Atom plant in France `threatens South of England' : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Atom plant in France `threatens South of England' Scientists say radiation from a French nuclear reprocessing plant that wants to expand could reach from Devon to Kent

Source: The Sunday Telegraph London

Publication date: Apr 02, 2000

FRENCH nuclear industry officials are pressing ahead with plans to expand a reprocessing plant despite fears that it is polluting the Channel Islands and threatening large swathes of the South of England. As the crisis at Sellafield deepened last week, operators of a similar plant at Cap de la Hague, on the northern tip of the Normandy coast, were asking for permission to reprocess even more waste from around the world.

It hopes to increase the nuclear waste it can process each year from 1,600 to 2,000 tons, and to increase its storage capacity from 12,000 to 15,000 tons. Over the past three years, Sellafield has reprocessed an average of 1,200 tons a year.

Tests on samples taken from the 50 million gallons of liquid waste that pours from La Hague into the English Channel each year show that they are up to 17 times more radioactive than sea water. Some evaluations warn that the surface of the seabed around the plant is so contaminated that it should be classified as nuclear waste.

French medical surveys point to a strong link between La Hague and the higher than average levels of childhood leukaemia in the area, while another study suggests that cancer levels on Alderney, just nines miles away, are double the British average.

Computer simulations of airborne emissions indicate that radioactive clouds can reach the south coast of England, less than 80 miles away, within five days of emerging from La Hague's chimneys.

The clouds contain large traces of radioactive gases, including krypton-85, iodine-129 and tritium, according to research carried out at the University of Gent in Belgium, and drift over an area stretching from Devon to Kent before thinning out as they move north.

A 14-strong delegation from Guernsey raised the islanders' concerns at a government inquiry in France last month. They were particularly alarmed by a report by Jean-Franois Viel, a French professor of epidemiology, published in the British Medical Journal, that argues that there is "convincing evidence" that children who played on beaches near La Hague were more likely to develop leukaemia.

A group of politicians from Jersey will be demanding a reduction in discharges from the plant when they appear at the inquiry tomorrow.

Stuart Syvret, a senator from the States of Jersey, the island's parliament, said: "We would like to see it shut down completely."

There is widespread scepticism about the inquiry on the Channel Islands. Many islanders believe the decision to allow La Hague to expand has already been taken in Paris.

The inquiry into the proposed expansion, called for by a French parliamentary social affairs committee, had its remit restricted after intense lobbying by the country's powerful nuclear industry.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, East Sussex, believes that growing numbers of people living and working along the south coast are becoming concerned about La Hague.

"For these people, the threat from nuclear plants in France is far greater than from nuclear plants in the United Kingdom because they're so much closer," he said. "And while the UK nuclear industry may be less than perfect, we know far less about the French nuclear industry because it is so much more secretive."

Last week, the French nuclear industry watchdog, the Direction de Surete des Installations Nucleaires (DSIN), ordered the management at La Hague to reduce both airborne and liquid emissions.

Andre Lacoste, the director of DSIN, said in his annual report: "Like any other nuclear installation, La Hague must achieve progress in terms of environmental protection."

The state-owned company that runs La Hague, Compagnie Generale de Matieres Atomique, wants to expand its operations and increase the range of waste that it is allowed to reprocess.

A separate, criminal investigation into La Hague has begun under a judge in Cherbourg following allegations by environmental groups that the plant had "endangered people's lives" by illegally stockpiling radioactive waste from outside France.

The move astonished local people, who had come to think of La Hague and its management as being untouchable. The plant employs 5,000 people in the area and has an annual turnover of pounds 3 billion. La Hague insists that it meets the standards laid down by the 1996 European Directive for reducing the levels of radioactivity to which workers at the plant are exposed, and says it was forced to stockpile the foreign waste because it could not be moved until it had cooled - which takes decades.

With no oil reserves and little coal and gas, almost 75 per cent of electricity in France is generated by its nuclear industry, making the country more reliant on nuclear power than any other nation in the world.

As well as reprocessing huge amounts of spent fuel generated by its domestic industry, La Hague has contracts to reprocess spent fuel from Germany and Japan, smaller contracts with clients in Switzerland, Belgium and Holland, and has just signed a 15-year contract with an Australian plant.

Publication date: Apr 02, 2000 ) 2000, NewsReal, Inc.

-- Carl Jenkins (, April 03, 2000

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