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European Parliament says take N-weapons off alert for Y2K

10 November 1999

The European Parliament today passed by a substantial majority a resolution called 'On the year 2000 Bug in the Civil and Military Sectors', in which it called for nuclear weapons to be taken off hairtrigger alert and for nuclear reactors to be shut down over the Y2K rollover. The European Parliament has been lobbied by an unprecedented combination of Australian, US, Japanese, and European activists who are concerned that the year 2000 date change does not see either global nuclear catastrophe or one or more major reactor accidents.

According to Friends of the Earth Sydney Australia nuclear campaigner John Hallam:

"The European Parliament has shown commendable commonsense. The Canberra Commission of 1996, the Tokyo Forum, and two resolutions last year in the United Nations General Assembly as well as two resolutions this year in the same body have called for the de-alerting of strategic nuclear weapons. The Senate here in Australia has passed two measures aimed at the avoidance of what the US Senate has called 'unintended deadly consequences' as a result of computer-generated false alarms in nuclear weapons related systems, and 71 US congressional representatives have signed on to a motion in the US Congress calling for nuclear weapons to be taken off alert."

"A variety of bodies in the US, Europe, and Japan have pointed to the unwisdom of allowing nuclear reactors in which safety functions are controlled by complex computer software to operate through the date change.
Especial concern has been expressed concerning reactors in Russia and Ukraine, but concern exists across the board in Europe (east and west), Japan, the US, and Russia."

"We hope the year 2000 date change will pass without incident. However, the measures we have asked for are commonsense ones, which have been advocated for their intrinsic benefit, with or without Y2K. If nothing happens over the Y2K rollover, so much the better. But why not take commonsense precautions such as taking 5,600 nuclear weapons off hairtrigger alert, and ensuring that nuclear reactors have adequate backup power supplies when these are things that should be done anyway?"

"These measures are far from radical. They are commonsense responses to a problem that requires a cautious, responsible, and realistic approach. We commend the resolution."


Tabled by
Elly Plooij-Van Gorsel on behalf of the ELDR Group,
Maj-Britt Theorin on behalf of the PSE Group,
Heidi Hautala and others on behalf of the Green/EFA Group,
Giles Chichester and others on behalf of the PPE Group,
?? on behalf of the GUE Group

To replace resolutions B5-268/99 (ELDR), B5-279/99 (PSE), B5-292/99 (Green/EFA), B5-303/99 (PPE),

On the Year 2000 Bug in the civil and military sectors

The European Parliament,

- having regard to the responsibilites of the EU in the areas of major accidents and their consequences, relating to radioactive and chemical pollution, and its role in nuclear safety under the Euratom Treaty,

- having regard to the report of Parliament on the 'Year 2000 problem, which requested a 3 monthly update from the Commission, as well as various reports from the Commission, and the conclusions and the resolution of Council, as well as the work of the G8 and the IAEA,

- having regard to the update given by the Commission to the Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy Committee on November 8th,

A. noting growing concern worldwide that the failure of computers to recognize the year 2000 date change could affect control systems at nuclear and other environmentally sensitive plants, as well as off-site electrical supplies from the networks to such plant, in addition to command, control, communications and intelligence systems of nuclear forces,

B. whereas nuclear power plant safety systems are not generally digitally based, though monitoring systems normally are, and while the Commission has recognised that enormous progress has been made, there is also increasing acceptance about the infeasibility of bringing all such computerised systems to year 2000 computer compliance, resulting in some risk of infrastructure disruption, and a lack or preparedness amongst SMEs,

C. noting that as a result, according to respected analysts, there exists a small but unacceptable risk of serious nuclear or other accidents, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, and the NIS, especially where nuclear plant use plutonium fuel, and similar risk of an accidental nuclear war,

D. whereas there are hundreds of operating nuclear plants and research reactors and thousands of other environment-sensitive plants around the globe, and whereas there are such installations in all EU Member States, and whereas data errors have caused mishaps and near accidents at nuclear power stations in the past,

E. whereas date errors and false signals may also affect the nuclear armed forces, with potentially disastrous consequences, notably where nuclear weapons are on "hair-trigger" alert, such as in the United States of America and the Russian Federation, and whereas two EU Member States have nuclear armed forces which may be affected by year 2000 computer problems,

F. welcoming the UK government's announcement that it has relaxed the notice to fire of its nuclear forces from minutes to days,

G. noting that in 1996 the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons recommended that all nuclear forces be taken off hair-trigger alert, preferably by physical separation of the warheads from delivery vehicles,

H. noting that a number of resolutions in the UN General Assembly, notably Resolution 53/77Y "Towards a nuclear weapon- free world: the need for a new agenda", have called for nuclear forces to be de-alerted,

1. Calls on the governments of the states having a nuclear weapon capability to take all the necessary steps to avoid that year 2000 computer problems may lead to the accidental or unintended firing of nuclear weapons by 'de-alerting' those weapons;

2. Calls on all non-nuclear-weapons Member States of the European Union to make vigorous representations to that effect;

3. Calls on all governments to instruct the operators of all nuclear or other environment-sensitive plant not able to verifiably demonstrate their complete Y2K compliance, that such plant must be at least temporarily shut down at the Millennium, and that in any case stand-by electrical power should be available for up to 60 days at all nuclear plant to operate cooling pumps and safety systems, and longer term back-up must be provided for spent fuel cooling ponds; suggests that the Council and Commission press all governments accordingly, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and the NIS, and Turkey;

4. Recalls and restates its resolution of 25/02/99 on "The Year 2000 Computer Problem", and notes that in the meantime two particular problems seem to persist:

- the degree of progress in some Member States is not sufficient, which may lead to consequences in view of existing cross-border global and sectorial levels of integration;

- SMEs are more exposed to possible disruption than big international companies and a certain number of them may be liable to suffer heavy financial consequences if they do not adjust in time, requiring urgent action by the Commission, and national and regional administrations;

5. Strongly recomments that the European Council of Helsinki, to be held just a couple of weeks before the turn of the century, adopt appropriate measures, and make an awareness statement to the European citizens on the precise situation of the problem and the potential risks;

6. Calls on the OECD Members to urgently provide specific resources to Central and Eastern European countries and the NIS for the purpose of financing alternatives to their nuclear power plants at the Millennium and in the medium term, to close down those nuclear power plants no longer fulfilling internationally recognised safety standards and to fund alternative sources of energy;

7. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Commission, the Council, the UN Security Council, the IAEA, the governments of the Member States and the applicant states and the Members of the OECD and the IAEA.

John Hallam
Friends of the Earth Sydney.

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