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Italy: Poor Countries Are North's Radioactive Dump

by Jorge PiaInter Press Service
May 7th, 2001

ROME -- The developing South has become the dump for hundreds of thousands of tonnes of radioactive waste from the world's rich countries, a colossal business which is linked to money laundering and gunrunning, say lawmakers and activists in Italy.

''The trafficking of radioactive waste, a large part of which goes to countries of the South, constitutes a business of gigantic proportions, amounting to more than seven billion dollars a year in Italy alone,'' Massimo Scalia, the chairman of an investigative commission set up by the Italian parliament, told IPS.

Scalia said that every shipload of nuclear waste represents around five million dollars in profits.

The Italian justice system is investigating the trafficking of radioactive waste to the developing South, particularly African countries like Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Algeria and Mozambique.

The information gathered in the two main legal probes, carried out in the northern Italian cities of Milan and Asti, and the data compiled by the parliamentary commission demonstrate that two of the methods for getting rid of such waste are dumping it into the sea in special metal containers designed to sink to the bottom, or purposely sinking the ship carrying the waste, and reporting it as an accident.

Some of the shipwrecks are being investigated by Lloyd's, the British insurance company.

Maurizio Dematteis with the Italian environmental umbrella Ligambiente 2001 said there were already more than 600,000 tonnes of radioactive waste on the floor of the Atlantic ocean along the coast of the western Sahara.

He also said there were three enormous illegal dumps - among the largest in the world - in Somalia, where workers handle the radioactive waste without any kind of safeguard or protective gear - not even gloves.

The workers do not know what they are handling, and if one of them dies, the family is persuaded to keep quiet with a small bit of cash, the activist added.

Dematteis believes the murder of Ilaria Alpi, a young journalist with Italy's state TV station RAI, was linked to the trafficking of guns and radioactive waste.

Alpi was killed in Somalia on Mar 20, 1994, apparently after she discovered too much about those illegal activities.

Meanwhile, Italy's Chamber of Deputies has not yet passed a bill that has already made it through the Senate. Once it is passed, the new law will make ''the illegal trafficking of waste'' a specific offence in the criminal code. Today, that activity is only subject to administrative sanctions.

Italy's legislature is in recess prior to the May 13 parliamentary elections.

The current legislation does not allow the justice system to effectively clamp down on the trafficking of radioactive waste, because the violations expire three or four and a half years after they are reported.

Prosecutor Giovanni Tarditi explained that those found guilty of engaging in such activity are generally fined. Moreover, the fines are not high, he said, especially when compared to the huge profits involved in trafficking nuclear waste.

Judicial police inspector Gianni De Podest, who is waging a determined struggle against the ''eco-mafia'', said ''we are often forced to resort to charges of tax evasion to arrest the traffickers.

''The evidence accumulated throughout months of investigations is frequently not enough. But that will change once trafficking is made a crime,'' he added.

Mozambique is the final destination for many of the new routes for trafficking toxic waste from industrialised countries, according to the Scalia commission, which takes its name from its chairman.

Experts say another area that will increasingly accept such waste in the future is eastern Europe, where nuclear waste has already been found at the bottom of the Black Sea, off the Rumanian coast.

A report by Ligambiente 2001 indicates that Italy is a source and transit country for radioactive waste that is shipped to Somalia, Malawi, Zaire, Sudan, Eritrea, Algeria, and Mozambique.

The trafficking of radioactive and other waste is merely a corollary to other illegal activities like money laundering and the trafficking of arms and drugs, warns Ligambiente.

Poor countries are victims of that illegal trade, which constitutes a threat to their biodiversity and culture, and hurts their chances for development, said Dematteis.

The trafficking of nuclear waste once again reveals the capacity of criminal organisations to continually develop new activities which the international community is not prepared to combat, he added.





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