Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

EU received no information on contamination by Malta

The Times of Malta - 3 April 2005

by Ivan Camilleri in Brussels

The European Commission was not alerted by Malta over any alleged contamination of sea waters in the vicinity of Malta and Sicily following a nuclear incident which happened four years ago in the Malta-Sicily strait.

The EU's Energy Commissioner Andris Pielbags raised this subject again following queries by Green MEPs in the European Parliament.

Last week, a number of Green MEPs requested new information about a nuclear incident, which happened in 2000 on a British submarine while on patrol in the Malta-Sicily strait.

The Green MEPs said that, four years ago, in May 2000, a serious failure developed in the cooling system of the nuclear reactor of the UK nuclear submarine HMS Tireless.

They said that, as a result of a series defect in the welding between two coolant containers, radioactive liquid leaked away into the Mediterranean and, more particularly, into the Sicilian Maltese channel where the submarine was positioned at that time.

They added that the information on this incident was not revealed until the end of 2000, when the submarine arrived in Gibraltar harbour for repairs in the Royal Navy dockyard. Despite the protests of local and regional authorities, the submarine remained in Gibraltar for many weeks.

The Green MEPs alleged that, although this incident appeared to be quite serious, the UK authorities have continued to state that only a minor incident was involved, with no harmful effects, and no further information has been disclosed.

They added that independent investigations at the end of last year suggest that the incident might have been far more serious than admitted by the British authorities and that large quantities of radioactive liquid were released into the sea at the time of the incident.

Sources close to the Commission told The Sunday Times that, although the incident did happen, it does not appear that any huge quantity of radioactive liquid was released into the sea.

The sources said that, if this happened, it would have been immediately detected by the Italian and Maltese authorities. The fact that four years passed and no complaints were raised by either Malta or Italy shows that the alleged release of radioactive liquid did not happen.

Energy Commissioner Pielbags said in Parliament that a Council decision sets up an alert system for an early exchange of information in the event of a radiological emergency.

This applies "whenever a member state decides to take measures of a widespread nature to protect the general public in case of a radiological emergency".

During a debate on the same incident in late 2000, following the first press reports unveiling the HMS Tireless incident, Dr Charles Tannock, a British MEP representing Gibraltar, had described the allegations of a radioactive discharge as "inappropriate". He said that the level of radiation in the sea was "so low that it was actually fit to drink".

Following this incident, the British Navy recalled all the Tireless's sister ships for reactor inspections.