Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Chernobyl legacy still haunts the UK

Close to where the Low Carbon Kid lives, in Dolgellau, farmers like Emlyn Roberts still have to call in the government inspectors with their Geiger counters before taking their sheep to market.

The land they graze is still contaminated from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. If the radiation levels are too high, they cannot be sold for meat.

Emlyn is one of 375 British farmers, with over 200,000 sheep, whose land is subject to restrictions introduced after radioactive rain fell on Britain in 1986.

When they were established, farmers were told they would last for only a few months at most. But many are still affected - and the Nuclear Industries Association - the lobbying firm persuading Government and the public that nuclear power is ok - doesn't tell you this.

The NIA is busy placing stories in the press making out for example that the area around Chernobyl is now a haven for wildlife therefore radiation is ok. The reality is very different. 40,000 Chernobyl clean-up workers have died.

Immediately after the disaster, almost 9000 British farms were placed under restrictions. Now 95 per cent of the land has been given the all-clear, but 355 farms in Wales, 11 in Scotland and nine in Cumbria are still affected. The land is monitored by the Food Standards Agency.

The farmers need a licence to move their sheep and must call in inspectors to scan each animal before it can be sold. They are paid £1.30 compensation for each sheep scanned, the same as in 1986.

Emlyn says "At peak times, we have to give the inspectors seven days' notice, so we can never take advantage of sudden improvements in trade," he said. "It's worrying that something that happened thousands of miles away can still have such an effect on us."

Glyn Roberts, 50, a father of five with a sheep farm in Padog, said: "When the restrictions first started they said it would only last for six months … It makes you wonder how safe nuclear power is."

Protesting about the Scottish restrictions, Green MSP Mark Ballard today joined activists along with Little Bo Beep and her sheep outside Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh as the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management met to consider options for the long-term management of nuclear waste.

CoRWM is currently considering options for waste storage and is due to report in July. CoRWM has already concluded in an outline report that "If Ministers accept our recommendations, the UK's nuclear waste problem is not solved", throwing into doubt the Executive's pledge to not allow any new nuclear power stations until the waste issue has been "resolved".

Mr Ballard said, "Twenty years since Chernobyl and even in Scotland the disaster is still taking its toll. This is a potent reminder of the folly of nuclear energy and the need to choose the only route that will safeguard against the dangers of radioactive waste - that is, rule out any future nuclear power projects and instead focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

"On grounds of cost to the taxpayers' purse, the need to protect public health and the environment, nuclear fails miserably. More nuclear power will mean more multi-billion pound invoices to the taxpayer - just a fraction of that invested in clean, green renewable energy will ensure Scotland can become self-sufficient in safe and secure methods of energy generation."

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