Corporate Responsibility

With this post I have a rare occasion to make use of the French that I studied three decades ago as an undergrad. This post is mostly a translation of an article that appeared in Le Monde and other French language media this week, but it seems like it was not picked up for translation into other languages.
The story highlights one more example of the bad stuff that happens when we trust corporations to do the right thing. This story shows, in a strange way, that the American right wing nuts are correct when they say “regulations are killing us.” Yes, the way government regulation is done these days, it certainly will kill us. Even if you believe that corporations will act responsibly in most cases, when it comes to the safe handling of medical isotopes, it only takes one bad actor to ruin the show for everyone.

Le Monde, August 14, 2012
Virginie Lefour

A Belgian corporation that produces material for nuclear medicine has gone bankrupt and has abandoned several cubic meters of nuclear waste, according to statements by Belgian authorities on August 14. The announcement comes one week after the discovery of possible fissures in a Belgian nuclear reactor.
Best Medical Belgium, part of an American group of companies located in Fleurus, close to Charleroi in the south of the country, declared bankruptcy in May and was placed under judicial administration. On July 17, L’Institut belge des radioelements (IRE), owner of the local facilities rented by Best Medical, inspected these sites accompanied by specialists from l’Organisme national des dechets radioactive (ONDRAF) and from l’Agence federal de controle nucleaire (AFCN).
In a letter addressed to the judicial administrators, made public by the daily news organizations Le Soir and De Standaard, the director of the IRE, Jean-Michel Vanderhofstadt, gives a frightening account of the state of the facilities. The director writes, “We observed in many places not only a general state of disrepair of the installations and equipment, but also, in an indescribable disorder, a mass not only of metal pieces, cases, files, papers, tools, tubes, electric cables, solvent bottles, hardware… but also radioactive waste consisting, for the most part, of combustible material.”

Necessary to “intervene rapidly”

Mr. Vanderhofstadt continued by saying the situation described constitutes a “risk to the safety of other nuclear installations on the site, and, as a consequence, for the environment and the population nearby.” He describes seven cubic meters of plastic bags and fifteen containers of strontium 90 that were found among the debris. “There is no danger for the nearby area,” but it is necessary “to intervene rapidly,” declared the head of the AFCN, Willy De Roovere. The Belgian Minister of the Interior, Joelle Milquet, said the situation was unacceptable and has ordered ONDRAF to handle the materials as fast as possible.
ONDRAF has already placed the substances of most concern in containers. The organization added that the treatment of waste material and decontamination of the site will begin in September and could last five to seven years. The question of the safety of nuclear installations came to the surface last week in Belgium with the announcement that “possible fissures” have been discovered in the containment structure of the Doel 3 reactor, near Anvers. The operator of this reactor, Electrabel, announced that it has been shut down since early June, is not to be restarted before the end of September.

Readers can note that the reporter avoided giving any background information on the American parent company, or any explanation of why the facilities were left in such disarray.
With a few moments of internet searching, I was able to find that the parent company is Best Medical International, of Springfield, Virginia, USA. The Belgian operation had been in a deteriorating relationship with its union, and Belgium in general, according to a letter it posted to its employees earlier this year.
It seems that the international business world has turned very sour on Belgium. The head of the multinational human resources company, Adecco, advised corporations bluntly in April this year, “If you can leave Belgium, run!” Well, it looks like Best Medical took the advice a little too seriously.
One thing that is easy to overlook in this story is that although Best Medical Belgium is bankrupt, the parent company Best Medical will carry on. In fact, it can, in theory, increase future revenue because of the radioactive waste it left behind in its Belgian location. More isotopes spread around means more future cancer cases. People working in health care wish to prevent cancer and they have genuine concern for patients, but the medical industrial complex itself has no structural incentive to prevent cancer. It has more revenue when there are more cancer patients to offer the hope of prolonged life.

1 comment:

  1. More isotopes spread around means more future cancer cases => the wastes left behing do not pose a problem of public exposure nor proliferation nor contaminations. they were present when NORDION left the site in such bad conditions and handed-over to BEST.