Monday, 8 November 2010
Transcript of Italian RAI 3 TV programme “Nuclear”
transmitted (in Italian) on Sept 19 2010
Translation by Angela Paine
By Francesca Banzini and Domenico Lannione
Photography by Lorenzo Calanchi, Roberto Pien (battist) and Massimiliano Tomomla
Berlusconi wants to build 8 new nuclear power stations, 4 to begin with then 4 later. Can we be sure these nuclear power stations will be good for the health of the people living near them? I’m not talking about a nuclear accident. We know the consequences of this would be terrible. I’m talking about whether the normal running of a nuclear power station is bad for health. To find out I went to visit a clinic in Hanover where they treat children suffering from cancer. Here I met Professor Kaatsch, who, together with other epidemiologists carried out a research project called Kikk for the German environment Ministry between 2004 and 2007. They analysed all the cases of childhood leukaemia that had occurred in children aged between 0 and 5 years, who live near to nuclear power stations. This is what they discovered.
Kaatsch ‘We came to the conclusion that the children from 0-5 years, who live near to nuclear power stations, are more at risk of suffering from leukaemia than those who live further away’. In the graph we can see clearly that between 5 and 10 km from the nuke the curve goes down drastically. Within the 5km radius there’s an increase in childhood leukaemia 3 times the average.
‘You wrote that you didn’t expect this result. Why?’
Kaatsch ‘According to the radiobiological data that we had, since we know that the radiation coming from the nuke is low, we can’t explain this increase in leukaemia.’
On the other side of Germany, on the banks of the Baltic Sea, there’s an important University Centre. One of the most famous epidemiologists, Professor W Hoffman, lectures here. He also participated in examining the Kikk study. He was also surprised by the increase in leukaemia near the nukes. Hoffman ‘Nobody expected these results because for years we have carried out these kinds of research projects, mostly around atomic centres, in order to discover the cause of cancer. In most cases there were some indications that suggested a causal relationship but we never had such a clear result as this’.
‘After the results of your study were published, there was a big debate in Germany but the German government said that this was just a statistical study and that you scientists haven’t yet proved conclusively that the increase in childhood leukaemia is caused by nukes’.
Hoffman ‘ Clearly the increase in childhood leukaemia is caused by nukes. Otherwise the whole basis of this research would have been absurd. I could have carried out the research around post boxes or traffic lights. I carried out the research around the nukes, which means that if I find an increase in cancer near these nukes, the cancers have been caused by emissions from them. Therefore in the response to the question ‘Do nukes constitute a risk to health or not’, this study has demonstrated that there is a risk and we cannot any longer say that the emissions from nukes do not cause any kind of problem to health.’
Krummel Nuclear Power station in Germany
This is the nuke at Krummel, a few tens of km from the city of Hamburg. As you can see, the first houses are right next to the nuke, which was shut down nearly 3 years ago, due to problems connected with maintenance. This nuke is on the bank of the river Elbe, because like all nukes, it needs a lot of water to cool down the core. 30,000 people live around the reactor, on the two banks of this big river. According to the results of the study, the risk of childhood leukaemia in children aged 0-5 years is 2.2 times the average here. In fact over the past 20 years this area has seen 19 additional cases of childhood leukaemia.
Uve Haven (sp?) a local journalist, has been following the story from the beginning.
Haven: ‘A woman called me from a nearby town. She said ‘This is impossible. There are 3 children with leukaemia in this kindergarten.’ This was in March 1990. So I went straight to the authorities and wrote an article in the local paper.’
Interviewer: Did you talk to the doctors?
Haven ‘Yes but time passed before they came to investigate. In the meantime, another 7 children had become ill. Right near here. In a house near that power line a child became ill.’
‘Did the child die?’
Haven ‘The child survived. Up here there’s a road where a girl child lived. She died. So I came to investigate. I tested the river water, the drinking water, the grass, the soil and the air. I found several traces of radioactivity. The water in the Elbe, near the bottom of the river contains above normal levels of radioactivity. The borders of the river are new. But we carried out an analysis of the ground and we found uranium in it. So we asked ourselves how this could possibly have happened? There are elements in the earth that are radioactive. Samples were taken and looked at under the microscope and miniscule radioactive particles were discovered.’
In order to see these radioactive particles up close, I went all the way to East Berlin to see Prof Klaus Pflugbeil, a retired physicist, who is now president of an independent research society that carries out radiation research. He showed me the particles.
Pflugbeil ‘Do you see what they look like? They roll about. They’re different from grains of sand. They are particles of solid material and consist of several layers. Inside there are various different radio nuclides’.
Interviewer: Are they dangerous?
Pflugbeil ‘When the particles break they become dangerous, releasing the radio nuclides. It’s not a good idea to have them in your garden, which is where I found them, round the Krummel nuke.’ Interviewer: He shows me images of the particles under the microscope.
Pflugbeil ‘We found these in some straw in a garden where children were playing. This is the image of the spectre. The analysis demonstrated that inside the particles there was pure tritium, typical of nuclear experiments. Particles like this don’t exist in nature. But they do exist in nuclear research facilities.’
Interviewer: Why? Were they carrying out experiments in Krummel?
Pflugbeil ‘Yes, Right there beside the nuke. It’s a crime that the old research station whose chimney you can see there has produced this danger. The research station is 150m as the crow flies from the nuke.
But the locals don’t care whether the radioactive particles come from the research station or from the power station.’
Back to Krummel
Everyone living near Krummel wants one thing.
A local ‘they should have shut down the nuke a long time ago. I had radioactive particles in my garden too’
Interviewer: You found them yourself?
Interviewer: ‘What did you do?’
Local woman ‘I want the nuke to be shut down immediately. I know a family with a child sick with leukaemia and we still don’t know if it was caused by the power station.’
Interviewer: You know this family?
Local woman: Yes the mother is my dear friend.
Interviewer: How is the child?
Local woman: ‘The child is very sick. They gave him a bone marrow transplant. Now he’s a bit better but it will take him a long time to recover, if indeed he does recover’.
Interviewer: ‘Should they shut down the power station?’
Local woman: ‘Immediately’.
On the 26 April 2010, on the 24th anniversary of Chernobyl, the people of Krummel and the whole region around Hamburg marched in protest. Tens of thousands of people created a human chain 120 km long, from a nearby nuke to the Krummel nuke. Everyone wants Germany to get out of nukes, as the law already approved by the government states it should.
This woman lives 3km as the crow flies from Krummel. She was one of the organisers of the human chain.
Woman ‘How long have we been fighting this nuke? More than 30 years.’
Interviewer: What is the situation now in Krummel? It’s been shut down, hasn’t it?’
Woman ‘In 2007 the main transformer caught on fire. The secondary one was also damaged. So they keep repairing, repairing, repairing.’
Interviewer: ‘Why haven’t they been able to repair the nuke during these 3 years?’
Woman ‘There seems to be a problem. But how big can the problem be to go on for 3 years? They keep finding new problems. They had told us that the nuke should start up again at the beginning of this year, then last spring. The latest news is that they won’t start it up this year. The official explanation is that they can’t start it up until everything is completely safe. What does this mean? That is wasn’t safe before? They never tell us anything. They only tell us something after we have found everything out already. And only if we keep asking.’
Interviewer: ‘What do you think about the Kikk study?’
Woman ‘I thought straight away: how is it possible that they want to keep the nuke going?’
Interviewer: ‘How many families are there with children with leukaemia?’
Woman ‘I know 4 families.’
Interviewer: ‘Do the cases occur constantly or have they diminished during the last few years?’
Woman ‘They’ve always been constant, with small variations, even though we are not sure that we have all the information all the time. The last child got sick last year. Once, when I was walking in the town, since I talk all the time and everyone knows what I think, a young woman came up to me and said ‘my nephew has been ill with leukaemia for a year’. So I tried to find out whether this case had been entered into the federal register of infantile tumours. It hadn’t.
In this area the percentage of many kinds of cancers is higher. Leukaemia is just the tip of the iceberg. The Kikk study chose to look at childhood leukaemia as a reference point but it only represents the tip of the iceberg.’
