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Proliferation in Parliament

Back to Proliferation in Parliament, Summer 2009

European Parliament

Written Questions

Written Questions

Implications for Member States of a catastrophic accident at Sellafield's High Activity radioactive waste storage tanks in the United Kingdom

WRITTEN QUESTION by Rebecca Harms (Verts/ALE) to the Commission, 7 May 2009

On 23 March 2009, the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority (Statens Strålevern) published a report, ‘Consequences in Norway of a hypothetical accident at Sellafield: Potential release — transport and fallout,’ on the possible consequences for Norway of an atmospheric release of radioactivity from the storage tanks for highly active liquid waste at Sellafield, authored by experts from that authority, supported by others from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

The report shows that an accident could entail considerable fallout over Norway, with the release of just 1 % of the tanks’ contents possibly resulting in levels of radioactive fallout in Western Norway that are five times higher than those measured in the worst affected areas of Norway after the Chernobyl accident. If an accident caused the release of 10 % of the tanks’ contents, the authors calculate that the fallout would be 50 times the maximum level experienced in Norway after Chernobyl.

In the light of the fact that other European countries, including Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, are in a similar fallout path, will the Commission:

1. put into effect its right of access to Sellafield, under the provisions of Article 35 of the Euratom Treaty, to verify its ‘operation and efficiency’ in respect of the level of radioactivity emitted into the air, water and soil in (a) normal operation and (b) accident conditions;

2. examine the plan for the disposal of radioactive waste at Sellafield to determine whether, under the provisions of Article 37 of the Treaty, the implementation of such plan is liable to result in the radioactive contamination of the water, soil or airspace of another Member State;

3. publish, as required generally under Article 5 of the Treaty, a list of those sectors of nuclear research, particularly in respect of the impact of radiological releases from Sellafield, which it considers to be ‘insufficiently explored’?

Answer given by Mr Piebalgs on behalf of the Commission, 7 July 2009

1. Under Article 35 of the Euratom Treaty the Commission regularly exercises its rights of access in order to satisfy itself that Member States and nuclear facilities continuously monitor levels of radioactivity in air, water and soil. Since 1993, the Commission has performed several verifications at the Sellafield site aimed at verifying the correct operation and efficiency of the environmental monitoring facilities.

2. In 1990, the Government of the United Kingdom (UK), in accordance with Article 37 of the Euratom Treaty, submitted to the Commission general data related to the plan for the disposal of radioactive waste from the operation of the Windscale vitrification plant and the vitrified product store located at British Nuclear Fuels plc Sellafield. This submission addressed radioactive effluent discharge under normal operations as well as in the case of an accident. In its opinion, delivered on 10 July 1990(1), the Commission, after consulting the Group of Experts referred to in Article 31 of the Euratom Treaty, came to the conclusion that inter alia an unplanned discharge of radioactive effluent would not result in radioactive contamination, significant from the point of view of health, of the water, soil or airspace of another Member State.

The Commission is analysing the report published by the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority on the consequences in Norway of a hypothetical accident at Sellafield. This is done in the light of the general data already submitted under Article 37 of the Euratom Treaty by the UK authorities for the nuclear site of Sellafield and in particular in relation to the reference accidents examined in these submissions.

3. In the Euratom Framework Programmes and related Annual Work Programme, the Commission publishes those sectors of nuclear research considered a priority for action at Community level. The current (7th) Euratom Framework Programme mentions, in the related Specific Programme, the area of ‘emergency management and rehabilitation’. This area was also featured in previous Euratom Framework Programmes, and in particular has considered post-Chernobyl issues. Though not aimed specifically at releases from particular sites, the research undertaken is generally applicable to all emergency management situations and releases of radionuclides into the environment. Information on some of these projects is available on the Europa website(2).

