath to make any apologies about its behaviour.
"We see it as a problem that our neighbours
object, but we fail to see the rationale behind it," insisted Mr Monckton.
Indeed, BNFL's argument that its technetium-99
discharges are pretty much harmless has received backing from an unlikely
source, namely The Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority (NRPA).
"Currently, it is not dangerous to eat Norwegian
seafood," Anne Liv Rudjord, a senior scientist with NRPA, told BBC News
Consequently, there are no reasons why consumers
should stop buying the seafood or take their holidays in Norway, Mr
"What people's perceptions are is a matter
for people and we can't answer for that," he said.
But Norway's coastal population remains unconvinced.
"If it is as safe as the English are saying, why
can't they bury it, why can't they store it onland? If this waste isn't
dangerous, they can eat it themselves," Steinar Bastesen, leader of
the Norwegian Coastal People's Party and a member of parliament, told
BBC News Online.
Indeed, even the NRPA is concerned about the potential
long term effects technetium-99 may have on either human health or aquamarine
life - not least since it takes 213,000 years before the radiation emitted
from the waste is halved.
Ms Rudjord insists that if it is too dangerous
to store technetium-99 on land then it is also too dangerous to pour
it into the sea.
"The consequences from releasing this into the sea
are worse than the consequences of carrying out available treatment
processes on land," she said, dismissing BNFL's claim that there is
no available technology to remove technetium-99 from liquid waste on
© BBC MMIII