Ireland loses bid to shut Sellafield

Dec. 3, 2001 at 4:10 PM
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HAMBURG, Germany, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- Ireland on Monday lost a court battle to force Britain to shut down its Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant spewing waste into the Irish Sea.

An international tribunal rejected Ireland's plea, which sought to block the resumption of reprocessing of spent fuel from international nuclear power stations at Sellafield's mixed oxide plant, in northwestern England.

Irish officials said Dublin would now campaign for an international arbitration tribunal to be established under a United Nations provision to resolve the dispute.

Last month, Ireland asked the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to order immediate suspension of the British decision to resume reprocessing while conclusion of the arbitration was awaited.

The tribunal ruled, however, "the urgency of the situation did not require the prescription of the provisional measures as requested by Ireland."

Campaigners in the Irish east coast towns of Dundalk and Drogheda, as well as environmental campaigners Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, maintain inhabitants of the area suffer a higher than average incidence of cancer, which they blame on Sellafield.

Irish Attorney General Michael McDowell told a two-day hearing of the tribunal last month that "this is about protecting the Irish Sea from further radioactive pollution."

The British government argued in a written submission that the tribunal lacked jurisdiction.

Last month, Ireland added fuel to its fight for the closure of the controversial plant with a news media campaign in Britain.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern attacked Britain's decision to resume nuclear reprocessing at Sellafield in a full-page advertisement in the Times newspaper and broadcast interviews.

The Sellafield plant is due to restart reprocessing plutonium and uranium on Dec. 20 after it suspended operation because of a scandal over false accounting of safety procedures.

Ahern argued that Britain's policy on the mixed oxide, or MOX, plant was "fundamentally flawed" as the facility contravened international law on sea pollution.

"Sellafield poses an unacceptable and unnecessary risk to our environment," the advertisement read.

Furthermore, it argued, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the United States "we also believe that Sellafield poses a grave security risk to both our countries."

Ahern told a British Broadcasting Corp. interviewer, "We believe having enormous amounts of nuclear waste treading its way up and down the Irish Sea is a fundamentally flawed policy and one we object to strongly."

The Mox fuel plant at Sellafield was built in 1996 and has nuclear power stations worldwide as customers. But the discovery of false records of safety procedures led to cancellation of reprocessing business from Japan, Germany and other states.

The plant's state operator, British Nuclear Fuels, conducted a major shake-up of its management and received an embarrassing reprimand from an independent nuclear safety watchdog body.

The British government reacted to the Irish media campaign with the assertion that "all radioactive discharges from U.K. nuclear sites are stringently regulated to rigorous standards to ensure that health and the environment are properly protected."

Ireland disputed the claim and environmental campaigners vowed to back Ireland over the issue.

Janine Allis-Smith, a spokeswoman for Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, a local pressure group of residents around Sellafield, told the BBC, "We fully support this action and can understand how they (Irish) feel. They carry all the risks of Sellafield both in terms of possible terrorist attacks and pollution."

A British industry ministry spokesman sought to calm fears over a terrorist attack on Sellafield, saying rigorous security measures in place to protect the plant. He did not elaborate.

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