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Irish Times, Ireland,
29 October 2001

Dangers of proceeding with MOX

Britain`s decision to go ahead with the MOX plant at Sellafield was illogical, ridiculous and scandalous, writes David Andrews

The letters BNFL conjure up images of contaminated beaches, radiation leaks and faked safety records in the minds of Irish people everywhere. The words Windscale, Thorp and Sellafield are equally objectionable.

Following Clement Attlee`s decision to launch a programme to build a British atomic bomb, the British began producing plutonium at Windscale in Cumbria.

Not long afterwards, in 1957, there was a serious fire at the plant in which large amounts of radioactive energy were released. This was the first of a string of safety incidents which brought the very word Windscale into such disrepute that the site had to be renamed Sellafield.

Renaming Windscale did little to improve the safety record. In March 2000, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate published three reports on Sellafield. One report concerned the falsification of safety data relating to Mixed Oxide Fuel manufactured at the Sellafield MOX demonstration facility.

Another related to the control and supervision of operations at Sellafield; it was highly critical of safety standards at the plant. Nobody in Ireland had expected any different.

Of the 28 safety recommendations made in the report, few have been implemented.

Despite the appalling safety record, the pollution, the danger to all life on these islands and the increased risk of terrorist attack since September 11th, the British government has given the green light to the Sellafield MOX fuel fabrication plant.

It was a ridiculous, illogical and utterly scandalous decision, contemptuous of the millions of Irish people whose lives are daily placed in danger from the very existence of Sellafield, a faulty relic of the military-industrial complex. Their own people are also in very serious danger.

The environment knows no political borders and, just as it is wrong for one nation to pollute the rivers which flow into another, it is wrong for the British to endanger our lives and environment in this way.

At every stage in its development, we have objected strenuously to the MOX plant.

In the early 1990s, British Nuclear Fuel Ltd first sought planning permission for the plant and despite our objections, permission was granted in 1994. In 1996, BNFL applied to the British Environment Agency for approval to operate the plant.

The application was subject to five public consultations between 1997 and 2001, all of which featured strong Irish objections to the plant.

In addition, the British government at every level has been left in no doubt as to our opposition.

It ignored all objections.

The Sellafield plant already possesses an excess of stockpiled plutonium, without buyers and endangering us. MOX is part of the economically and environmentally illogical continuation of nuclear reprocessing at Sellafield which is producing gaseous and liquid radioactive material which contaminates the seas and air, creating even larger stockpiles which simply cannot be sold.

There is no economic justification for the MOX plant. The two main markets identified by BNFL for MOX fuel were Japan and Germany. Germany has already announced that it is phasing out nuclear power. Japan plans to build its own MOX plant thereby cutting Sellafield out of the equation.

The plant, which has already cost about ?750 million, has firm orders for only 11 per cent of its output.

Is it any wonder the British continue to refuse to fully release the information which they claim supports the economic justification of the plant? Worldwide, the spent nuclear fuel industry is separating more plutonium than the nuclear industry can utilise. The Sellafield stockpile is going to lie there for generations at least, getting bigger all the time, a growing danger.

Any reductions of the stockpile will be achieved largely by shipping the MOX or plutonium through the Irish Sea with the associated dangers of accident or terrorist attack.

Could a MOX-carrying ship withstand the impact of a shoulder-held SAM missile? Could Sellafield withstand the impact of a fully fuelled 747?

Plainly, there is no justification for the British government giving the green light to the MOX plant.

We have already initiated legal action in regard to the MOX plant under the OSPAR Convention.

This convention, for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, was opened for signature at the ministerial meeting of the Oslo and Paris Commissions in Paris on September 22nd, 1992.

Britain has ignored our calls to hold back on any final decision on the plant while this arbitration process was under way.

Maybe the Taoiseach`s close and genuinely warm relationship with Mr Tony Blair, which was a key factor in pushing the peace process to near settlement, would bring closure to these dangerous and serious differences between our two countries.

On this issue, as a nation, we are at the end of our tether. Additional legal action is required, at EU and UN level, to shut this plant.

The legal route is painfully slow, however, and while I understand that the Government will decide on its particular course of action within days, I feel that this is one of those issues, like the Birmingham Six or Carnsore Point, where people-power, letter-writing and peaceful public protest will play a key role.

Sellafield remains the most serious threat to our environment: it is in all of our interests that it be shut.


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