MPs call for proceedings against Germany over uranium exports

High Representative Josep Borrell is to examine a possible criminal case against Germany, according to the wishes of two German MPs. [EPA-EFE | Yves Hermann]

Two German MPs are calling on the European Commission to initiate infringement proceedings against their home country for exporting depleted uranium to Russia, possibly in violation of EU law. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Authors of the letter are the Greens’ spokeswoman on nuclear policy, Sylvia Kotting-Uhl, and the deputy leader of the parliamentary group, Oliver Krischner.

The MPs sent their request in a letter, seen by EURACTIV, sent on  6 October to EU Commissioner for Economic Affairs Valdis Dombrovskis and EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell. The letter states that Germany is violating an EU regulation on sanctions against Russia implemented after the annexation of Crimea.

The charge has to do with the exports of depleted uranium from the URENCO company in Gronau, Westphalia, to Russia.

The export of nuclear waste abroad is prohibited under German law, but the responsible Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA) classifies the material as a recyclable material that can be reused.

However, according to a legal opinion commissioned by the Green Party, this is precisely what is problematic: depleted uranium can be processed into projectiles, which have a special penetrative force due to their high density.

The sale of the militarily usable waste material to Russia is, therefore “incompatible with Union law,” according to the conclusion of the European law legal expert Bernhard Wegener from the University of Erlangen/Nuremberg in his report last week.

The EU prohibited in a 2014 resolution the sale of so-called dual-use goods to Russia – goods that were not primarily produced for military purposes, but which can be used for such purposes.

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Uranium goes into a “closed city”

The letter was preceded by intensive research, as the authors had attempted to gain insight into the work of the BAFA on uranium exports.

The agency had come to the conclusion that the substance would find “exclusively civilian end use” in Russia, according to an answer given by a state secretary at the Economy Ministry in 2019.

However, according to Wegener, the German authorities have no way of verifying the whereabouts or use of the uranium.

The transports from Germany went to the Russian city of Novouralsk, one of the remaining ‘closed cities’ of the country. It was once the site of Soviet nuclear weapons production and special secrecy rules still apply to the city.

From the answers to their parliamentary questions, one could conclude that the BAFA apparently only prohibits licensing if there is concrete evidence of the danger of military end-use, wrote Kotting-Uhl and Krischner.

This would be contrary to what EU law stipulates because the authority would have to “actively assess the risk of military use to come to a positive conclusion that such a risk does not exist,” the letter said. The European Commission should therefore issue a warning to Germany in public proceedings, they demand.

For Kotting-Uhl, exports should be stopped as quickly as possible – she claims the next one is due next Monday – and the Gronau uranium factory, “with its mountains of highly toxic and radiating nuclear waste”, should also be closed.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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