Norway considers lawsuit against the Nuclear Kingdom

Tomme ord fra Miljøvernminister Børge Brende?
Foto: CF-Wesenberg/MiljÃ, verndepartementet

Publish date: October 26, 2001

Written by: Thomas Nilsen

Translated by: Marte-Kine Sandengen

In a radio debate broadcasted live, with Bellona, the newly appointed Norwegian minister for the environment, Børge Brende, said he intends to ask the attorney general and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs to clear out the possibilities of a legal case against Great Britain, in order to stop the radioactive discharges from Sellafield.

The two former environmental ministers, Siri Bjerke and Guro Fjellanger, were also actively engaged in the struggle to stop the discharges from Sellafield. Several pronouncements and resolutions from a Nordic perspective have been sent to the British in the last few years, but Mr. Brende’s statements on Monday represent an all together new and more aggressive turn of the case from a Norwegian point of view.

The discharges released from Sellafield represent a serious threat to Norway. Releases of the radioactive substance technetium-99 imperil our natural food source and are a threat to the Norwegian fishery industry, says Mr. Brende.
The level of Technetium-99 has increased dramatically in Norwegian waters since the mid-1990s. Radioactivity is now measured as far north as Svalbard.

Bellona takes samples from lobsters
Bellona is particularly dismayed by the long-term consequences of the radioactive pollution. The British Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (BNFL), owning and operating the Sellafield plant, has applied for a licence to continue operations for several more years. Last weekend, Bellona brought its boat, S/S Kallinika, just outside Rogaland on the Norwegian west coast to measure the level of technetium-99 in lobsters. The radioactive substance technetium-99 has a half-life of 213,000 years, and consequently, the current discharges from Sellafield, which is lead by ocean streams northwards to the Norwegian coastline, will remain in the marine environment for thousands of generations to come.

Intervention level of 1250 Bq/kg
The analyses of the lobsters caught by Bellona during last weekend will be executed in cooperation with the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities (NRPA). The last time similar measurements were carried out was in December 1997. Every single day since 1997 Sellafield has discharged eight million litres of radioactive waste directly into the ocean. The EU intervention level for technetium-99 in lobster is set at 1250 Bq/kg. If the discharges are allowed to continue in the coming years, Bellona fears that this limit will be exceeded.

If the level of techetium-99 in lobster and other seafood should exceed 1250 Bq/kg, there will be put a ban on these commodities, which in turn would imply major consequences for the fishery industry along the entire Norwegian coast.

Norwegian fishery industry is seriously disquieted by the increased nuclear discharges. In a letter to the British Ministry for the Environment of August 14th this year, the Norwegian Fish Farmers Association (NFF) clearly expressed its worries. In the reply, the British environmental authorities stressed that the release of technetium-99 will cease in 2012.

Ireland and Iceland
Ireland is the nearest neighbour to the Sellafield site. The level of radioactivity measured in sea animals in the Irish Sea may be an indication on how the situation along the Norwegian coast will be like in some years. Ireland too, plans a legal action against the UK for their nuclear discharges.

Mr. Brende also said he would contact his Nordic colleagues to discuss a possible lawsuit against the UK. The Icelandic minister for the environment, Siv Fridtleifsdottir, has at a number of occasions fronted Nordic protests against Sellafield.

Copenhagen next Tuesday
The Sellafield situation will already next Tuesday become an issue of discussion when Mr. Brende meets with his colleagues in a meeting of the Council of Minister’s in Copenhagen next Tuesday. The Danish minister for the environment, Sven Auken, the host of the meeting, has also at former occasions suggested that the Nordic countries may have a legal basis for sanctions directed at the UK in order to stop the discharges of radioactivity.

It is very likely that the Nordic ministers for the environment, after the meeting in Copenhagen, will bring up the Sellafield issue as a separate case in the EU Council of Ministers. Furthermore, the British minister for the environment, Michael Meacher, can probably expect to receive a private visit from the newly appointed Norwegian environmental minister, who has proclaimed Sellafield one of his most urgent and important issues.

MOX fuel
The minister for the environment, Børge Brende, does not only criticise Sellafield for the discharges of technetium-99, he says he is alarmed about the fact that the British environmental authorities have granted Sellafield a licence for commencing production at the MOX-plant. The controversial MOX fuel is a combination of plutonium and uranium and is intended used in non-military nuclear power plants.

– A plant like that must be considered a likely goal for terrorist attacks. That is also an important aspect of the Sellafield case, Mr. Brende said.

Sellafield with major debt
Sellafield has a major economical problem, and last weekend the Sunday Telegraph wrote that British Nuclear Fuels Ltd., the company owning Sellafield, is on the verge of bankruptcy. The cost of decommissioning and securing of the nuclear power plants alone, will amount to £34 billion in the next century.

The MOX plant at Sellafield that recently received its production licence has lost out on several of their intended markets. For instance the Japanese side has expressed great scepticism concerning buying MOX fuel from the plant after it was made public that BNFL had falsified safety reports concerning the production of MOX fuel.