Conference on Nuclear Waste and safety held in Brussels

Publish date: March 8, 2010

On March 3rd, Bellona organised together with Norwegian NGO Guardians of our Common Seas (Lofoten mot Sellafield) and British nuclear company Sellafield Ltd a conference on nuclear waste and safety in Europe. Representatives from Norway and Sweden expressed concerns over Sellafield’s management of high level radioactive waste. Sellafield Ltd. presented their current and future plans to enhance the “safety culture” at the nuclear site in West Cumbria, England.

The joint conference in Brussels, chaired by Bishop Tor Jørgensen, continued a programme which aimed to strengthen dialogue between Sellafield Ltd. and Norwegian environmental groups that commenced in 2001. Such dialogue has led to a 95% reduction from Sellafield of sea discharges of nuclear isotope Technetium 99.

The conference was attended by elected representatives and members of local communities from the UK, Norway and Sweden, as well as technical experts, safety regulators and Nuclear Management Partners, the new management of Sellafield Ltd. The conference focused on nuclear safety, environmental impacts and the oversight by national and international regulators, including the European Commission.

Audun Garberg, advisor to the Norwegian environment minister, Marit Tennfjord from Nordland County Council and Jan Lindholm from the Nordic Council expressed their concerns about the hazards at Sellafield and the safety culture of the site.

Garberg explained that due to prevailing wind patterns, Norway would suffer the most in the case of a release of high level radioactive waste.

“In other words, a major hazard for Norway – and Sweden – is stored at the site, given that it would take 48 hours before radioactive particles would cover most of the region”, he concluded.

“I would urge a quick reduction in stored volumes of liquid high level waste at the site, improved safety at critical facilities and, above all, improved transparency. Without the latter, we have little data on which to base scenarios”, he added.

In response, Stuart MacVean from Sellafield Ltd, explained the new management’s focus and investment on improving safety performance and reducing hazards.

The conference heard that the operation and decommissioning of Sellafield were issues of great political and public concern for the population in the Nordic countries and for the community around Sellafield.

“Wait-and-see is not an option. How can we be sure that the UK will be able to fund decommissioning in the future? The identification of storage solutions for high level radioactive waste – which already took place a decade ago in countries like Finland – is needed. To this end, geological storage of radioactive waste is the safest and most promising solution to such a problem”, said Nils Bøhmer, general manager at Bellona.

At present, the EU responded to the challenge of nuclear safety across the Union through its nuclear safety and radioactive waste directives – which are based broadly on international conventions to which Norway is a signatory. This legislation requires monitoring of the security and the safety of nuclear installations through routine inspections by Member States’ atomic energy experts, who in turn report back to the European Commission.

Lofoten mot Sellafield and Bellona have focused on the safety of nuclear installations at Sellafield since 2001. Future dialogue and work between the three organisations is expected in order to maintain productive exchanges of information and expertise. The next conference is expected to take place in Lofoten next year and Sellafield the year after.

Photo: Left to right: Per-Kaare Holdal from Lofoten mot Sellafield, Chairman Bishop Tor Jørgensen, Marit Tennfjord from Nordland County Counsil, Auden Garberg from the Norwegian Ministry of Environment.