Greenpeace goes up the pole to protest against nuclear power

Activists from Greenpeace this week climbed several metres up a number of the poles holding the flags of the twenty-seven EU member states in front of the European Parliament building in Brussels.  The flags chosen were those of the countries producing nuclear energy. The point of the protest was to oppose nuclear power in general, but also to draw attention to the need for a sound method of processing nuclear waste, which will be the subject of a directive to be proposed by the European Commission next month.

European United Left Euro-MP Kartika Liotard, from the Netherlands, spoke out in support of the demonstrators: "Nuclear power is unsafe. I'd like to see all of the nuclear power stations in Europe, but also those in the rest of the world, disappear. It's ridiculous that such a dangerous way of producing energy is seen at present by the EU as 'sustainable'."

The Dutch flag was one of those chosen to be climbed, and Liotard explained why. "Not only do we already have nuclear power stations in the Netherlands but the new government wants to build still more of them, a dangerous development."

The poll-climbing was just one of a number of actions taken as two qualified Greenpeace radiation specialists delivered four radioactive samples in two concrete and lead-lined containers to the  Parliament’s twin entrances. Dozens of trained Greenpeace volunteers zoned off areas with tape before handcuffing themselves in rings around the containers to ensure their safety. MEPs and staff looked on as Greenpeace climbers scaled the flagpoles to hold out banners reading ‘Nuclear waste, no solution’ below the flags of those countries with nuclear energy programmes producing the largest amounts of nuclear waste.

Four samples of radioactive waste were collected from unsecured public locations: Sellafield beach in the UK; the seabed at la Hague in France; the banks of the Molse Nete River in Belgium; and from the uranium mining village of Akokan in Niger. Despite their danger, the materials are not classified as radioactive waste when discharged or left in the open environment as they stem from so-called ‘authorised emissions’ or from uranium mining. Yet, when collected and put in a container, the samples are classified as radioactive waste that needs to be guarded for centuries until decayed. Other nuclear waste, such as that waste from decommissioning and spent nuclear fuel, is even more dangerous and must be stored for hundreds of thousands of years. There is no way of securing this waste over such long time periods with guaranteed safety, and it continues to pile up all over the world.

Early drafts of the new directive exclude the type of radioactive waste Greenpeace delivered and paper over the fears of scientists who say that disposing of highly radioactive waste deep underground could be disastrous.

Greenpeace EU nuclear policy advisor Jan Haverkamp said: “It is a scandal that the waste Greenpeace delivered today is being pumped into our seas, rivers and left to accumulate near where people live. The nuclear sector has no idea what to do with this waste, let alone the far more dangerous and long-lived waste that also continues to pile up. As the vast majority comes from the power sector, the only logical step is to phase out nuclear power. The EU has phase-out clauses for other no-go substances such as mercury. MEPs must ensure that radioactive waste is treated no less severely. As it stands, the proposed directive is little more than a PR exercise to smooth the way for new nuclear power stations.”