As soon as the results were published, the German Government agency that had financed the study called 8 epidemiologists, six German, one Brit and one Swede, to evaluate the Kikk study. After a year of analysis they came to the conclusion that ‘We cannot fault the scientific validity of the methodology. However regarding the causal relationship between infant leukaemia and nuclear power stations, we think more questions need to be asked. For example, do we know how long the families with the sick children have lived in the area? Where did they live before? Are there any other sources of pollution near the power stations?
They said that there is no definitive proof of the cause of leukaemia. So they advised the German government to carry out a more in-depth study, involving experts in immunology, oncologists, geneticists and radiologists. But this research has never begun.
Ever since the Kikk study was published in an international journal, the results of the study have been broadcast worldwide. Alessandro Macina went to London to meet one of the most expert scientists in the field of radioactivity. He was a consultant for several different British agencies. He’s Dr Ian Fairlie, with degrees in chemistry and radiation biology and when he read the results of the Kikk study he realised it was very important and wrote several scientific articles on it.
Crouch End, London N8
Ian: “the most important thing about this study is the strength of the data. The study reveals a 2.2 fold increase in leukaemia among children living near nuclear power stations. This result makes you think – what’s happening here? A second thing about this study is that no expense was spared. The German Government really spent a lot of money : they commissioned a group of top epidemiologists to work on this study for four years. This is incredible. And if we look at their CVs we understand that these were some of the best epidemiologists in the world. They could not have asked for a better study than this.
Interviewer: This means the study is very significant?
Fairlie: Yes. In the UK, in the 80s and 90s, we carried out various studies, which seemed to suggest that there was an increase in infant cancers near nuclear power stations, but we didn’t succeed in proving it. The Germans, on the other hand, have measured the distance between the nuke and the places where the children with leukaemia died. They found the nearer you live to the nuke the higher the risk. The English scientists didn’t succeed in proving this. So now we need to ask ourselves if the radiation doses are as low as the authorities estimate.
Fairlie: We need to ask ourselves why children who live near nukes get leukaemia? I think there are two things to take into consideration. First, the emissions from the nuke are relatively low when they’re averaged continuously over a period of 1-2 years but in the middle there are spikes of much higher releases. These spikes occur when they open the reactor up to refuel. The second factor is the extreme sensitivity to radioactivity of embryos and foetuses in pregnant women.
Interviewer: According to you, what should the governments of Europe do now that these results have been made public?
Fairlie: Put a stop to nuclear power and stop building new nukes. The Precautionary Principle says that if strong scientific evidence exists that health is damaged we should stop doing the thing that is damaging health. That’s why we should stop proposing to build more of them in the UK.
The Lake District, Cumbria, UK
Now we are in the Lake District, a large national park with hills and valleys in Cumbria. Right next to this area, on the coast, opposite Ireland, is the first nuke ever to produce electricity: Sellafield. It occupies an enormous area, 9 sq km. Since it was the oldest nuke, it’s shut now, and they’re decommissioning the reactors. But the activity of Sellafield continues. Radioactive waste from all over the world is reprocessed here.
Martin Forwood is one of the founder members of CORE, a group in Cumbria with a membership of thousands, who have been fighting against radioactive pollution.
Martin: This is the British nuclear terminal, where all the ships carrying nuke waste to be reprocessed in Sellafield arrive and depart.
Interviewer: What is reprocessing?
Martin: It’s like doing the laundry to get the dirt out. Fuel from the old reactors gets put into the first part of the plant, where the spent fuel rods are cut into smaller pieces, then dissolved in acid. So they end up with liquid material. That liquid is putt through a series of chemical processes to separate out the plutonium and uranium, which in theory can then be used in new fuel rods. But this operation creates new liquid radioactive wastes and most is released right here in front of us, into the sea.
Interviewer: First you were talking to me about material from all over the world that comes to Sellafield. Does it come from Italy, for example?
Martin: Yes. From the 1960s onwards Italy made many agreements with Sellafield regarding the spent fuel from the old Italian reactors. 140 tons of radioactive material was sent from the nuke at Latina. Tons of highly radioactive material from Italy were unloaded at the port of Bari, to be reprocessed here. The last 13 transports arrived between 2003 – 2005.
Martin Forwood and his wife Janine live in this beautiful house in the country 20 km from Sellafield. They have 2 sons. The oldest now lives in London but when he was 12 he had leukaemia.
Janine: I had never heard of Sellafield and the reprocessing plant. We came to live here because we thought this was the ideal place to bring up our children. Also because it is near to the sea, where we used to spend our summers. We love the sea. So we brought our children to the beach, they played in the sand, as all children do. They poured it over their heads, on their faces. We didn’t know anything about the plant, so we simply washed their hands in the seawater.
Only later did we find out that Sellafield had been discharging radioactive material into the sea. Just before my son was diagnosed with leukaemia, they transmitted a documentary film that demonstrated that there was a huge increase in infantile leukaemia in this area. In the village of Seascale, the incidence was ten times higher than the national average and also along the coast south of Sellafield there had been other types of infant cancer. For example, in another village of Millom, the rate of cancer was double the national average.
Interviewer: What did the local authorities say?
Janine: Reassurances, reassurances and more reassurances. They said that the radiation doses were too low to worry about. So together with 29 other families we took the people running Sellafield to court.
Interviewer: So there were 30 families with children with leukaemia?
Janine: We lost our case. All of us for the same reason. We couldn’t prove that Sellafield was causing the cancers. We could have gone to the Appeal court and presented new evidence. But the fact was that finding all the money needed to do this against such a powerful company was almost impossible.
Interviewer: Didn’t you ever think of leaving this place?
Janine: Actually no. But obviously I changed my habits. I don’t eat the local fish. I don’t go to the beach any more. I don’t even take my dog for walks on the beach.
The next day Forgood took us to a parking lot 5km from Sellafield. He brought along his Geiger counter.
Martin: Look. You can hear the thing clicking. At the moment it’s picking up radiation here at 10 clicks per second. A bit higher than normal. The normal value should be between 5 and 7 per second. The cause is Sellafield. The radioactivity is in the earth, the air, everywhere.
(They walk a little way) We are already at 10-12 clicks - double the norm. Near here there are houses, a public car park and we are still 5km away from Sellafield. Come! I want to take you to a place where the levels of radioactivity are higher.
A beach near Sellafield (A short car drive away).
Martin: This is the place, less than 2km from the car park, near the estuary, where the river goes out into the Irish Sea. It’s a public beach, part of the National Park, a few km from Sellafield.
Interviewer: Have you switched on the Geiger counter?
Martin: Yes. It’s registering 50 clicks per second. Ten times the norm. (Two children run across the sand) Here it’s about 150 (about 40 times the norm). As I go up through the layers of sand the sound diminishes.
Martin: Every time the tide comes in up to this point it leaves a new layer of sand. These layers of sand have accumulated and it’s radioactive sand. Sellafield has been pouring liquid radioactive waste into the sea for 50 years resulting in an accumulation of radioactivity. The highest levels of radioactivity are in the bottom layer of sand. And at this point the deepest layer under the sand can’t be removed or cleaned up. It’s the same up and down the coast. Look at this little plant. It grows into a sea asparagus that is much sought after. People come here to pick it. But even this is radioactive. I used to eat this plant once. I used to bring my children here. We swam in this sea. We ate these plants. We didn’t know. No one knew anything. People who live and work here (camera focuses on people collecting shellfish or wild asparagus) are exposed to an enormous risk. Every day farm workers pass by here, every day they absorb a small radiation dose from the radioactivity here. After 10, 20, 30 years these little doses accumulate in your body.
Then there’s another risk - from alpha radiation from plutonium. We collected a sample and had it analysed in a lab. We discovered there’s plutonium in the sand. Plutonium is like a little particle of dust. Today you’ve got mud on your shoes. When you go home and take them off the mud dries, releasing the plutonium dust, which can travel.
Interviewer: Can the wind transport these plutonium particles?
Martin: Of course. With the wind, tides and storms the plutonium returns to the shore. On a dry windy day like today the plutonium dries and becomes dust. Particles of plutonium travel inland. There are houses along the coast where you can find plutonium dust inside the houses.
