Published on Tuesday, June 27, 2000 by Reuters
Greenpeace Refuses Order To Leave Site Where Nuclear Waste Is Being Dumped In Sea
by Gillian Handyside
PARIS - Greenpeace refused on Tuesday to comply with French government orders to move away from La Hague, where the environmental pressure group has installed a camera on an underwater pipe discharging radioactive waste into the sea.

Greenpeace used the camera to broadcast on the internet live footage of the discharge from the nuclear reprocessing plant at La Hague, northern France. It wants to persuade an international panel to ban sea dumping of radioactive waste from land pipes.

Greenpeace campaigner Mike Townsley said French coastguards had ordered the group to move its ships the Twister and MV Greenpeace, its dinghies, divers and the webcam from the area by 0800 local time on Tuesday, saying the vessels no longer had ''innocent right of passage'' in French waters.

''We've moved the Twister into UK territorial waters, but we haven't and won't move the MV Greenpeace, and we certainly won't move the web camera,'' Townsley told Reuters by telephone from the MV Greenpeace.

``We're just making a peaceful protest. We haven't impeded anything. We're just showing the delegates at the OSPAR meeting the discharge they're supposed to ban,'' he said.

Ministers from the 15 countries in the OSPAR Commission, set up to protect the environment of the North Atlantic ocean, are meeting in Copenhagen this week to discuss a proposal by Denmark to ban sea dumping of radioactive waste from land pipes.

OSPAR has already banned other forms of sea dumping of nuclear waste -- from ships, platforms and aircraft.

Townsley said Greenpeace could face a one million franc ($142,300) fine for defying the authorities while MV Greenpeace captain John Castle might face up to six months in prison.

Maritime officials, who sent a patrol boat to investigate, said Greenpeace was breaking international and French law by stopping, anchoring and diving near the pipe outlet.

They said they would ``not start a naval battle'' but would report back to the public prosecutor, who could impose a fine or order the seizure of the Greenpeace boats.

State-run nuclear fuels group Cogema, which owns the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at La Hague, said the radioactive waste leaving the pipe was monitored before being dumped and met existing standards on health and environmental impact.

In a bid to dispel its secretive image, Cogema installed 10 permanent web cameras at its reprocessing site seven months ago but it has not fixed a camera to the discharge pipe, located 30 meters under the sea in an area of fierce currents.

``You can't see a lot because its deep under water and changes in tides and currents make installing that kind of material under water very difficult,'' a press official at the company told Reuters, adding that photos of the discharge pipe could be consulted on the company's internet site.

Townsley said some eight OSPAR states favored a ban on all sea dumping of nuclear waste but France and Britain, the only countries outside Russia which still reprocess spent nuclear fuel, were opposed. Twelve votes are needed to approve the ban.

Cogema press officials were not immediately able to answer allegations by Greenpeace that the plant had ignored a legally- binding OSPAR commitment to significantly reduce the volume and concentration of nuclear waste dumped in the sea by 2000.

Greenpeace said on Saturday independent surveys showed 80 percent of Europeans opposed dumping nuclear waste in the sea.

Copyright 2000 Reuters Limited