Switzerland - Plutonium Investigation n°8

Nuclear Waste: only Interim Solution

The four Swiss utilities have co-operated to create a centralised facility for the intermediate storage of radioactive waste. Construction started in 1996 at the Würenlingen site. The Zwilag facility (Zentrales Zwischenlager Würenlingen ZZL) is mainly planned for the intermediate storage of spent fuel and of reprocessing waste, returned from reprocessing countries, prior to final disposal. The Zwilag facility is also planned for the handling of low and intermediate-level radioactive waste. Industrial operation is planned for the beginning of the year 2000. This facility is a joint project of the four nuclear electricity utilities. For the moment, no decision is made concerning the final disposal of the radioactive waste, once it is taken out of the Zwilag. The proposed site for low- and intermediate-level waste at Wellenberg in Central Switzerland was rejected in a cantonal vote in June 1995.

Swiss utilities responsible for the Health of French and British citizens

In an unprecedented move, on 22 June 1998, ten French and British citizens filed a suit with the Swiss Federal Prosecutor's Office against Swiss electricity utilities. The plaintiffs, all neighbours of the plutonium plants at La Hague, France and at Sellafield, UK, argue that reprocessing of Swiss spent fuel generates liquid and gaseous radioactive discharges which in turn put at risk the human health of people living in the area. According to Greenpeace, damaging the health of a person by means of ionizing radioation is a criminal offense in Switzerland. The fact that the offense is not made on Swiss territory would not make a difference.

Among the plaintiffs are the mayor of a small town close to La Hague, as well as an "occupational cancer victim and former employee of the COGEMA reprocessing company". According to Greenpeace, the Federal Prosecutor's Office has promised a provisional ban on nuclear transports - halted because of the contamination of casks and rail cars (cf. Plutonium Investigation Transport Special) - pending the outcome of the proceedings. This case is very significant since it remains to be seen if similar cases could be brought up in other client countries of the French COGEMA and the British BNFL.

Back to contents                To be continued