Interviewer: Really! They’ve found plutonium inside people’s houses?
Martin: Yes. This has been documented.
Interviewer: But isn’t this beach monitored by the environmental protection agency?
Martin: They come, but they always go to the same place and take a one cm layer of mud from the top layer to analyse.
Interviewer: So they come up with a low radioactivity figure?
Martin: Much lower than our figures. We don’t just take a centimetre. We take samples from the lower levels, where the radioactivity has accumulated over the years.
Interviewer: Why do they only take one centimetre?
Martin: Because they say they’re interested in comparisons between one year and the next. The stuff underneath is historic sediment. They say that radioactivity was released in the past. Since they had a licence permitting them to unload those quantities there’s no problem. Here is the official 2009 Government report with the official data and here on the other hand is the report with the result of their analysis ; here’s the level of caesium137 – 330 units (Bq/kg) and here are our analyses.
Interviewer: Do you always check the figures of the Environment Agency?
Martin: Exactly. Caesium 137 – our figure 6,600 units. Their figure is 330 units.
How do the Sellafield people respond to Forwood’s analyses and accusations? Allessandro Macina went to ask the head of the press office of the Agency that runs Sellafield.
Sellafield rep: The process only produces 3% radioactive waste.
Allessandro: And that goes into the sea?
S rep: No. Discharge into the sea is minimal, below the permitted limit. You have to realise that we discharge a hundred times less into the sea than we did 20 years ago, thanks to the invention of new types of equipment, like this.
Allessandro: In the past, radioactive discharges were higher?
S rep: Yes. But always below the permitted level.
Allessandro: Are these discharges dangerous for the environment?
S rep: Clearly over a period of years there have been discharges into the sea, even large quantities, but always with small doses of radiation.
Allessandro: A small part of that radioactivity could have accumulated in the environment?
S rep: Yes. From the 60s there have been discharges of radioactive material into the sea.
Allessandro: We have seen beaches near here, which have high levels of radioactivity deep below the surface.
S rep: Radioactivity was discharged into the sea over the years.
Allessandro: Are you telling me that radioactivity has accumulated?
S rep: Yes. But these are historical sediments. Today the beaches are clean. They are beautiful beaches where it’s normal for families to go.
According to an official report by the OSPAR authority, whose members are affected by discharges to the seas of NE Europe, there are 500 kg of plutonium in the Irish Sea. It is the most radioactively-contaminated sea in the world.
Barrow, Cumbria, UK
In front of the station in Barrow there is a bus parked with “It’s OK to talk about cancer” written in large letters on it. This bus is a real travelling medical studio, manned by volunteers, including nurses.
Volunteer: We are here because we’re visiting all the areas in Britain where the risk of getting cancer is statistically higher than in the rest of the country. This town is one of those places.
Interviewer: How many people have you seen?
Volunteer: About 30 people today. Altogether 200.
Interviewer: Children too?
Interviewer: What do you talk about? With the children? Leukemia?
Volunteer: Yes. I have just been talking to a man whose nephew was ill with leukaemia.
David Sital (?) head of the Whitehaven News, the most widely-read paper in the county, knows everything about Sellafield from the very beginning. These are articles from the paper from way back.
David: See, it talks about radioactive milk. So we’ve got articles about radioactive food since the 50s.
Interviewer: What are the data like today?
David: This is the official Government report which monitors food. “Radioactivity in Food and the Environment, 2008”. Look the Government was monitoring milk, veg, fish.
Interviewer: What do you see from this data?
David: The data demonstrates that even today some of the food is radioactive. Low doses, within the limits. Then there’s a study by the Norwegian government last year that has found high levels of technetium 99 in crustaceans caught off the coast of Norway, contaminated by Sellafield discharge.
Interviewing the public in Barrow
Woman: I’m not worried. I eat everything local. I live here.
Interviewer: There are small doses of radioactivity. Aren’t you worried?
Woman: I know we’re near a nuke but they monitor the beaches frequently. They carry out analyses of the sand and food and everything is OK. A lot of people work in Sellafield. Without it, we would be in trouble.
2nd woman: I and another woman we prefer organic meat from outside our region.
Man: Sellafield provides a lot of jobs. There wouldn’t be any work here without it and no one would have any money to spend.
Interviewer: But what do you think about the government’s annual reports that there are small amounts of radioactivity in food?
Man: In food produced here?
Man: Never heard of it.
Interviewer: You’ve never heard about these studies?
The fishing port of Barrow, with 70 fishing boats that fish all year round.
Fisherman: This is a good area for fish
Interviewer: Fishing here which is so near to a nuke is it like fishing anywhere or are you restricted by particular laws?
Fisherman: No, there are no restrictions
Interviewer: But aren’t you fishermen worried about the radioactive discharges from Sellafield?
Fisherman: Look, I’ve been fishing for 50 years and Sellafield has always provided proof that they don’t damage the environment.
Interviewer: But does the government carry out different controls over the fish than it does in other parts of the country?
Fisherman: Yes, they look at the fish regularly. They analyse specimens of fish and water.
Interviewer: How often?
Fisherman: Let me see – last time 2 weeks ago.
Interviewer: And the time before?
Fisherman: 3 weeks ago. The analyses never found anything to worry about.
Interviewer: Who buys your fish?
Fisherman: We mostly fish for prawns. 90 to 95% is exported to Europe, especially to France, Spain and Italy. Yes, Italy buys them too.
Interviewer: We have decided to find out more because this is too important to ignore. This is a question of the correct evaluation of risk and risk to public health. So we went with Vincenzo Guerrizio to France, one of the countries that produces much nuclear energy. They have 59 nuclear reactors still functioning.
This is the French city of Valence in the valley of Rhone. Here there is an independent lab, CRIIRAD, created after Chernobyl to check on the radioactivity in the environment. The data collected by CRIIRAD are quoted internationally. Research institutes in Spain and Germany request CRIRAD to analyze their samples. They have a lot to say about the poor accuracy of the data collected by the authorities around the French nukes.
Roland Debord, President of CRIIRAD.
Roland: In the 90s, we began to measure radioactivity around old uranium mines and we were shocked. There were millions of tons of radioactive waste all around in the open air. And the authorities said everything was OK. Read the official reports. They all say everything is OK. But our instruments say the opposite. Sometimes it seems as if they go past the contaminated zones without looking at them. I simplify a bit. When you read certain reports you ask yourself how come they went to that place and they didn’t find that hot spot. The problem is that the difference between what we see and what they see is enormous.
Nukes in France are allowed to get away with a lot with regard to the environment. They don’t throw barrels of radioactive waste into the sea like they used to do years ago. Now they use pipes that discharge into the sea, but no one sees. Understand? They make it disappear. It’s a miracle. Miracle of dilution. Diluting radioactivity makes it seem as if it has disappeared for a little while because their instruments can’t detect it, but it hasn’t disappeared. It reappears, later, further away, maybe in our plates.
St Pierre, Cantal, Auvergne, France
This is one of the places CRIIRAD visited with their instruments.
We are in Cantal in the Auvergne, in the region of woods, hills and sheep – paradise. 20 years ago there was an open cast uranium mine in the village of Saint Pierre. There were hundreds of these in France. We are on top of what used to be tailings. CRIIRAD measured radioactivity here.
Interviewer: so this field is radioactive
CRIIRAD: yes it’s very radioactive. But they covered everything up with grass. There are hot spots and cold spots. (Map of the old mine) Look this was where the mine was and this was the basin where they collected the tailings. It’s forbidden to give hay collected from here to animals. It’s even forbidden to dig.
Interviewer: Why? Did they use to give hay to animals from here before?
CRIIRAD: Yes. No-one was bothered. They didn’t even use the principle of precaution, which we should employ when there is doubt. But here there’s no doubt. If animals eat radioactive hay this results in radioactive meat. Just 10cm below the surface there’s yellowcake – concentrated uranium, the basic material from which reactor fuel is derived. It’s very radioactive – 3,000 becquerels per kg. That’s why we came here to request decontamination of this area. Children play here. It’s crazy. Those houses over there have been built right over an area with anomalous radiation readings in a highly contaminated place.
