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Greenpeace target European uranium dumpers

The uranium enrichment multinational Urenco has come under fire from green groups for exporting thousands of tonnes of depleted uranium to Russia, in spite of their appalling safety record and the fact that it is technically illegal.
29 September 2006 - Doug Weir

Urenco, whose plant at Capenhurst in Cheshire enriches uranium for use in the UK’s power plants has exported more than 75,000 tonnes of DU to Russia since 1996.

Urenco is not alone in this practice - Greenpeace has also accused Cogema/Areva and Eurodif/Areva de Pierrelatte of involvement.

The importation of nuclear waste into Russia for the purposes of storage is illegal, but Urenco and other European uranium enrichment and reprocessing firms bypass this by arranging the return of some reprocessed material. However, around 98% of the waste has not been returned and is now being stored at four sites across Russia.

Greenpeace allege that the containers used to transport the uranium waste do not meet current International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards and pose a serious risk during the thousands of kilometres journey to the Russian dumpsites, where they are illegally dumped.

Once there, the containers, each of which contains up to 10 tonnes of DU, are left in the open air to slowly corrode. Most of the waste is in the form of hexafluoride crystals, which react violently with water and can lead to the dispersal of toxic gases such as hydrogen fluoride in the event of a leak.

In Russia, Greenpeace has filed a case in the Moscow district court against the Russian government nuclear export company, Tecksnabexport. According to paragraph 3 of article 48 of the federal law of 2001 'On Environmental Protection', the importation of nuclear waste and foreign nuclear materials to the Russian Federation for the purpose of its storage or disposal is prohibited.

"The nuclear industry is opting for the cheapest, dirtiest and most dangerous option – dumping in Russia," said Vladimir Tchuprov of Greenpeace Russia in Le Havre. "Russia already has a nuclear waste crisis, and yet EDF, EoN, and all other European nuclear utilities are making the situation worse. Disposal and even storage of foreign nuclear waste in Russia is illegal," said Tchuprov.

The waste is sent to Sverdlovsk-44, Angarsk, Krasnoyarsk-45 and Tomsk-7, one of the most radioactive sites on Earth and a centre for plutonium production.