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Uranium Customers' Liability

(last updated 16 Jan 1998)

Uranium mining and milling is responsible for the largest share in the total radiation dose caused from the whole nuclear energy industry - as well for the nuclear workers, as for the public:

On the other hand, most of the uranium produced worldwide is mined in remote areas and is exported to customers abroad. This means that the consuming countries take the benefit of the electricity produced, while the producing countries take a major share of the risk and the long-term problems.

This situation raises the question whether the consumers of the uranium should be made responsible for the environmental damage and health effects caused in the producing countries.

During the last years, this issue has been covered by a number of parliamentary initiatives in consuming countries. Some of them are presented here.

[UNSCEAR1993] Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation, United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, UNSCEAR 1993 Report to the General Assembly, with Scientific Annexes, United Nations, New York, 1993, 922 p.


Uranium import (1989)

In the answer to a parliamentary question posed by the Green Party, the German Federal Government denied in 1989 the responsibility for environmental and health effects caused from mining of uranium for German utilities in foreign countries: "The buyers of uranium are not responsible for the safety of the installations during construction, operation, and decommissioning." (BT-Drs. 11/5788 of Nov. 23, 1989, questions VI 2, VI 3d, VII 4)

This attitude was for the first time challenged in another case in 1993, the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea. This case is referred to here, though not related to uranium, since it marks a breakthrough.

Ok Tedi copper/gold mine (1992/93)

The Ok Tedi mine released 60 to 70 million tonnes per year of tailings and wastes immediately into the Fly River - there was no tailings dam. In a motion brought before parliament by Christian Democrats and Free Democrats, and consented by the majority of the parliament, the Federal government was called upon to use its influence with the German shareholders of the mining company and the government of Papua New Guinea to demand Western environmental standards and the compensation of people concerned. With this decision of the Federal Parliament, Germany has for the first time acknowledged its responsibility for the conditions under which imported raw materials are produced abroad. But, this has remained an isolated case, so far.

On April 24, 1992, the Green Party Members of the Federal Parliament (Bundestag ) had filed a motion titled "Erzbergbau am Ok Tedi in Papua- Neuguinea" (Drs. 12/2462). During the June 3, 1992, plenary session, the Bundestag delegated this motion for discussion to the parliamentary committee for economic cooperation (Ausschuß für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit).
This committee discussed the motion on Nov. 11, 1992. The original text was rejected by the committee, but it formulated a new text that was adopted by the committee and forwarded to the Bundestag with the recommendation for approval (Drs. 12/3883 of Nov. 30, 1992). The Bundestag adopted this motion on Jan. 14, 1993 (Plenarprotokoll 12/131).

The text adopted by the parliament contains the following main points: (Drs. 12/3883):
The federal government is asked to use its influence on the German shareholders of the Ok Tedi mine and (through use of existing diplomatic links) on the Papua New Guinea government, to achieve the following improvements:

The German shareholders of the Ok Tedi Mining Ltd were at that time: Metallgesellschaft 7.5%, Degussa AG 7.5%, Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH (DEG) 5%.


Uranium import (1995)

In Sweden, a first attempt was made in 1995, to acknowledge the responsibility of the customers for the environmental and health impacts of the uranium mining in the producing country: The Christian Democrats brought a motion (N422) before the Swedish Parliament , signed by the Center, Left and Green Parties that would have set standards for imports and set prices on associated external costs. Sweden gets at present 40% of its annual demand of 1600 tonnes of uranium from Russia. [NF Feb. 13, 1995] The motion was rejected by the parliament on June 7, 1995.
1994/95:N422 av Dan Ericsson m.fl. (kds, c, v, mp): Svensk uranimport, Jan. 24, 1995

This motion was complemented by two other motions lauched by the Green Party:
1994/95:N430 av Eva Goës m.fl. (mp): Uran, Jan. 24, 1995
1994/95:U622 av Ragnhild Pohanka m.fl. (mp): Urbefolkningar, Jan. 25, 1995

These motions also were rejected.

The motions were reactions to a Greenpeace report on the environmental situation at the Priargunsky uranium mine at Krasnokamensk in Eastern Siberia. The mine was Russia's only active uranium mine at that time, at an estimated annual production of 2900 t U. In the nearby town of Okchabrsky, Greenpeace identified catastrophic radiation levels: uranium levels in soil were 20 times normal values; radon levels in 36% of the homes were in excess of the standards for occupational exposure [Litvinov1994]. Later, a commission of the Swedish National Institute of Radiation Protection (SSI) was sent out to verify the Greenpeace report; it could not find any health nor environmental problems [NF Oct. 23, 1995] [Ehdwall1995]. In 1996, however, Russian scientist Yuri Filipchenko who has been studying radon levels in Okchabrsky homes for four years confirmed the allegations made by Greenpeace: Some "260 families are living in radiologically unacceptable conditions"; radon concentrations above 5000 Bq/m3 have been found in homes located above the mine (NF Nov. 4, 1996). Subsequently, the Green Party filed a new motion on the topic:
1996/97:N425 av Eva Goës m.fl. (mp): Svensk uranimport, Oct. 5, 1996.

Global Justice (1997)

As a reaction to the Indigenous Peoples Uranium Speaking tour in Europe in fall 1997, Swedish Greens launched the motion for Global Justice - Indigenous Peoples and Uranium Mining in Parliament (U412 Sep.30, 1997).


On January 15, 1998, the European Parliament adopted an urgency resolution in favour of indigenous peoples concerned from uranium mining, and against the Jabiluka project in Australia, in particular.

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