This is why the citizens of St Pierre are fighting for the French nuclear authority, still the proprietors of the land, to take away the radioactive waste and bury it.
CRIIRAD: This is a piezometre that measures radioactivity. But it measures little here. Just a few metres away it is much more radioactive.
How radioactive is the ground at St Pierre? I go back to the CRIIRAD lab, where Dr Bruno Sariron (?) analyses a sample taken from St Pierre.
Dr Bruno: Here we have a sample, taken from near the surface of the ground. The lab analysis indicates that it is very radioactive. It is radioactive waste. This is yellowcake. The quantity of uranium in it is 300 times the permitted limit. And we found this in a field where people walk and play.
Interviewer: what are the consequences of this?
Dr Bruno: The gamma rays from this yellowcake can cause lesions in our DNA. If the DNA doesn’t get repaired this can result in cancer. The second problem is that if people breathe yellowcake dust the uranium emits alpha rays inside the body, which are very powerful and can cause other kinds of lesions within the body. It is so dangerous that it should absolutely be confined somewhere designed to contain radioactive substances. Instead of which we found it near the surface in a field.
The last uranium mine in France was shut down 10 years ago. There were 200 of them, with 25 processing plants like the one at St Pierre. They have left behind a hidden inheritance of millions of tons of radioactive waste and chemical solvents that continue to pollute the environment.
Cap la Hague, France
Another area where CRIIRAD came to measure the radioactivity is this: the big reprocessing plant at La Hague. This is another place where large quantities of highly radioactive waste are stored. This plant is run by Areva. Ever since Chernobyl the inhabitants have been kept in the dark about the radioactivity of the place.
Pierre B and Della C keep tabs on radioactivity in the area.
Anti-nuke person: The people running the plant know about Chernobyl, They know there was radioactive fallout. They took precautions inside the plant but none outside it. They knew the radioactive cloud went over this area. But they didn’t raise the alarm. They didn’t measure radioactivity in the environment. In fact the authorities said there was no cause for alarm. From that moment there’s been no faith in what the nuke industry says. They communicate but don’t give us any information. We have to find out for ourselves what the truth is, what problems they’ve had. We have to measure the radioactivity ourselves and confront them with our findings.
Interviewer: Do your findings correspond to those published by Areva?
Anti-nuke: They publish the average, over extensive areas.
Interviewer: Don’t they take account of peaks?
Antinukist: they don’t say where the peaks are. Whereas we specify exactly where they are. For example Areva doesn’t even give figures for C-14. They say very little. They haven’t even been looking for it until recently. And that was only because we, our associates and others insisted that they should. We’ve been saying the C-14 causes problems. So all of a sudden this element disappears from their reports. We have to argue with their reports and ask why all this data isn’t there. So as usual we have to prove what they’ve been doing and what accidents occur. It’s very difficult to know what goes on inside the plant.
Interviewer: So these scientists don’t trust the nuke industry.
And this isn’t the end of the problems for people living near nukes for 40 years. People working in them ought to be used to them. Not at all.
One of the 10 towns near the La Hague is Flamanville. It’s the last day of term. The town is having a party. Almost all of them work in the nuke.
Mayor: A lot of these people are on long contracts. But there are also quite a lot of people on short-term contracts.
Interviewer: Is there someone here who works in La Hague?
Woman: I do: I’m sure they don’t tell us the whole truth. But if one day there’s a terrible accident they will tell us the truth.
Interviewer: Do you know what to do if there’s an accident?
Woman: Yes. And we know we couldn’t even go and pick up our children from school if there is an accident. We know that it would be horrible. But we can’t do anything about it.
Interviewer: You are willing to accept the risk?
Woman: We don’t think about it. We can’t allow ourselves to think that we’d have to leave our children alone. We know that if the alarm goes we are under orders to stay inside. No-one will be allowed out. We won’t be able to go and get them. I can’t even begin to imagine it.
Interviewer: You have to live with this nightmare? How do you do it?
Woman: We don’t think about it.
A hotel a few km from La Hague
Hotel owner: Yes. They call that bit of land where the reprocessing plant is ‘the nose’. They put it there 50 years ago. So that if there was a bad accident they could shut off the whole peninsula.
Interviewer: And then the inhabitants could be evacuated?
Hotelier: Who knows. Maybe they would leave us here in this nuclear triangle.
Interviewer: But if there’s an accident do you know what to do?
Hotelier: Firstly, shut yourself up in your house. Listen to the radio. Then take iodine tablets but only when they tell us to.
Interviewer: Isn’t there anything else you can do?
Hotelier: We have chosen this situation, which is irreversible. There’s nothing else we can do. That’s how it is.
Interviewer: Is there a limit beyond which you are not prepared to go?
Hotelier: No, there are no limits. We are prepared for everything here. We are totally dependent on the nuke.
Around La Hague, beyond the nose, 40,000 people live in the nuclear triangle.
Going down the coast of Normandy there are another 4 nuclear power stations with 14 functioning reactors. This is a 30-year-old nuke – Paluel with 4 reactors, 3 of which are active. Here I meet Lodovic D and Dominique, two temporary workers. Here they call them nuclear nomads, because they travel from one nuke to another to do the most difficult and dangerous work. They live in camper vans. These two have been contaminated more than once.
Worker: I had to change a tap. My colleague and I got contaminated.
Interviewer: Did you inhale radioactive particles?
Worker: We absorbed contamination internally, superficially on our skin, on our faces and hair. I was all radioactive. Because someone had turned off the vacuum pump where we were working, without telling us. When we realised we ran out but it was too late.
Interviewer: what happened?
Worker: All the alarms went off. They decontaminated us for 2 hours.
Interviewer: How do they do that? Showers? Do they scrub you?
Worker: They wash you with gloves on.
Interviewer: To rub you skin off?
Interviewer: what level of contamination did you have?
Worker: that’s the problem. Whenever you get contaminated they tell you it is nothing to worry about.
Other Worker: when there’s an accident or you get contaminated: they take a urine sample but they never tell you the result. If you ask for it they say they’ve lost the results or they can’t find them. The first 3 days after the accident he couldn’t get through the controls. He set all the alarms off.
Interviewer: Didn’t they give him time off for sickness?
Worker: Yes. We asked the health department if Dominique could have tests done. We had to ask for it. Colleagues of ours have lung cancer, bladder cancer. If one of us gets sick we don’t get paid. The problem is you end up at home with 500 euro a month, sick because of your job.
Interviewer: How many times have you been contaminated?
Other worker: Once. Even small doses of radiation, everyday for years result in cancer in the end.
Interviewer: Do you remember last year how many times you heard about colleagues getting sick?
Worker: Yes. It’s not easy to talk about it. When someone finds out they are sick they focus on that. Recently one of our colleagues found out he had throat cancer. I called him. He didn’t even want treatment. His wife forced him to. The point is that people are ashamed to get sick.
Worker: Yes. It often happens. You feel ashamed to be sick. You know what the plant he was working for said to him? If you have got lung cancer it is because you smoke. But he wasn’t a smoker. The radiation made him sick.
Interviewer: Have you got kids?
Worker: I’ve got 2 but I made them before I got contaminated.
Interviewer: How much do you earn?
Worker: 1,300 euros net. After 22 years of supply work I get 1,750 euros before tax. The contamination was gratis. We didn’t get paid any damages.
Now I am in Dieppe, the biggest town in the region. Here are the school kids.
School kid: The scariest thing, and we sometimes talk about it, is that if there were to be a serious accident, if the nuke were to explode, we wouldn’t even have 3 seconds to react.
Interviewer: Do you know what to do if there’s an accident?
School kid: At primary school they came to talk to us. They told us that in our town, which is 2km from the nuke, there’s no risk. If there were to be an accident we should take an iodine tablet.
Interviewer; They told you there was nothing to worry about?
School kid: Yes
Bernevalle Le Grand, near Dieppe, France
Interviewer: Why did people allow them to build the nuke?
Girl : My parents told me that all the other towns here were in favour. Bernevalle was the only one to vote against it.
Interviewer: Your town has paid a high price. You’ve remained poor.
Girl: We are not really poor, just poor compared with the others. They all get money from the nukes. The industry buys people off.
