After a total of five separate public consultation exercises, beginning in February 1997, the Government has finally approved the start of operations at the Sellafield MOX Plant.
The plant will manufacture fuel (made from mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium – hence ‘MOX’) for nuclear power stations using material recovered from old, exhausted (or ‘spent’) fuel rods. The MOX fuel will initially be manufactured for the export market and will be dispatched on armed ships or perhaps even by plane direct from Sellafield in Cumbria.
The decision to go ahead with the manufacture of MOX fuel is highly controversial because it will perpetuate the production of plutonium at the Sellafield site with all of the attendant problems of pollution, security and nuclear proliferation.
Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have launched a legal challenge to the Government’s decision based on the fact that ‘the manufacturing plant can never be economically viable’.
Alongside this challenge, the Irish Government have also launched a legal case to prevent the MOX plant from starting up and are arguing that its operations would breach international laws on sea pollution.
The Irish Sea is already the most radioactively contaminated sea in the world and on 9 November 2001 Ireland will ask the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg to order an immediate suspension of the authorisation of the MOX plant and international transports, pending any decision of the arbitration tribunal. Irish officials are also concerned that they have received no information about a safety review of the site following the terrorist attacks on September 11th.
Norway is also considering legal action to stop the MOX plant from opening. Norway already suffers significant radioactive pollution of its fish, shellfish and lobsters as a result of Sellafield’s activities and is keen to prevent further contamination. The Norwegians are also concerned that the MOX plant represents a potential terrorist target.