Cs-137 delivery “deliberately violated”29 January 2001
The recent discovery of a batch of incorrectly labelled nuclear waste barrels is being investigated by the relevant authorities and has put Nycomed Amersham Buchler on the defensive. The operators of a German interim waste store say that the delivery conditions for a consignment of barrels were knowingly violated. Site operators GKSS claim that a number of offences against the storage conditions were committed when the barrels were delivered to the site 20 years ago. GKSS have informed the relevant authorities who are currently investigating the allegations.
The GKSS Statement
Since 1965 GKSS (formerly an establishment for research into nuclear ship propulsion) have operated an interim radioactive waste store at Geesthacht in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. Altogether 155 barrels, mainly from hospitals, schools and the paint industry, are being stored at the site.
Since there is no repository available for the barrels, GKSS began to implement measures to guarantee further safe storage of these low-level wastes at the Geesthacht site. At the end of last year GKSS began reloading the contents of the barrels into new stainlees steel corrosion-proof barrels. Of 28 barrels opened only two barrels were found to be correctly declared. Of the others, ten showed slight disagreements and sixteen proved to deviate significantly from the declarations. GKSS believe that this was “obviously an intended offence against the conditions for acceptance of the storage facility.” These barrels had been packed outside the facility 20 years ago by Amersham & Buchler and then delivered to the site.
The barrels were classified as containing low-level radioactive waste “paper, tools, etc in concrete.” However, GKSS say that the 200 litre barrels contained liquids in glass and plastic vessels which in turn were cased in metal boxes lined with lead cladding.
GKSS concluded that his procedure was a deliberate violation of the delivery conditions. On delivery, the illegally high levels could not be detected due to the surrounding lead shielding. They added that, even 20 years after opening, the measured radioactivity exceeded the then valid limit.
On discovery of the descrepancies between the declaration and contents, GKSS informed “the responsible authorities who subsequently brought criminal charges against a person or persons unknown.”
In accordance with the German radiation protection ordinance, GKSS are now in the process of successively opening and reloading all 155 barrels which they have in the federal state store. The reloading into stainless steel barrels takes place remotely in their hot cells where they have a single barrel drying facility.
The statement by GKSS has generated a lot of negative publicity against Nycomed Amersham Buchler in the German media. On the Nord III television programme “Hallo Niedersachsen” Mrs Rebecca Harms stated: “We have always regarded this company to be irresponsible. We expect Mr Jüttner (the Lower Saxony minister for the environment) will withdraw this company’s licence." In a press statement of December 7, 2000 the minister for health of Schleswig-Holstein, Mrs Heide Moser said: “What we have discovered here justifies the use of the word ‘scandal’.”
The Nycomed amersham buchler Reply
Nycomed Amersham Buchler (formerly Amersham & Buchler) have responded to the charges made by GKSS. In December a party of representatives from Nycomed Amersham Buchler and AEA Technology QSA, who bought the waste management division of Nycomed Amersham Buchler in 1998, went to the site to investigate the accusations.
A statement issued by Nycomed Amersham Buchler addressed each of the accusations in turn:
1. Barrels not properly declared
The waste barrels had in fact been conditioned and correspondingly declared according to the site’s 1973 conditions for acceptance. The delivery conformed to the accepted practices of the time and therefore can not be referred to as being not properly declared.
2. Liquids in glass and plastic containers
The free liquids which GKSS found during opening of the barrels stem from small bottles (maximum 20ml) imbedded in concrete. The low-level radioactivity liquids had been used in research for measuring purposes. In the 1970s it was quite usual to imbed such used small bottles in concrete. The conditions for acceptance state that the operator of the repository was prepared in exceptional cases “in agreement with the licensing authorities to also accept such wastes which do not fulfill the conditions for acceptance but do not represent an impairment of safety.” This is the case as the radioactivity of these liquids is low.
3. Measured radioactivity significantly above the then admissible limit
According to the completed “applications for delivery of radioactive wastes” the inventory of radioactivity was not exceeded. GKSS could not present the company representatives with any documentation to prove otherwise.
4. Inadmissibly high radioactivity inside the barrels
The highly radioactive substance is said to be a “container for liquids with Caesium-137” which exceeds the radiation limit by a factor of 3000. GKSS could give us no concrete descriptions about the kinds of measurements they performed. Also, neither the container itself nor any documentation established by GKSS could be shown to us. According to our documents such a container was not contained within the barrels.
5. Lead shielding prevented radioactivity
Concerning the accusation of undeclared lead shielding within the barrels we refer to the above mentioned conditions for acceptance. The storage site conditions of the time state: “The dose rate may not exceed 200mrem/h at any point on the surface of the barrels and 10mrem/h at one metre distance from the surface of the dispatch cask. If necessary this has to be attained using a corresponding internal shielding.”
The statement made by Nycomed Amersham Buchler goes on to criticise both the speed that the accusations were made and the comments made on national television.