(1) OJ L 193, 25.7.1990.
(2) http://ec.europa.eu/research/energy/pdf/off-site_nuclear_emergency_mangement_en.pdf; http://cordis.europa.eu/fp5-euratom/src/index.htm


The International Nuclear Fuel Bank development and accountability to European citizens

WRITTEN QUESTION by Rebecca Harms (Verts/ALE) to the Commission, 7 May 2009

In December 2008 the European Union pledged EUR 25 million (USD 32 million) towards the first international nuclear fuel bank, originally proposed by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and US investor Warren Buffett in September 2006, who promised to contribute USD 50 million. Other contributors are the United States Government (USD 50 million), the United Arab Emirates and Kuwaiti governments (USD 10 million each), and the government of Norway (USD 5 million) which are all making donations to the IAEA fuel bank. By March this year the INFB had exceeded its initial goal of US USD 100 million in matching contributions, reaching a total commitment to the fuel bank of approximately USD 157 million. IAEA Director-General, Mohamed ElBaradei, is reported (in Nuclear Engineering International, 9 March 2009) to have said that the next step was to develop a proposed framework for the fuel reserve for the consideration of the IAEA Board at its mid-year meeting in June. The NTI/Buffett USD 50 million was made contingent on 1) the IAEA receiving an additional USD 100 million in funding, or an equivalent value of low enriched uranium, to jump-start the reserve; and 2) the IAEA taking the necessary actions to approve the establishment of the reserve.

1. What conditions were set by the European Union in making its pledge of EUR 25 million on behalf of Member States?

2. What discussions took place with non-nuclear Member States, such as Ireland and Denmark, prior to making such a pledge?

3. Will the INFB be located on the territory of the European Union?

4. What non-proliferation safeguards will cover the enriched uranium in the INFB? Who will pay for these controls?

5. What role will be played by the United Kingdom, following the pledge in favour of an INFB made by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the International nuclear fuel cycle conference held at Lancaster House, London on 17 March?

6. How will this pledge by the EU in support of an INFB benefit the citizens of the European Union?

Answer given by Mrs Ferrero-Waldner on behalf of the Commission, 1 July 2009

The International Nuclear Fuel Bank will be placed under the strict control and safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency. This is one of the indispensable conditions agreed by the European Council when pledging up to EUR 25 million in December 2008. At the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors in June 2009, the IAEA Secretariat is expected to make a first working proposal addressing elements which may include the location of the bank.

Discussions relating to the pledge took place in the Council Working Group on Non Proliferation (CONOP) meetings during the second half of 2008, with the regular participation of all Member States. The Political and Security Committee and the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) approved the ‘Council Conclusions on EU contribution for the establishment of an IAEA nuclear fuel bank’ in early December prior to their endorsement by the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) on 8 December 2008.

On 15 December 2008 the Commission presented a proposal to Member States in which the Commission set out its intentions to fund a Nuclear Bank managed by the IAEA through the Instrument for Stability (IfS). In the Indicative Programme for the IfS 2009-11 the Commission proposed to earmark EUR 20-25 million. The Indicative Programme was approved by Member States by written procedure in early January 2009. Following this the Indicative Programme was presented to Parliament for scrutiny. It was approved by the Commission on 8 April 2009.

The United Kingdom (UK) proposed at the General Conference of the IAEA in 2006 a system of ‘uranium bonds’ which are approved exports of nuclear fuel that cannot be revoked once agreed. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced in his speech of 17 March 2009, that the UK would bring forward proposals internationally for multilateral control of the fuel cycle.

Regarding benefits for the EU citizen, the IAEA nuclear fuel bank is a project intended to make available a reserve of nuclear fuel in case where an operator cannot find the necessary fuel on the international market. For those countries having decided to launch a peaceful nuclear programme, this creates conditions that render unnecessary the development of national enrichment or reprocessing capabilities, thereby preventing the further associated spread of sensitive technology.

Sanctions against North Korea

WRITTEN QUESTION by Robert Kilroy-Silk (NI) to the Commission, 22 April 2009

Will the Commission join with the US in imposing sanctions on North Korea for its launch of a missile?

Answer given by Ms Ferrro-Waldner on behalf of the Commission, 17 June 2009

Following the nuclear test proclaimed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on 9 October 2006 and in line with Resolution 1718 (2006) of the United Nations Security Council (UNSCR 1718), the European Union decided to impose sanctions against the DPRK under Common Position 2006/795. These sanctions are implemented in the Community through Regulation (EC) 329/2007(1) and have recently been upgraded pursuant to Commission Regulation 389/2009(2) of 12 May 2009.

The European Union has expressed serious concern over recent actions and announcements by the DPRK and has urged the DPRK to conform with UNSCR 1718. The Commission will work closely with the Council as regards a possible review of EU sanctions in light of recent developments.

