April 2003

Prescott 'did nothing' on radioactive waste pledge

Daily Telegraph, 22 April 2003
By Charles Clover, Environment Editor

[Posted 23/04/2003]

Five years after John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, agreed to make "progressive reductions" in radioactive discharges nothing has happened, a meeting will hear tomorrow.

Mr Prescott hailed the agreement at a ministerial meeting in Sintra, Portugal, in 1998 as a ground-breaking development that would lead to Britain shedding the tag of "the dirty man of Europe".

Environmentalists say the pledge ranks with Mr Prescott's promise to reduce traffic growth, which was recorded several times after he came to office and then denied by him five years later.

This one may be harder to get out of, as the Government agreed to make "progressive and substantial reductions" in radioactive discharges, mainly from Sellafield.

The agreement was signed by Mr Prescott at the last meeting of the Oslo and Paris convention for the protection of the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic (Ospar).

Its aim was "concentrations in the environment near background values for naturally occurring radioactive substances and close to zero for artificial radioactive substances" by 2020.

Environment ministers from Ospar countries are to meet in Bremen in June, five years after Sintra, to review progress. But environmentalists say there is little progress to review.

Discharges from Britain's reprocessing facilities are higher now than in 1998. Countries with concerns about British radioactive discharges detectable in their fish stocks, such as Norway, accuse London and Paris of prevaricating in line with their national interests.

France and Britain want the baseline period for progress to be measured against to be 1993 to 1997. This would enable current discharges, though higher than in 1998, to be painted as a reduction.

Tomorrow's meeting of experts in London will try to find a resolution to the problem. Jurgen Trittin, the German environment minister, who will chair the Bergen meeting, wants the baseline issue resolved before June.

Greenpeace says that Britain's national plan, published late last year, "directly contradicts the Sintra agreement" by allowing the nuclear industry to set its own timetable for reductions.

About 80 per cent of Sellafield's discharges are attributable to the reprocessing of fuel from the first generation of Magnox power stations. British Nuclear Fuels has said it will close them over the next seven years.

Pete Roche of Greenpeace said: "Britain appears to be willing to risk being vilified again as the dirty man of Europe for the sake of keeping its five remaining decrepit, loss-making Magnox reactors open for a few years and to continue with the pointless reprocessing of spent nuclear waste fuel."

A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "Bremen will be a useful opportunity to review progress of signatory member states. We have had no feedback to suggest that progress has been anything other than satisfactory.

"By 2020 we will have reduced radioactive discharges down to background levels."

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