A retired Dutch couple who moved to a village in the Corrèze department in deepest rural France are facing financial ruin after it was discovered that the house they had purchased had been built of stone mined from a former uranium ore mine.
Ina and Kees Vander Sandt had bought what appeared to be a perfectly normal house built of stone in the village of Saint-Julien-aux-Bois in 2003 intending to retire there. After the purchase, they spent five years renovating the property before making a permanent move to the Corrèze in 2008.
By 2011, their dreams of a peaceful retirement in one of the most picturesque areas of France had been shattered. After an investigation by a team of radiological specialists from French company Algade it was discovered that the retired couple were at significant risk in their home as it had been built from stone extracted from a nearby uranium mine for which the French government had issued a concession to the quarriers, Jaladis, in 1980.
Mr Vander Sandt told local newspaper Le Populaire, “The prefecture (county hall) said our house was unsafe because of radon gas. Our lives are in danger. The only solution is to ventilate the rooms five or six hours per day. But in winter, when it’s -5°C to -10°C outside, it’s impossible to heat a house requiring constant ventilation."
Next week the couple are due to meet with building specialists to find out what essential works are necessary to make their French home safe, but they have already been told by the local authority that they will need to finance any remedial works themselves.
Mr Vander Sandt continued, "The prefecture told us that this work will be at our expense. We already know that it will be a very expensive project for a house that will unsaleable. We don’t have the means to leave our home. Financially, we are ruined and we’re condemned to live in the house until we become seriously ill.”
The couple’s one slender hope of financial recompense is to sue the former mine owners, the multinational French energy conglomerate Areva. The couple had contacted Areva who told them that at the time their house was built, the uranium mine was no longer active, reports La Montagne. Areva have denied responsibility on the basis that they had nothing to do with tradesmen who'd built the house from stone they’d found lying around the former Jaladis mine workings.
"It's Areva who abandoned radioactive materials open to the elements which endanger the lives of others,” said Yonnel Quevenne, president of the local branch of L’Association de defense de l’environnement, a French environmental protection charity. ”It ‘s as if a military camp had upped sticks leaving behind an ammo dump full of explosives."
This is not the first time Areva have been in the news concerning the former uranium mineworkings near Saint-Julien-aux-Bois. In 2011, France 3 Limousin reported that another environmental association had discovered that radioactive rocks, some weighing as much as 20 kilograms had been used in the construction of dams and forestry tracks around a lake at nearby Saint-Privat.
Radon is given off when radioactive elements such as uranium and thorium decay. The gas is a naturally occurring radioactive gas in the environment and can be found in many materials including granite, stone and sand. Normally, there is no danger to humans from these NORMs (Naturally Occurring Radioactive Minerals).
There can however be dangers to human health where concentrations of radon build up, as in Mr and Mrs Vander Sandt’s living space. If you’re at all worried about radon in building materials then further information can be found here on the Radon Information Center website.