Interviewer: Bernevalle Le Grand was the only place that opposed the nuke. It is very small – just 4 houses.
St Martin en Campagne
St Martin en Campagne, right next door to Bernevalle is rich. The St Martin council, on whose terrain the nuke was constructed, is a monument to tolerance on planet Earth. It has new lamp posts in every street, hedges in the gardens, a library, a concert hall, a gym and three playing fields, covered tennis courts, a football pitch and an Olympic swimming pool for the children to use after school. All this for a town of only 4,000 inhabitants.
Man: You have to use a mask if the alarm goes off. This is part of the normal security measures.
Cap La Hague
4 Areva reps take us to visit La Hague. This is where the spent fuel comes from nukes all over the world.
Areva rep: Spent fuel is transported first by train and then by lorry, in cylinders like this, to get here. These cylinders have to be strong enough to withstand a fall of 9 metres and a 2 hour fire.
Interviewer: But if there’s a bridge higher than 9m what then?
Areva: Then it can’t go there. They have to find an alternative route. The bridges have to be strong too. This cylinder weighs 120 tons. With the supports it is 160 tons. We can provide transport for the client if they ask for it, even international transport. We work on one cylinder per day. We aim to reach 1,500 tons per year. We are up to 1,000 tons now.
Interviewer: It is the economic aspect that counts? Increased productivity?
Areva: Like in a factory.
Interviewer: Is the spent fuel taken out of the cylinder it came in?
Areva: The spent fuel is taken out of the cylinder and put into a cooling well.
Interviewer: Does contamination occur at this point?
Areva: Yes. We are in the presence of a strong source of radiation. And it is hot – between 200 and 300 degrees C.
Interviewer: Is the air in that room sealed in? No one goes in there?
Areva: No. The air doesn’t get out. No one goes in there. The walls are 140 cm thick.
Interviewer: 9,000 tons of coffins of spent fuel are suspended in these pools before being opened. (translator: I think he used the word coffin deliberately!)
Areva: We collect rainwater to measure it.
Interviewer: Is the water contaminated?
Areva: A little bit.
Interviewer: What does that mean?
Areva: You could drink it.
Interviewer: What happens when the water is changed? Does it go into the sea?
Areva: Yes but that is OK. There is hardly any radioactivity in it. Do you know how much radioactivity we produce in France per capita? 5g. Like a coin.
Interviewer: How many people could you kill with 5g of radioactive waste?
Areva: What does that mean? How many people could you kill with cyanide? People are just scared of the word plutonium. If you take certain chemical poisons, even lower doses are even more dangerous. Plutonium produces a lot of energy.
Interviewer: What comes out of your chimneys?
Areva: When we chop up the spent fuel, gas is produced. This gas contains radionuclides. So we recover it and channel it and what comes out of the chimney is air. Everything we’ve showed you happens all day every day in a continuous cycle.
Interviewer: In 40 years here thousands of tons of highly radioactive material have passed through. All just to extract 1% plutonium to make new fuel. All the rest remains highly dangerous radioactive waste.
Areva: Just here there are 400 wells containing 3,600 barrels of petrified radioactive waste. That is to say all the radioactive waste produced in France over the past 30 years are kept in 3 deposits like this. The volume is not a problem.
Interviewer: No the problem is the radioactivity.
Areva: It is all concentrated, imprisoned in glass.
Interviewer: But you can’t keep stockpiling it forever.
Areva: Yes we can. We can conserve it very well. It can stay here for hundreds of years. Technically we’ve resolved the problem.
Back in Italy
Presenter: As you know, in Italy we don’t have a national repository where we can store radioactive waste securely, neither high level, medium level nor low-level waste. This is why our waste trundles across Europe in trains to Sellafield.
Back to Sellafield
This is footage of Sellafield taken by Alessandro Macina in Sellafield reprocessing plant. Here are the old containers of the spent fuel from Trino, Garigliano and Latina (3 old Italian nukes). Still in the cooling ponds waiting to be reprocessed. In total 1,400 tons approx of spent fuel have arrived from Italy from the old nukes – Magnox and thorium stations. There is an agreement for some further 100s of tons of radioactive waste.
Interviewer: So we pay both to have our waste reprocessed and for storage at Sellafield?
Sellafield: Yes. We have a contract with our clients that covers reprocessing and storage of the material.
Interviewer: How long has Italy been paying?
Sellafield: Since the 60s.
Presenter: The problem posed by the radwaste hasn’t been resolved by any of the countries that produce energy from atoms. In the UK there isn’t a national deposit for high-level radwaste. There is one for low-level waste.
This is it. A field. This is where they put special containers; with radwaste in them. They have already filled 7 fields of them. Hectares and hectares of land. The 8th field is almost full. And this is the only place left, where they are still working.
Worker: This is all that’s left of the deposit.
Interviewer: How much waste do you receive every year?
Worker: between 700 and 800 containers. It will be full in 10 months.
Interviewer: what kind of waste do you get?
Worker: Low level waste is gloves like the ones we are wearing, or that have been used in the reprocessing plant, or all sort of rubbish, bits of used rubber, clothes, anything that’s been in contact with radioactivity.
Interviewer: We are talking about gloves, pipes, and taps. Think how much stuff gets contaminated during the normal functioning of the nuke. So if the UK hasn’t managed to resolve the problem of storage neither has France.
Back to France.
It is 30 years that the French scientists are working on it. They are in there, inside that mountain, 500m deep. Look where Vincenzo Guerrizio is.
French scientist: We have carried out tests. We have discovered that we can dig tunnels into the rock. This is 160 million year old rock. It hasn’t moved for 160 million years. We know it is not going to move for a long time. The most important thing to consider when storing radwaste is the stability of the site. We want to store the waste in little tunnels 50cm diameter 40 m long. But we have to do some more research to dig these tunnels and insert the tubes of radwaste into them. If you look at the tunnels here they’re trying to insert something in one now.
Interviewer: will you be ready in 2020?
Scientist: We haven’t got a date. We just know it won’t be before 2025.
Back to Germany
In Germany, where they have been living with nukes for more than 50 years, they haven’t got a deposit for high-level waste. Every nuke has its little deposit, where they keep putting their waste as they produce it.
Back to Krummel
As you can see the waste is stored provisionally in the open air. But the Germans have a deposit for low and medium level waste. It is a salt mine called Hesse. It is a disastrous situation.
Heinz Smittal, a physics expert working for Greenpeace, has been following the situation at Hesse.
Heinz: The danger at Hesse is that they’re just leaving the mine like this. In about 10 years it will be full of water. It will pollute the entire region. No one will be able to stop it. Radioactivity will come out of the taps in people’s houses. And there is a second even more alarming hypothesis. This mine could collapse, due to the pressure of water. 12,000 litres of water enter the Hesse mine every day.
The Hesse salt mine is in the middle of low Saxony, up against the hills. That A on the hill means Achtung! This is the main shaft that still leads the workers into the mine to deposit the radioactive waste. The German authorities have decided that by 2020 this deposit will have to be shut.
Heinz: At last they’ve realised that the mine isn’t safe. The government has realised that it will take at least 10 years to make it safe. It is going to cost us loads of money.
In front of the mine there is an information centre. We see here the disaster at Hesse. Water has gone where it was not supposed to go.
Inside the mine.
This is part of the salt mine. The red rooms contain radwaste. This is what they have to do – open the doors to the rooms and then, using machines, because it is too dangerous for people in there, try to block the holes and bring out the barrels of waste, at least as many of them as possible. They have to do it fast because water is pressing on the mine.
Heinz: The water is coming from the left hand side of the mine in the third layer, 658 metres down. The water is collected there and pumped out.
In Hanover, we meet a journalist at the TV station. He has been to Hesse salt mine. These are the images he came back with.
Journalist: workers go down to 625m depth. It wasn’t the first time I went down there. I knew the mine a bit. It’s oppressive down there.
Journalist: You know that down there there is radwaste. Even if they tell you that there is no radiation down there because everything is isolated you still have a feeling of dread.
Interviewer: Why did they choose Hasse to put the rad waste? Because of the salt?
Interviewer: without doing any tests?
