Spanish Radioactive Leak Brings Italian Lawsuit

TURIN, Italy, December 13, 2000 (ENS) - Magistrates in the Italian city of Turin have charged two directors of a Spanish firm with "dangerous disposal of materials," over a 1998 leak of radioactive material from the company's Algeciras smelting plant.

A trial is scheduled for next year, public prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello told reporters, and could theoretically result in prison sentences.

In June 1998 a plume of radioactive caesium-137 was detected across five European countries. The caesium-137 had been detected in France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Germany - but not in Spain. Experts in Europe and also Greenpeace reported that radioactivity levels were up to 1,000 times higher than normal.

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Acerinox foundry in Algeciras, Spain (Photo courtesy Acerinox)
Its source was eventually traced to a foundry in Algeciras in southern Spain, owned by a company called Acerinox.

No other legal actions are known to have been brought against the firm.

Turin public prosecutors are charging Victoriano Munos Cava and Rafel Naranjo Olmedo with "dangerous disposal of material" intended to sully, offend and molest individuals, especially the inhabitants of Turin and surrounds."

They claim that radioactivity released by Acerinox principally affected the regions of Piedmonte and Veneto, but also registered in Lombardy, Trentino and the central region of Marche. It caused atmospheric and "considerable" ground pollution, says Guariniello.

The charges have been brought following a year long investigation into the accident, which happened when a caesium-137 source was inadvertently smelted along with a shipment of scrap metal.

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Aerial view of the Acerinox foundry. (Photo courtesy Acerinox)
Turin magistrates say that the release happened because of a temporary mechanical fault at the plant combined with a lack of manual checks on input materials.

During the magistrates' investigation, the two Acerinox bosses claimed that the accidentally smelted caesium-137 had been contained in a scrap metal shipment from the USA, purchased through Dutch intermediary, Jewmetaal, which trades one-quarter of the world's scrap stainless steel.

But Guariniello said that he and his colleagues had not been able to establish that Jewmetaal supplied Acerinox with the radioactively contaminated shipment. "The trail is unclear," he said.

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