Italian "radioactive waste bomb" revealed

Police, NGO, report finds 5,000 tonnes of radioactive metals being trafficked annually

Around 5,000 tonnes of eastern European radioactive metal waste is finding its way annually to Italy, highlighting an urgent need for better legislation on radioactive refuse, NGO Legambiente and the Italian military police said this week in a joint statement.

"We're living amidst 5,000 tonnes of radioactive metal waste imported each year from eastern Europe," said Legambiente president Ermete Realacci. He was presenting a report compiled by Legambiente and the Italian paramilitary police's ecological operating centre Nucleo Operativo Ecologico dei Carabinieri (NOE).

According to the report, between 1997 and 1999 police undertook a total of 865 inspections of suspect trafficked material, and recorded 113 crimes. A total of 94 people were implicated and 17 loads of material were confiscated. Much of the trafficking was recorded in northern Italy, notably in Lombardy.

The trafficking also includes trade in plutonium and enriched uranium, according to Italian news agency Ansa. It adds that there are 47 nuclear reactors still operating in the former Soviet Union and its former satellites.

"Waste trafficking is highly lucrative. A kilogram of enriched uranium 235 is worth more than 70 million lire [euros 36,150], and this figure increases twenty-fold on the black market. International police intelligence work is the only way to combat such trafficking," said NOE Commander Giuseppe Rositani.

But the 2,000 cubic metres of radioactive waste is produced each year by Italian hospitals and industry may be the biggest trafficking hazard, according to the dossier's findings. "Given that no disposal facility yet exists for radioactive medical and industrial waste, the situation here is also an emergency," said Enrico Fontana, head of Legambiente's environmental and legal observatory. A further 24,000 cubic metres of radioactive material is sitting in decommissioned nuclear reactors and elsewhere in Italy, he added.

The Legambiente-NOE dossier recommends three courses of action to defuse the 'waste bomb': criminal charges against traffickers, implementation of an efficient network of border check-points, and enactment of specific legislation on radioactive waste disposal.

Follow Up:
Legambiente, tel: +39 06 862 681. References: "The Radioactive Legacy".

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