Interviewer: where is the problem now?
Journalist: You can see it. It is the water coming in.
Interviewer: This is the water?
Journalist: yes. It is coming out of a salt vein. We filmed it. Look how much is coming out.
Interviewer: It should not happen.
Journalist: No. But 12,000 litres a day accumulate. H3sse is a time bomb. Lots more water could get in: it could collapse.
Interviewer: There is a nice interview you did with the man who manages the Hesse deposit.
Clip from the interview
Hesse manager: Obviously lots of workers who used to work in the mine have spoken about it saying that ever since the beginning humidity was a problem. Consequently there was always discussion about whether this was a good place to store radwaste. No one listened to them.
Interviewer: Did he tell the truth?
Journalist: yes. The workers we interviewed said that from 1965, when they first started using the mine, there were already damp spots in the lowest levels, where the salt was wet.
Interview with a worker from the Hesse salt mine
Worker: They told the workers to keep quiet. There was water everywhere. When I went to work there they told me it was a very safe place. We worked underground. It was very hot. I moved barrels every day, by tractor. We threw the barrels into the rooms. Many of them broke. When I see this footage today (picture of a broken barrel) I feel like crying. It was crazy how we worked. We chucked the barrels in, one on top of another.
Journalist: I even found an old film where a geologist was saying that water filtered into the mine.
Clip from archive footage
Interviewer: Doctor – you say that the mine is not stable. You say it could collapse, so it is not a secure place for radioactive waste. Why?
Geologist: if the rooms cut out from this rock were to become deformed; water could get in. Then the radwaste would leak out into the water table and pollute it with radioactivity.
Interviewer: So why did they still go ahead with it:
Journalist: At a certain point the nukes ran out of space to put their waste, so they thought what shall we do with it?. Oh lets put it in the Hesse mine.
Interviewer; Do we know what is in the mine at Hesse?
Journalist: It is a good question. We don’t know. How much of the waste really is low level and medium level rad waste?
Journalist: what else is in there?
Journalist: There could be pesticides, dead carcasses, even high level radwaste. We don’t know.
Interviewer: What will happen now? What is the government’s plan to defuse the Hesse bomb?
Journalist: Hypothetically they want to get all the barrels out. But at the same time they’re working on a second option. The biggest problem is that no one knows how long the structure of the mine can hold out. If it collapses what can we do? There are people who say it will last till 2020, but no one can be sure of this.
Interviewer: It is really dangerous.
Journalist: yes. It could collapse any day.
Interviewer: How much will it cost to put it right?
Journalist: Originally they thought 2 billion euros. But then it went up to 4 billion. Now we’re talking about 10 billion.
Interviewer: who is going to pay?
Journalist: Taxpayers. The nuke industry won’t have to find a single euro. The nuke industry asked the government if they wanted a bit of radwaste for experiments, and when they said yes they dumped all this into the mine. They say it is not their fault. They didn’t know what the mine was like.
Interviewer: when they filled it up with radwaste the authorities said there wouldn’t be problems because the mine at Hesse could hold the radwaste for 10,000 years. But it hasn’t managed more than 35 years.
Back to Berlin
In Berlin they are very worried about Hasse of course. Now we are in the government offices of Christian Rook(?), minister for energy and member of the CDU party in the Merkel government
Rook: In the Hesse mine there are still many thousands of barrels of radwaste. Over time we discovered that this mine was not stable. So we will have to take the barrels out over the next few years. A lot of errors have been made. Now we have to remedy them.
Interviewer: Where will you put the radwaste?
Rook: The government is looking at another place they could use as a deposit, which would even hold high-level radwaste. They are looking at Gorleben. It is another salt mine. It is much safer than Hasse. Analyses have been carried out. They suggest Gorleben would be OK. But the scientists haven’t finished looking at the mine.
Interviewer: But even when it was decided to put radwaste in Hesse the government said it would be safe for 10,000 years, and now it isn’t. So the question is – have you got a place in Germany where radwaste could be stored for 10,000 years?
Rook: It is the same problem all over the world. But we have to find a solution. Even if we shut down all our nukes we are still left with a lot of radwaste to deal with. I am not a physicist or a geologist. So I have to consult the experts. But salt mines seem to be the best place for radwaste. Unfortunately we don’t know for how long. But still the radwaste would be better there than in temporary storage.
Interviewer: Germany made a law to get out of nukes. What is the situation now?
Rook: The law remains until it gets changed. And for the moment the law says all nukes will be shut down. We just want them to carry on for a bit longer first. But we still need to resolve the radwaste problem.
Interviewer: You still don’t know where to put it.
Back in Low Saxony at the Konrad mine.
There is another mine, this time an iron one. The government wants to put the Hesse radwaste in the Konrad mine. But knowing what happened in Hesse the people here don’t want this. Interview with Klaus Klingerbill, Mayor of Satskill(?) near Konrad.
Klaus: Hesse was taking the piss. They always said there was no problem. Now we‘ve seen the results. No one believes that they would only put low level radwaste in this mine. I want my kids to grow up in a non-polluted place.
Interviewer: perhaps if Germany gets out of nukes this might be a good thing because every year Germany is producing 400 tons of radwaste. But they want to prolong the life of existing nukes.
Klaus: They can’t talk about prolonging their life if they haven’t resolved the problem of the radwaste. I am very worried about this.
Footage of protest radwaste barrels in front of every building in the town.
Visit to a farm
This beautiful farm belongs to Walter Trauben.
Walter: I put solar panels on the roof of both my barns and I put up this windmill. I generate enough energy for the whole village.
This farmer has the Konrad mine right in front of this farm.
Walter: The tunnels are kilometres long and go everywhere, even under our house, under our fields. I am afraid that as they pump air into the mine (which they have to do continuously) this air has to come out and it could be radioactive. If we have to breathe small doses of radioactive gasses every day it will accumulate. This will have a deleterious effect on future generations, so I am opposed to the deposit.
Interviewer: What should they do with this radwaste?
Walter: first and foremost shut down all the nukes. Then admit that there is nowhere safe and secure to put the radwaste. There can only be temporary deposits. You can’t go putting it under ground.
Interviewer: when it’s underground people think it’s disappeared forever.
Walter: Exactly. There could be underground storage but a place with doors that open and shut. You have to keep an eye on it. It’s too dangerous to be hidden away underground.
Back to the Konrad mine
After the lies and disasters of Hesse the German nuke agency responsible for investigating Konrad decided to be as transparent as possible. We are not the first TV station to visit the site.
Arthur Yonger is in charge of the operation.
Arthur: Konrad is not like Hesse. If you look at a section of the ground, you can see that above the mineral layer there is a compact layer of clay. The clay stops water penetrating into the mine.
Interviewer: Can’t water get in from above? And what about the future, thousands of years to come?
Arthur: We can say with certainty that it would take 300,000 years for the radioactivity to come into contact with the biosphere.
Interviewer: We go down into the mine 10m per second, or 36 km per hour to a depth of 1000 m. Here are the rail tracks of the old mine. They are going even deeper into the mountain to make the rooms for the radwaste. So we travel tens of kms through the tunnels, always going down. These are the ducts that pump air down here and pump it back up to the open air. And here is the room they are making at the end of this tunnel. They want to put the radwaste in this cul de sac at 1,200 m depth.
Arthur: There’s very little humidity here – only 37.6% and the temperature is about 30 degrees.
Interviewer: won’t the radwaste raise the temperature?
Arthur: No, they are only going to put cool radwaste here: low level and medium level waste. All the waste we’ll bring here won’t raise the temperature more than 3 degrees.
Interviewer: What is this?
Arthur: Salt. Taste it.
Interviewer: Yes it is salty. But it is wet.
Arthur: The iron formed at the bottom of the sea 150 million years ago. When iron deposits, it collects water. When we cut the rock to make the rooms, water comes out. It’s not a problem.
Arthur: Not like at Hesse. It doesn’t come from outside. It stayed here when the sea drew back. These are the rooms that we are making. We will make 6: they will be 7m wide, 6 m high and we will make them between 400 and 800m deep.
Interviewer: Since the Germans don’t think this mountain will move for 300,000 years they have decided to put the radwaste in here forever.
