A bad month for Blair

Posted by bex — 5 July 2006 at 8:00am - Comments

Radioactive Champagne?

Radioactive champagne, near nuclear meltdowns, leaked terrorism documents and a nuclear waste train crash... In the same month that Tony Blair announced nuclear power was "back on the agenda with a vengeance", events in the real world put the lie to nuclear industry spin.

Champagne should be fizzy - not fissionable
Aah, a fine Champagne. A full body. A delicate nose. That indescribable sensation of having your tongue tickled by... tritium?! Yes, low-level radioactive waste has been found leaking into groundwater less than six miles from the famous Champagne vineyards, putting the region's most famous export at risk of contamination.

The leakage occurred at a waste dump site after "the wall of a storage cell fissured" while concrete was being added to a layer of waste. But this isn't an isolated incident. Another dump site in Normandy is leaking levels of radioactivity up to 90 times above European safety limits, contaminating the countryside and threatening dairy production.

These discoveries come just as the search for a nuclear waste dump site begins in the UK. CoRWM, the committee tasked with finding long-term management plans for the UK's nuclear waste, will next month recommend that the UK should bury its radioactive waste underground - an idea that was rejected in 1997 when a public inquiry found that industry couldn't guarantee isolating waste from the environment.

And Tony Blair's plans to build 10 new nuclear power stations would quadruple the amount of the most dangerous and long-lived radioactive wastes, including spent fuel - all of which has to be dumped somewhere. The government has earmarked more than 530 potential waste dump sites across the UK, including many near towns, villages, water sources and farms and the hunt could soon begin...

An American Chernobyl?
Recent weeks have also brought a stark reminder that nuclear energy is no safer than it was 20 years ago, when the tragic accident at Chernobyl released 100 times more radiation than the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The governments of nuclear nations tend to portray Chernobyl as a tragic aberration that could never happen in their own countries. But a new Greenpeace report, "An American Chernobyl", reveals that there have been almost 200 near meltdowns at US nuclear reactors since Chernobyl, in 1986.

More leaks
Just a few days after Blair's announcement that nuclear power was back on the agenda for the UK, a leaked document caused an uproar in France (and led to the arrest of an activist by terrorist police for simply possessing a copy).

The document, written by Electricité de France (EDF), revealed that the new breed of reactor under construction in Finland and France is highly vulnerable to terrorist attack. The document showed "an almost total lack of preparation to defend against the inevitability of terrorist attack," said nuclear expert John Large.

And the kind of reactor that is so vulnerable? It's called an EPR (European Pressurised Water Reactor) - one of the two kinds that Blair is considering building in the UK.

And more accidents
Meanwhile, in Suffolk, a car collided with a train carrying up to two tonnes of spent nuclear fuel at a level crossing. Luckily, nobody was hurt but the accident came only weeks after a Greenpeace report on the hazards of transporting nuclear materials in the UK.

The report found that, because trains routinely carry nuclear waste through urban conurbations (at the same time and on the same lines as normal passenger trains) an accident or terrorist attack damaging a fuel flask could be devastating - resulting in the deaths of up to 8000 people from radioactive contamination.

"Adios" to nuclear power
In Spain, President Zapatero has confirmed that the country's eight operating nuclear plants will be phased out in favour of clean, renewable energy, making Spain the fourth European country to abandon nuclear power.

The current Energy Review gives Tony Blair the opportunity to make the UK the fifth. Instead of being a smokescreen for a decision that has already been taken, the review should be exploring genuine solutions to the dual threats of climate change and energy security.

Follow Greenpeace UK