Human-caused disasters cause more human fatalities and economic losses
than natural disasters in Europe. Despite overall higher technological
and safety levels in Europe, the number of industrial accidents in the
European Union continues to rise (EC undated). In 1997, there were 37
major industrial accidents — the highest annual number since records began
in 1985 (EEA 1999). In contrast to accidents in fixed installations, major
oil spills from marine transport and offshore installation accidents have
shown a downward trend (ITOPF 2000) although the total number of oil spills
appears to be increasing (EEA 2001b).
It is likely that the overall risk from nuclear accidents
increased in the 1970s as more plants were commissioned but declined in
the 1990s as older plants were taken out of service and the building of
new ones either slowed or was completely abandoned due to public pressure.
However, quantifying the risk from accidental releases of radionuclides
is not possible due to lack of sufficiently detailed, comparable information.
A widespread campaign on increasing the safety of new and already functioning
civil nuclear reactors, especially in CEE countries, was catalysed by the
1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union. Significant
resources have been allocated to increasing nuclear safety at nuclear processing
plants (for example, €838 million was spent by the European Commission between
1991 and 1998 (EC 2001)). However, a complicating factor is the increasing
deterioration of the older nuclear power plants in the Russian Federation
and Lithuania built to a similar design to the Chernobyl reactor.
Helicopter sprays water on one of the forest
fires that periodically plague southern European countries such
as Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Slovenia and Spain; fires are
also common in the Siberian region of the Russian Federation
Source: UNEP, Rougier, Topham Picturepoint
Analyses of major industrial accidents indicate that component failure
and operator error are the two most common immediate causes but the dominant
underlying causes identified were poor safety and environmental management
(Drogaris 1993, Rasmussen 1996). The age of process plants is a further
factor as the probability of ‘wear-out’ failure increases with age (M&M
Protection Consultants 1997). Lack of expenditure on safety and environmental
management, and operating plants past their design life, are often a result
of pressure from shareholders wishing to increase profitability, although
this may result in major losses in the long run. However, they also reveal
gaps in regulation and monitoring. The mining accident at Baia Mare, Romania,
in January 2000 served as a rather sobering reminder of the shortcomings
in enforcement of environmental regulations in the countries of Eastern
Europe (see box).
|Baia Mare: analysis of a mining accident
At 22:00 on 30 January 2000, a dam wall failed at a mine tailings
reclamation facility at Baia Mare in northwestern Romania, spilling
100 000 m3 of wastewater polluted with cyanide into the
Tisa river and then the Danube, eventually entering the Black Sea,
by which time it had become significantly diluted. The spill devastated
large numbers of plant and wildlife species in the river systems.
The Baia Mare Task Force, set up to investigate, reported that
faults in the design of the operating plant, including inadequate
construction of the dams, contributed to the accident. The key problem
was believed to be the ineffectiveness of the permitting and enforcement
authorities. The permitting process was over-complex and the Task
Force concluded that the original environmental impact assessment
was flawed. Furthermore, no measures were established to deal with
an emergency, and monitoring of the water level in the tailings
pond where the dam broke was inadequate.
Source: BMTF 2000