Arthur: We will start by putting the barrels into these cul de sacs. We will fill up 50 m of tunnel with containers full of radwaste. And when they are in position we will close the tunnel with a cement wall. The rest of the empty tunnel will be filled up. Then we will pump in cement under pressure to seal it up.
Interviewer; and if there are problems will it be possible to go in afterwards?
Arthur: No. We call this an immovable solution. It means shutting up the waste and isolating it from the biosphere.
Interviewer: Is this the best solution? After all if it were to be put in a provisional deposit we can keep an eye on it.
Arthur: the problem with that is that anyone can get into a provisional deposit. How do we know what will happen in Germany in 50 or more years. Or in Italy. No-one knows. That’s why we have to construct these permanent deposits that no one can get into.
Interviewer: Did you work at Hesse?
Arthur: Yes from 1985-1990
Interviewer: So you saw the catastrophe?
Arthur: I was there when the first drips came in through the ceiling. At first it wasn’t much water. Then over the years it increased.
Interviewer: So what can we say to the people? They don’t trust you.
Arthur: I understand. That’s why we have to tell them what the situation is and what we want to do about it.
Interviewer: Whether this deposit is going to last 30 years like Hesse or 300,000 years like Arthur says it will, the fact remains that a lot of money, time and energy have been spent dealing with the radwaste produced by nukes. The German government has decided to take on a whole community who are utterly opposed to filling the mine with radwaste. They are throwing mountains of money into these tunnels in the form of men and equipment. They have been carrying out research for 20 years. They started digging in 2007 and if all goes well the first container will come in in 2014. One billion, 600 million euros. All this just for a deposit for low and medium radwaste. Because not even the Germans have found a solution to the high level radwaste problem.
And we in Italy who are about to start with nukes again, can we see a solution to our future radwaste problem by looking at these examples?
What you see behind me is the ministry for economic development – a ministry without a minister because Scaiola left. Luckily we have an undersecretary, who is studying the nuclear dossier. This is Stefano Saglia, member of the PDL party. The first thing I asked him was
Interviewer; Do you know about the Kikk study? And what do you think you can do to preserve the health of those living near the new nukes?
Saglia: We would like to set up a radioprotection agency within the nuke industry.
Interviewer: But you haven’t done that yet:
Saglia: No. But we want to copy the French model, which has a doctor within the agency to take care of radioprotection.
Interviewer: Italy is a bit behind with this. We haven’t even decided who should be in charge of radioprotection.
Saglia: We came across strong incompatibility. This agency won’t be able to carry out the needs of the industry. It has to be someone independent. This has slowed down the process because it is more difficult to find people who are prepared to go without any kind of professional life for 7 years.
Interviewer: the other problem is what to do with the radwaste. It hasn’t been resolved in any country that has been producing nuclear energy for more than 50 years. Not even for the low level radwaste. In Italy there isn’t any kind of storage facility.
Saglia: In Italy things are worse. We don’t even have a deposit to treat radwaste from normal functioning nukes.
Interviewer: How can we start building new nukes without being sure of these things? In Germany they produce tons of radwaste per year.
Saglia: We want to build third generation nukes – EPRs. These reutilise part of the radwaste.
Interviewer: If other countries can’t manage it, how on earth do we think we are going to?
Saglia: The Germans have a repository.
Interviewer: No they don’t. Not a definitive one. They are all provisional.
Saglia: Provisional for 100s of years.
Interviewer: But they need to be for thousands of years, not hundreds. They have a mine at Hesse that is about to collapse. There are enormous problems.
Saglia: We need to find a deposit. We have made a law at Sogen.
Saglia: I don’t think a geological deposit is a viable option today because even if it is a permanent solution, there isn’t yet an example of one in the world.
Interviewer: Do you imagine supervised deposits on the surface?
Interviewer: How safe will these new EPRs be?
Saglia: they are better because they have more radical security systems, for example the container.
Interviewer: Is it thicker?
Saglia: 7m thick. It can take an aeroplane crash. Internally, all the cooling systems have been improved, and all sorts of precautions have been taken against breakdown, although no nuke in the world can be 100% certain, but anyway they are safe.
Interviewer: Have you heard what the undersecretary Saglia said: that the latest generation of French nukes are very safe. Is this really true?
Let’s go back to the French EPRs that our Government wants to build in Italy. What are they like? Not an easy question because there isn’t even one functioning EPR in the world. They are building one in China, one in Finland and one in France.
Back to France
We are in Flammanville, in the nuclear triangle 5km from La Hague. EDF has been building their EPR since 2007. The first new nuke in Europe since Chernobyl. Predicted build time 4 years. This has already stretched out to 7 years. Here we are in the little town of Pali (?) where an EDF engineer has come to talk to the citizens.
EDF: This is a new kind of reactor – the result of years of study.
Woman: You say that with the EPR we will have less radwaste, but it will be much more toxic?
EDF: Yes the fuel stays in the reactor all the time and it is irradiated for longer. This means we can reduce the volume of radwaste.
Man: Can you tell us how much delay has accumulated? How much did you expect this nuke to cost and how much it is going to end up costing?
EDF: Big projects can only be developed with difficulty. If this is a prototype, it is like an aeronautical prototype. You always think a new model will be easy but there are always difficulties that lead to delays. This doesn’t mean that the end result will be less safe or competitive. This is why we make a prototype first.
Interviewer: Prototypes. Experiments. That’s what we are buying. According to Dirange(?) the historic French environmentalist, vice president of energy commission for the European Parliament, these prototypes have a lot of problems.
Sortir du Nucleaire person: This is a document someone sent me. It says that the nuke will only produce 1,400 MW, not 1,600. The build cost is a disaster. The risk of an accident is grave. Security for the reactor is not proven. The volume of the waste will be reduced but it will be more toxic. It is not looking good. And it’s not just me who is saying this. This is an EDF document that was leaked to me.
EPR security problems have been made clear by the delays. The one in Finland is delayed too. There are strong reservations regarding this reactor too. This is the situation on the EPR building site in France. In Finland, where they are building the other one, how far have they got?
Vincenzo Guerrizio went to Okiluoto to see.
Okiluoto is an island 300km north of Helsinki. The EPR is being built here next to a reactor that has been functioning for 20 years. Areva said they were going to consign it in 2009, but the work has only got this far.
Spokesperson: We are now in the final stage of the construction. Inside the reactor they are starting to try out loading fuel.
Interviewer: This woman is the spokesperson for the private electricity company, TVO, who bought the French EPR.
Spokesperson: For us this isn’t a prototype because EPR technology has already been experimented with.
Interviewer: But Areva keeps changing the project as they go along. Isn’t this one of the reasons for the delays?
Spokesperson: One of the reasons for the delay is that for 20 years no one built a nuke in Western Europe, so before the industry could get back in gear it took a bit of time. There are always problems with this kind of project, but the important thing is that the errors have been discovered, studied and corrected, so that we’ll have a safe reactor in the end.
Interviewer: Haven’t you got a date for the end of the project?
Spokesperson: No. The latest news given to us by the head of the project says sometime in the summer of 2012 but we are not sure. We’ll see how it goes. It will probably be later than that.
Interviewer: From the start of building there have been a series of problems. The giant German corporation Siemens, who is installing the turbines, has announced that they are ending their collaboration with Areva in the construction of nukes. They won’t participate in the construction of any more EPRs ever again, anywhere in the world.
Okiluoto’s prefabricated village for the workers
In the prefabricated village 3000 workers live. They are employed by more than 200 companies and they come from 10s of different countries. Each country has its quarter.
Worker: I have been here one and a half years. We work three months, then we can go back to Portugal for a week.
Interviewer: How long is your contract?
2nd worker: 6 months
1st worker: Mine comes to an end next year because it has only just been renewed. On the job one has to speak English or French.
Interviewer: What about people who don’t understand?
Worker: I don’t know.
Interviewer: How do you manage? The workers don’t understand each other.
Worker: That’s right. How can I work if I don’t understand the boss?
