The move came on the final day of Ospar's four-day annual meeting in Brussels. Earlier this week, the UK announced that it was ending its opt-out from the ban, leaving France as the only Ospar member claiming an exemption from the 1992 ban (ENDS Daily 2 September).
The Chairman of the Ospar Commission, Alan Simcock, told ENDS Daily that the lifting of the French and British opt-outs was "by far the most significant thing that has happened [at the meeting]". Greenpeace welcomed the decision as a "historic moment" marking the "final victory for Greenpeace in a 20-year campaign against radioactive dumping at sea".
In a move which is likely to have major repercussions for nuclear reprocessing plants in Britain and France, both countries agreed to consider continuously reducing discharges of radioactive substances in the environment to near background levels. Although the final wording of the text - including a timetable for its implementation - has still to be worked out, agreement is expected at July's ministerial meeting in Lisbon.
A joint Danish and Irish proposal calling for emissions of technetium-99 from the Sellafield reprocessing plant to be reduced and ultimately eliminated was not adopted during the negotiations. Instead, the Commission called on the UK to indicate what steps it was taking to meet this objective.
Despite the UK's dramatic decision to virtually rule out sea disposal of redundant oil and gas installations earlier this week, Mr Simcock admitted that little further progress had been made on the issue during the meeting. Norway, which also has an extensive offshore oil and gas industry, continues to oppose any ban on the dumping of decommissioned rigs at sea. Senior officials are expected to discuss the issue in more detail in November.
According to Mr Simcock, officials reached agreement "on most points" of a strategy to end the discharge of hazardous substances into the marine environment within a generation. At the last North Sea Conference in 1995, the UK was the only Ospar signatory to oppose this goal, but earlier this week it lifted its objection.
General agreement was also reached on a new annex to the Ospar convention on the protection of marine species and habitats and on a strategy to combat eutrophication in the north east Atlantic. Officials are expected to fine-tune these measures before final adoption by ministers in July 1998.
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