A nasty discharge?

The Irish Government has taken its concerns about the Sellafield nuclear plant to The Hague in an attempt to get the UK Government to shut it down.

Yesterday, a panel of five international arbitrators based there began considering the Irish claim that the UK’s decision to manufacture MOX fuel at the plant is unjustified, and that it has been taken without proper regard to certain provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a law that contains various provisions concerning protection of the marine environment.

Earlier this month, the Irish Minister for the Environment & Local Government, Martin Cullen raised a number of concerns with the UK government about the Sellafield plant. These included the structural stability of a roof on a holding facility for Technetium-99, as well as the continued discharge of Technetium – 99 into the Irish Sea.

‘Two years ago, a report by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) of safety-related reports on Sellafield showed a deterioration in the safety performance at Sellafield and a weakness in control and supervision of operations at the site. Despite the fact that more than forty recommendations for improving safety at the plant were made in the report, two years on, a significant number of these recommendations have yet to be implemented,’ said Mr. Cullen.

‘Contamination of the Irish Sea by radioactive discharges is a fact. The needless reprocessing of spent fuel at Sellafield is the primary source of these discharges and we regard these discharges as objectionable and totally unacceptable,’ he added.

In a statement made on June 3, BNFL said that the B211 building at Sellafield is now approximately 50 years old and as such ‘cannot be expected to conform to the standards expected of modern plant’.

On the eve of the hearing, United Kingdom Energy Minister Brian Wilson appeared to be at odds with the Irish position.

‘The fact is that the Sellafield MOX Plant does not generate any significant radioactive waste and has virtually no impact on radioactive discharges. The European Commission has made clear that the operation of the plant would not lead to any detrimental environmental impact on Ireland, or indeed on any other Member State of the European Union,’ he said.

‘We regret that this case has been brought. We will respond comprehensively to Ireland’s arguments and demonstrate that they have no basis in law or in fact,’ he concluded.

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