French regulators approve increased release into the English Channel of radioactive tritium from Flamanville nuclear power plants

October 31st, 2010 by Anne Sandwith

Flamanville tritium levels barely detectable’ reports The Guernsey Press (30 October 2010) quoting a press release from Valerie Cameron, Guernsey’s Director of Environmental Health and Pollution Regulation.

Channel Island residents heard via the media that EdF, the French operators of the nuclear power plants on the Normandy coast, had been granted permission by French regulators to increase the level of radioactive tritium discharge into the sea and air, rather than via the ‘hot line’ which the former Civil Defence Committee claimed existed to notify the Guernsey public promptly about matters of nuclear concern.

Guernsey’s Director of Environmental Health and Pollution Regulation assures Guernsey residents that there is no reason for concern as radioactive tritium levels are so small as to be insignificant, although the Director admits that any exposure to radioactive substances may increase the risk of cancer.

This is borne out by research by the Low Level Radiation Campaign who write “for 50 years the nuclear establishment has claimed its discharges are pretty harmless. They admit that there’s no safe dose, so that even the smallest amounts of radiation can cause genetic damage leading to cancer, leukaemia or birth defects.”

Our seas should not be regarded as a convenient dustbin into which unwanted and potentially dangerous waste products can be dumped in order to externalise the costs of nuclear power production and make it appear cheaper than it actually is.

One important point is that France signed the OSPAR Convention in 1998, along with Britain and other maritime nations bordering the north east Atlantic. This Convention covers “all human activities that might adversely affect the marine environment of the North East Atlantic” and covers all forms of pollution into the sea. With regard to the objectives for radioactive substances, including tritium, the Convention states:

  • Prevent pollution of the maritime area from ionising radiation through progressive and substantial reductions of discharges, emissions and losses of radioactive substances.
  • Reduce by 2020 discharges, emissions and losses of radioactive substances to levels where the additional concentrations in the marine environment above historic levels, resulting from such discharges, emissions and losses, are close to zero.
  • The ultimate aim is of concentrations in the environment near background values for naturally occurring radioactive substances and close to zero for artificial radioactive substances.

The French authorities who authorised the increased discharge of radioactive tritium appear to be in contravention of the OSPAR Convention, which they signed.

The ‘need’ for these increased discharges may be the new 16,000 MW European Pressurised Water Reactor (Flamanville 3) presently under construction which, when completed will be larger than the two other PWRs on the same site.  This new reactor is massively over budget, at least two years behind schedule and has had some serious construction problems.  It will also increase the amount of radioactive waste produced which will inevitably be stored at the nearby Cap de la Hague reprocessing plant.

Nuclear power is neither cheap, clean nor safe. Nor is it the answer to reducing carbon emissions and climate change. Research conducted by the EU concluded that when looking at the whole cycle of nuclear generation, from mining the uranium to decommissioning the plants, nuclear power stations produce around 50% more greenhouse gas emissions than wind power.

A study by the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) estimates that for nuclear power to have any effect on global warming, at least 1000 reactors would need to be built worldwide. This is extremely unlikely as current growth in nuclear electricity is about 4% annually.  Investors are reluctant to invest because of the economics and the potential liabilities from decommissioning and nuclear waste.  Investment in nuclear power diverts resources from the real solutions to climate change: that of energy efficiency and the development of renewable sources of energy which have the added benefit of energy security.

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