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
''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
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
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
''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
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
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.