Regulation, or waste dumpers charters?


against the Implementation of Council Directive 96/29/EURATOM
“The Basic Standards Directive”

This Directive was adopted by the European Council in May 1996 and was required to be transposed by all the member states by May 13 2000.

Its purpose is to harmonise radiation protection standards across the EU [Note: what the BSS is about].

LLRC objected to two aspects of it which threaten to allow the release of potentially vast amounts of radioactivity. The problems lie with the provisions for

  • Exemption -- some businesses [or "undertakings"] will be exempt from having to be regulated on the grounds that they handle only small amounts or low concentrations of radioactivity,
  • Clearance -- contaminated materials and wastes from nuclear licensed sites may, under certain conditions, be dumped, sold, and used in any way, irrespective of where they will end up.

The briefings we produced during the first phase of the campaign against the Directive contain an extensive rationale of our position. The most recent is stll on this site at this link.

Exemption [see below for link to Clearance]

We have withdrawn our objection to the principle of Exemption as far as it applies in the UK.[see below for Europe] Exemption means specifically "exemption from requirements to report and be authorised for practices involving radioactive substances".

LLRC's original reason for objecting to it was that when NRPB worked out the radiation levels or thresholds below which undertakings would be exempt they assumed that the "practice" included disposal. [Background documents 1 showed this. NRPB did the figuring out for the Commission]

Now, in the UK a level of 400 Becquerels / Kg has for decades been used to define both

  • exemption from requirements to report
  • and the limit of what had to be regarded as radioactive waste. 2

LLRC feared, obviously and reasonably, that the new exemption levels laid out in the Directive [far higher than 400 Bq/Kg] would keep both functions.
But two things happened when the DETR launched their consultation on transposing the Directive (in March 1999):-

  1. DETR announced to the plenary that the 400 Becquerels / Kg level would probably stay as the limit for defining waste, unless convincing arguments for changing it came up in the consultation [deep gloomy silence from the assembled nukes]. This "don't change anything - you don't have to" was LLRC's demand to Michael Meacher as a politically achievable aim pending resolution of all the radiation biology arguments. Obviously it had made a deep impression on Meacher, and in the end there was no change. Hooray - we had won.
  2. a gaggle of HSE, DETR and Commission people assured LLRC's representative that the disposal of waste from exempt undertakings would continue to be regulated under the same regime -- i.e. 400 Bq/Kg. So that is a very literal [and we could say very British] interpretation of the Directive. Hooray - we had won again. The nukes had been expecting something far more permissive.
    The gaggle asked Would LLRC, on the basis of this assurance, withdraw its objection to the principle of Exemption. We did, and a letter from Mr Meacher duly committed him to his side of the bargain. [In 2001 his position came under attack from RWMAC - see RWMAC link below or on navigation bar]
UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher:
The clean man of Europe?
Rt. Hon. Michael Meacher MP(10Kb)
In the rest of Europe things can be different

Clearance of contaminated recyclables and waste

RWMAC tries to relax the standards

Waste too "hot"? - then dilute it! -- a problem created by regulating in terms of concentrations of radioactivity

Exemption Orders -- problems with UK Government revision (current in June 2001), and LLRC's recommendations

Nuclear waste The UK Government has begun a consultation. Here's our Briefing (as a pdf file) and
our response to the DEFRA Consultation (as a pdf file)

Archive material on the Basic Safety Standards (Euratom) Directive
LLRC's response to DETR consultation -- dated Summer 1999, but still useful

LLRC's briefing on transposition of the Directive -- from early in 1999, but still useful.

If you are seeing this page full screen (i.e. without a navigation bar on the left) you can't see how the rest of the site is organised.
This Home page link takes you to the index page, which has links to all the topics we discuss on the site [only use it if this page is full screen]

Send email to: with questions or comments about this web site.


Note 1: The official line is that the Directive improves standards of radiological protection. You'll get this from the EU, the DETR, and maybe from your MEP and your MP if they just regurgitate what they're told.
In fact the Directive is very broad in scope, covering everything from medical x-rays, to college students' exposure, to the operation of nuclear power stations. In some respects it is an improvement, especially for external radiation and especially for those countries which have not had high standards. This should not blind us to the fact that it includes deregulatory measures.
There is no dispute about the fact that the Directive allows radioactive materials to be released from regulatory control and that radioactivity will inevitably become incorporated into consumer goods and food. The only dispute is about whether it is safe to expose people to ingesting and inhaling radioactive substances in this way.

Note 2: ... Exemption from regulation and ... the limit of what has to be regarded as radioactive waste ...:- this is the function of the Substances of Low Activity Exemption Order, one of 17 Statutory Instruments laying out conditions under which various types of practice involving work with radioactivy are exempt from various provisions of the Radioactive Substances Act 1993]
This EO dates from 1986 and is currently (2001) under review.