(1) Council Regulation (EC) No 329/2007 of 27 March 2007 concerning restrictive measures against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, OJ L 88, 29.3.2007.
(2) Commission Regulation (EC) No 389/2009 of 12 May 2009 amending Council Regulation (EC) No 329/2007 concerning restrictive measures against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, OJ L 118, 13.5.2009.


The commercial failure of the Sellafield MOX plant

WRITTEN QUESTION by Rebecca Harms (Verts/ALE) to the Commission, 7 May 2009

It was revealed by the British Independent newspaper on 7 April 2009 that the mixed plutonium-uranium oxide (MOX) plant at Sellafield (SMP) has only managed to produce 6.3 tons of fuel in total over seven years since it opened, in a facility with a nominal design capacity to produce 120 tons of MOX fuel a year.

When approved by the UK Labour Government in October 2001, just three weeks after the terrorist incidents in the United States on September 11, SMP was supposed to return a profit of GBP 200 million in its lifetime, having cost GBP 637 million in construction and commissioning costs.

However, figures released to the UK Parliament by the UK Government on 2 April reveal that SMP has in fact lost at least GBP 626 million (Official Report, 2 April 2009: Column 1368W).

SMP’s sales to date have constituted just 12 MOX fuel assemblies, produced between 2004 and 2007 for Switzerland’s Beznau power station, delivered to the customer in three shipments (2005/06/07). In 2007 work started on an order for Germany’s Grohnde power station, and two MOX fuel assemblies were completed in summer 2008. But nine months later, no further assemblies have been completed.

Extraordinarily, in the light of this economic catastrophe, Sellafield workers in the Unite trades union are calling on the UK Government to give the go-ahead to a new MOX plant, based on a French AREVA design, adjacent to the existing one, which they want closed.

Will the Commission set out what information it has:

1. on any plans or proposals by the UK Government on such a new MOX plant at Sellafield?

2. whether there are any plans for any future collaboration between Member States on any new MOX plant?

3. on any (a) independent or (b) Euratom studies done on the future prospects of MOX use in reactors (1) in the European Union and (2) outside the Union, from MOX fuel manufactured in Member States?

Answer given by Mr Piebalgs on behalf of the Commission, 15 June 2009

1. In accordance with Article 41 of the Euratom Treaty investment projects in the nuclear industry in Member States have to be communicated to the Commission for the establishment of an opinion. So far, no such communication has been addressed to the Commission.

2. The Commission has not been informed of plans for future cooperation between Member States on new MOX plant.

3. Some 30 reactors in Europe are currently using MOX fuel, and more are licensed to use this fuel. In this context, the Commission is not aware of studies on the future prospects of MOX use in reactors in the EU and outside the EU.

Past nuclear test explosions by EU Member States

WRITTEN QUESTION by Marios Matsakis (ALDE) to the Commission, 8 April 2009

In the 60s, 70s and even in part of the 80s a large number of nuclear test explosions took place in Algeria, French Polynesia and other colonies or ex-colonies of two EU Member States, France and Britain. These explosions were carried out in the air, underground and underwater, with serious radioactivity consequences for the environment and for people (local inhabitants as well as French and British personnel). The problem of radioactivity contamination is one that has no borders or nationality, and the EU has a responsibility to see that corrective action is taken by those Member States that caused the problem in the first place.

Could the Commission enquire with the authorities of France and Britain in order to find out the extent of the aforementioned problem and the measures taken by France and Britain to assist in decontaminating the affected environment and in compensating the people who suffered as a result of these test explosions?

Answer given by Mr Piebalgs on behalf of the Commission, 4 June 2009

In 2006 the Court of Justice ruled that the use of nuclear energy for military purposes falls outside the scope of all the provisions of the Euratom Treaty and its secondary legislation(1). Therefore, the Commission has no power, under the Euratom Treaty, to enquire further with the authorities of Member States on the consequences for the population and the environment of the nuclear tests that took place.

The Commission takes note of the recent initiative taken by France to compensate the citizens who suffered as a result of these nuclear tests; such compensations are of the proper initiative of the Member States concerned.

(1) Case 65/04 of 9 March 2006 Commission v UK; C-61/03 of 12 Aril 2005 Commission v United Kingdom.


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