Nuclear infringements

The European Commission today ruled that BNFL is in breach of the Euratom Treaty because it is unable to account for nuclear material at its Sellafield nuclear facility.

The European Commission has concluded that British Nuclear Fuel (BNFL) has failed to comply with the provisions of the Euratom Treaty because it is unable to account for nuclear material at its Sellafield nuclear facility.

Yesterday, the Commission sent a request to the UK nuclear authorities demanding they to put an end to the situation. Now, the UK authorities will have to submit an action plan by 1 June 2004 proposing the measures needed to put an end to the infringement.

BNFL manages a number of facilities at the Sellafield site in the UK. Most of them process spent nuclear fuel. Pursuant to the Euratom Treaty, these installations are subject to Community inspections that consist of checking accounting records of the nuclear material held by the operators and comparing them with the results of on-the-spot inspections. The ultimate aim of the inspections is to ensure that the nuclear material used is not diverted from peaceful uses.

However, for a number of years, the Commission’s inspection services have informed BNFL that the nuclear material held in its B30 facility could not be inspected properly, in contravention of Articles 79 and 81 of the Euratom Treaty. That’s because it is irradiated fuel stored in a pond.

In accounting terms, it is impossible to determine accurately the quantities of material stored, and on-the-spot inspections cannot take place because of the high level of radiation and poor visibility in the facility.

Recognising the technical difficulties preventing an immediate solution, the Commission has regularly requested BNFL, the last time in March 2003, to submit an overall plan setting out the measures needed to put an end to the situation. However, despite its commitments, BNFL has so far failed to come up with a formal action plan or adopt the measures needed to put an end to the infringement once and for all.

The Commission today formally adopted a Directive under Article 82 of the Euratom Treaty enjoining the UK to present to the Commission before 1 June 2004 an overall plan ensuring adequate accounting for the nuclear material in question, as well as physical access to the facilities concerned. In addition, the UK authorities are required to submit to the Commission a report on progress with implementing the plan every six months.

Should the UK authorities fail to meet these obligations within the deadlines set, the Commission could impose penalties directly on BNFL.