Umicore welcomes Minister Verlinden in Olen as part of preliminary draft of remediation of radiologically contaminated sites

Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden provides a legal framework so that soils contaminated by radioactive substances can be cleaned up. The Council of Ministers approved a preliminary law at her request. This will allow the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) in the future to impose safety measures and financial burdens on users and owners of potentially contaminated sites and to enforce remediation.

In the context of this preliminary draft law, the Minister visited the Umicore site in Olen.

"Our country has a number of sites contaminated by natural or artificial radioactive substances. Due to the lack of a legal framework, remediation cannot currently be enforced. We are now changing this. The vote of the new law is a crucial step in the protection of the population and the environment against radiological risks," says Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden.

An example of such a contaminated site is Umicore's site in Olen. It is a result of the historical radium production activities of the former Union Minière, which ceased operations in the 1970s. The production facilities have since been dismantled, while the residue storage area has been remediated to eliminate any potential harmful effects on workers, local residents and the environment.

Union Minière's historical activities led to contamination of the soil with low-level radioactive residues, not only inside but also outside the perimeter of Umicore's current site. Although the radiological consequences are limited for the time being and regular radioactivity measurements by the FANC show that there is no danger for public health, it is important to further decontaminate the soil in the long run. Only then can they be reused for other purposes.

"Umicore is very pleased with this legislation, which brings clarity to this complex issue for all stakeholders. In Union Minière's working group on the remediation of historical radium activity, FANC, ONDRAF/NIRAS, OVAM and Umicore have been working together for some time to find concrete and sustainable solutions for this historical contamination.

This legislation is in line with our commitment and conviction as a responsible company, to manage our historical liabilities in the best possible way and to work out long term solutions.”

Pierre Van de Bruaene, Umicore Senior VP Environment, Health and Safety

"For the inhabitants of Olen, it is particularly important that a definitive solution is found for the temporarily stored material on and around the Umicore site. As mayor of the municipality of Olen, I welcome the necessary legal framework for the decontamination works of the site," said Seppe Bouquillon, mayor of Olen.

Thanks to the new legal framework of Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden, which has now been submitted to the Council of State for its opinion, the FANC will be able to act on existing and possible future pollution. It will be able to enforce safety measures, such as setting up a safety perimeter or stopping excavation work. It will also be able to impose financial charges and force owners and users of contaminated land to clean up.

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