The first shift does the work. Then the second shift comes along and takes everything to pieces and starts again. Each boss has his own idea about how the job should be done. I know how it should be done. I’ve tried to tell him several times but everyone thinks they are right. The way they tell us to do it is wrong.
Interviewer: Couldn’t you insist?
Worker: You know how I’ve managed to work here for two years? When I don’t understand what I am supposed to do I just carry on.
Interviewer: Do you think the plant is going to be safe?
Worker: We used loads of cement. Some of it wasn’t good. But there’s such a lot of it that in the end it should be all right.
2nd worker: We were 12 welders in my group. None of us had written instructions. Everyone welded how he liked.
Interviewer: They should have done.
Worker: But my supervisor had no experience of this kind of welding. I don’t know what kind of an expert he was but he didn’t know anything about welding. When we asked for drawings to explain how we were supposed to weld, he just said make it strong. Also the system of checks wasn’t up to much. They did check but not very well. When the boss said something they fired him. They didn’t care. They just wanted the job done fast.
Interviewer; This worker was talking about Mr Ketterman. He was not fired. He left when he understood that the procedures were not being adhered to. He was responsible for the welding at Okiluoto for 2 years. Also for the cement and pipes for the whole building.
Ketterman: I worked for 2 years.
Interviewer: You were responsible for the steel container, and the primary protection of the nuke
Ketterman: We, together with other 2 other companies, decided how the work should be carried out, how to do the welding. Then we gave these documents to the supervisors “You have to do it like this” we said. Each one of these instruction sheets took us a month to put together. All the materials had to be tested, then we decided on the type of welding. We checked everything.
Interviewer: So why do you say that they didn’t follow your instructions?
Ketterman: They didn’t have the documents. They couldn’t know what they were supposed to do, or how to do it. Look at the date.
Interviewer: 12 Sept 2006.
Ketterman: It is the date when I finished my checking. Now you can start the welding. When do you think they started welding? In 2003.
Interviewer: You mean that this list of instructions was given to the workers after they had finished the work?
Ketterman: Yes. This wall – they built it 2 or 3 years before. The sheets of instructions arrived afterwards.
Interviewer: Why didn’t they know they had to follow these instructions? How could the French decide to build the wall without the welding instructions?
Ketterman: It is a mystery I still can’t believe it. I just wanted every part to be 100% safe. They know very well that this part isn’t.
Interviewer: But now TVO says they are sure the work was done well.
Ketterman: If I was from TVO you know what I would say “Of course everything is OK” I don’t know what would happen if I said the opposite. There are billions of euros at play here.
Interviewer: When do you think they will finish the nuke?
Ketterman: Maybe never
In Helsinki at the Greenpeace office. Lauri M is a member of the antinuke campaign. He has been denouncing the faults in the EPR project. As a protest he was suspended from the structure of the nuke 60 m up, for 5 days.
Greenpeace: We did it because we wanted everyone to know about the problems in the EPR building site. We succeeded. No one could have foreseen that the EPR project would go so wrong. Not even us lot at Greenpeace. Even though we said right from the beginning that the cost and the time predicted were not realistic. One thing is for sure – the quality checks went wrong. The welding, the cement, the components didn’t have the necessary checks. Now it’s difficult to say when the work will be finished.
STUK are the Finnish authorities that check radiological emissions. They have all the drawings and instructions for the construction of the EPR.
Stuk: Right from the beginning we asked them to modify the design before they started building.
Interviewer: Were these important changes that you wanted them to make?
Stuk: The modifications were concerned with safety systems. They have to spring into action in the case of an accident. These safety mechanisms have to be autonomous; to work independently of the rest of the plant. So they had to redesign the project. The indispensable protective mechanisms after 11 Sept hadn‘t been designed as we had requested. A nuke has to be able to withstand the impact of an aeroplane.
Interviewer: These were improvements that you had to ask them to make. They weren’t in the original design?
Stuk: no they weren’t.
Interviewer: Did you also find lots of other things that weren’t right in the welding?
Stuk: Lots of times the welding didn’t match our requirements. One characteristic of the project at Okiluoto is that every time a new phase of the project began, for example the construction of the cement edifice, there was something to resolve. They began welding the steel container but all the first weldings were done wrong. So we had to intervene, drastically because if we didn’t put it right straight away we would have compromised the whole structure. The same thing applied to the pipes.
Interviewer: Areva says you were too rigid and this increased the delay.
Stuk: they should have studied the project before coming here.
Interviewer: How difficult is it for you to be responsible for a project of 3 billion euros?
Stuk: If this nuke isn’t safe we won’t let it run. I’m responsible for 10 million people, not money. We have to make sure that radiation doesn’t damage the population, the environment and future generations.
Interview with the editor of the main economy daily newspaper in Finland
Editor: It is clear now that at the time Areva and Siemens didn’t know what they were selling and TVO didn’t know what they were buying. Since it was a prototype there was no definitive project. When the big Finnish building corporations saw the project with its lowered prices and short build time they said, “This is madness. We are not getting involved.” And they were right, seeing that TVO has been suing Areva for damages due to the delay and for the 3 years that no energy has been produced.
How much will the EPR cost Finland? Who knows how many wouldn’t choose to do something similar. Now we meet a Green Party MP in the centre right Government. He is 30 and also an advisor to the Prime Minister on climate and energy.
MP: They have used the Finnish people as guinea pigs to test this EPR. We experience the problems with the prototype.
Interviewer: while in Finland they don’t even know when their new nuke is going to start working, in Germany there is a huge protest movement. Angela Merkel’s government decided to prolong the life of their old nukes, which means that they will keep going until 2040. The people don’t want that. They want the nukes to shut down, as was decided in the new law in 2025. Yesterday in Berlin hundreds of thousands of people protested.
We went to Berlin with Guerrizio. It isn’t midday yet. In half an hour the march will begin. Under the stage, in front of the central station in Berlin thousands of people gather. 200 buses and 3 special trains are coming from all over Germany.
Woman: we come from a little town near Krummel and near the new site of Gorleben, where they want to store rad waste.
Interviewer: And you don’t want them to keep the nukes functioning for longer?
Woman: We want them to shut down. For one thing they are dangerous, then there is the rad waste. Time up for the government that has sold out. What has motivated such a lot of people is the idea that the centre right government has just bowed down to the big nuclear energy producers.
We come from the south of Germany.
Interviewer: Do you have nukes too?
Protestor: Yes several.
Interviewer: Did you hope they would shut them down?
Protestor: Of course. There’s Bestheim, Filipsburg We know there are other solutions. We’ve got photovoltaics on our roof and we produce energy for 5 families.
Interviewer: So Germany was already ready to get out of nukes.
Protestor: Yes exactly. I don’t know whether in taking this decision to prolong the life of our nukes they’ve thought about how much rd waste they’ll produce on top of what we already have. The only thing that is for sure is the money the nuke industry makes.
Interviewer: these same corporations invest in renewables too, don’t they?
Protestor: Very little. With a nuke they make a million euros in a day.
Interviewer: they prolong the life of the nukes but the rad waste produced will have to be put somewhere and no one can say where or how. Each person has brought their miniature barrel of rad waste to throw into an open-air dump that they have created. Going towards Parliament the flags and banners belong to the parties of the opposition – the greens, social democrats, left, trades unions, cooperatives. At least 100,000 people march past the seat of the liberals, allies in Merkel’s government and pro nuclear.
Woman: This isn’t any old protest. There are whole families here, old people. The whole of German society is represented here against nukes.
Interviewer: We are now in front of Parliament. The police don’t stop us but a human chain goes round the palace of the government – the Chancellery.
Woman: Our government is submissive to economic powers. Two thirds of the population is against nukes. But politics do the opposite. No democracy here. Even within the government there were MPs against prolonging the life of our nukes. But after the talks with the nuke industry they bowed down to their demands. There are many more protestors than the organisers had expected.
German Speaker at the Protest
The government should stop compromising with the nuclear corporations and change energy politics for the sake of future generations. We need to shut them down forever. This for us means the future.
Back to Italy
For us in Italy we just have to wait and see what the Italian government decides to do. Let’s see if they constitute a radioprotection agency to control the nukes. They promise that we will continue to be involved.
Posted by Reg Illingworth at 16:10