Radioactivity in the environment: Commissioner Wallström answers parliamentary question

July 4, 2002

Strasbourg, 3 July 2002

Verbatim report of proceedings for 2 July 2002 (Part 1)

El Presidente. - Pregunta nº 61 formulada por Nuala Ahern (H-0482/02):
Asunto: Los niveles de tritio frente a la costa de Gales

Wallström, Commission. - The Commission is aware of the scientific paper published in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry of May 2002 and the related publication of the UK National Radiological Protection Board on the same issue.

Both publications refer to the RIFE report (radioactivity in food and the environment) issued by the UK Food Standards Agency and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency. This report includes measured concentrations in seafood off the Welsh coast and Bristol Channel near Cardiff.

The results of these investigations show enhanced levels of tritium in fish and mussels caught close to an industrial facility manufacturing radioactive materials for use in medicine, research and industry. The basic safety standards directive 96/29/Euratom gives those coefficients per unit of intake by ingestion both for organically-bound tritium and for tritiated water. Even assuming seafood consumption above average, the measured levels of tritium in fish from Cardiff Bay result in radiation doses far below the annual dose limit for the members of the general public.

References to tritium releases into the marine environment and to the issue of organically-bound tritium are included in the Marina II study on the radiological exposure of the European Community from radioactivity in North European marine waters. This study is due to be published at the end of August 2002.

Ahern (Verts/ALE). - Thank you for your answer Commissioner. I take it, and I would like an expression of concern from you, that nuclear regulators have miscalculated the health risks from one of the world's most widespread nuclear pollutants. Adults are twice as likely as previously thought to develop cancer after being exposed to tritium and this particular tritium was discharged by a factory.

However, the discharge of Tritium from the BNFL Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria and Chapelcross Nuclear Power Station, to mention only one discharge, is extremely large - millions of litres of tritiated water and air every year. In fact the dose could be 12 times more dangerous for children according to the recent study.

I think this is a major cause for concern, since the regulators have miscalculated. I am glad that you say that it will be referred to in the Marina II study. But as these facts have only recently come to light, it seems unlikely that the study can look very closely at the issue and I would like an assurance from you that it will be seriously followed up.

Wallström, Commission. - There is always reason for concern when we see changes and an increase of discharges into our waters. We also assume that the UK authorities will look at this seriously. I understand that they have initiated research on the problem and will look at the reasons for the increase in the doses.

It is also an issue for the Commission in the sense that EU legislation does not provide for maximum permitted levels of tritium in foodstuffs. Together with the International Commission on Radiological Protection and with a group of experts set up under the terms of Article 31, the Commission is currently discussing the possibility of fixing maximum permitted levels of tritium in foodstuffs. That is an important piece of information for you and of course the Marina II study will also have to look into this issue. We take it seriously, we will continue our discussions and we will definitely follow up. It is an obligation for us to follow these cases very closely and to make sure that we act accordingly.

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