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Italy’s thorium contamination resulting from military operations

Subject:  Alarming levels of thorium-232 at the military firing range lying between Cordenons, San Quirino, Vivaro and San Giorgio della Richinvelda, in the province of Pordenone http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+WQ+E-2014-000031+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN

The Italian Army operates a military firing range lying between the districts of Cordenons, San Quirino, Vivaro and San Giorgio della Richinvelda in the province of Pordenone, in the vicinity of the River Cellina and the River Meduna, and the drills carried out at this firing range have led to the area becoming radioactively contaminated.

As has been reported by the press, in late December 2013 the Commander of the 132nd Ariete Armoured Division in Cordenons, the Commander-in-Chief of the Italian Army, the offices of the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the province of Pordenone and the affected districts, the prefect of Pordenone, and lastly Local Health Authority (ASS) No 6, were all sent the results of tests that had been carried out by the Friuli-Venezia Giulia provincial department of the Italian Regional Environmental Protection Agency (ARPA), which showed alarming levels of thorium-232 in the area.

Thorium-232 is a notoriously radioactive metal, which emits particles that are six times more hazardous to human health than those released by depleted uranium. It is at its most toxic between around 20 and 25 years after use. More specifically, out of the eight targets (the shells of armoured tanks used for firing practice) tested by the ARPA, four were found to contain thorium-232 at markedly higher levels than those that generally occur naturally; these levels were therefore unnatural, and presumably attributable to military firing operations.

In all likelihood, such levels are the legacy left behind by the drills carried out at the site in the 1980s and 1990s: between 1986 and 2003, the Italian Army’s units were equipped with ‘Milan’ shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles, which emitted thorium-232(1). The ARPA has indicated that it will shortly carry out more extensive tests in the area. It is recalled that, as a result of the area’s geological make-up, materials tend to trickle down to the lowest layers, which makes their future recovery appear rather difficult.

Consequently, there is an acute risk that the ‘Magredi’ region, and the rocky terrain that makes it so distinctive, will be devastated; what is more, the area is protected as both a site of Community importance and a Special Protection Area within the meaning of the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and the Birds Directive (2009/147/EC), due to the wide variety of flora and fauna present there(2).

1. Is the Commission aware of this contamination?

2. Can it report whether any similar cases have occurred in the EU, how they were tackled and whether the areas affected were restored to their original state?

3. What initiatives does it intend to implement in order to prevent similar episodes from occurring in the EU, and in particular to prevent the contamination of aquifers?

(1) The same missiles were also used at the inter-force firing range in Quirra (Sardinia), which is sadly famous for the effects resulting from thorium-232 contamination.
(2) SCI IT3310009 ‘Magredi del Cellina’, SPA IT3311001 ‘Magredi di Pordenone’.
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March 8, 2017 - Posted by | environment, Italy, Reference, thorium, wastes, weapons and war

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