Prescott proposes disaster network

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The Independent Online
JOHN Prescott is to sound out European governments about setting up a Continent-wide emergency response network to go into instant action to tackle environmental disasters.

The Deputy Prime Minister - who had the idea on a visit last week to the site of an ecological disaster on the edge of Spain's Coto Donana national park - is to consult Cabinet colleagues about it and raise it at the council of European environment ministers, which he chairs next week.

At the same meeting, he will ask the European Commission to consider convening a special conference on the proposal.

The network, which would bring together experts from across the Continent, could first address the Spanish disaster, where five million cubic metres of toxic waste and sludge have contaminated more than 10,000 acres of land and threatened the largest nature reserve in Europe.

Mr Prescott, who offered the Spanish authorities help from British experts who tackled the contaminated land on the site of the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, said: "Having seen the situation, I have been convinced of the need for such a European emergency network."

He said it would be ready to spring into action in the wake of future accidents like the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl in 1986 or the release of dioxin from a factory in Seveso in northern Italy 10 years before.

He is also suggesting that regular reports on the Spanish disaster should be made part of a new "environmental audit" that he is arranging as one of the legacies of Britain's presidency of the European Union, which ends next month.

Britain has got together with the next three countries that will hold the chair up to the year 2000 - Austria, Germany and Finland - to ensure that issues raised under one presidency are not dropped by the next.