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Ireland Takes UK to Court Over Sellafield Plant

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Ireland takes UK to court over Sellafield plant

Last edited: 2002-10-21

The Irish Government is taking the British to court today in an effort to stop the controversial production and transportation of dangerous MOX nuclear fuel. The transport of a consignment from Japan last month caused uproar in the Republic.

The Irish are bringing a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The hearing will concern the licensing and operation of the controversial Sellafield plant in Cumbria, where the MOX operation is based. Ireland will argue that when the British Government approved the plant it withheld vital information on the operation of the facility, including its commercial viability. Ireland is seeking access to details in UK Government reports relating to authorisation of the Sellafield operation which at the time were said to be 'commercially sensitive'.

Shaun Burnie, nuclear campaigner at Greenpeace, said,

"The UK Government has been rightly dragged into an international court over its obsessive and secretive support for a nuclear business that makes no economic sense. This business will lead to massive radioactive contamination of the environment, and puts into global commerce thousands of kilograms of bomb-usable plutonium,"

In 2001, Greenpeace legally challenged the UK Government's approval of the Sellafield MOX plant on the grounds that its environmental risk outweighed any economic benefits, and that authorisation was therefore not justified under European law. The UK argued that BNFL would secure business with its largest potential clients in Japan, and that the £470m cost of the plant could be written off at taxpayers expense. The High Court in London accepted the arguments of the UK Government, but Ireland's case in an international court stands a greater chance of success.

Since the process was launched in June 2001, BNFL has informed the UK Government that it is bankrupt, despite having for years claimed that its plutonium business was highly profitable. BNFL has also failed to secure any MOX contracts with Japan, and has little prospect of securing business following a series of major scandals in Japan in recent months.

"Ireland's case this week is a milestone in the global efforts to stop this dangerous trade and will be watched by nations around the world who demand an end to this madness. Hiding behind the curtain of commercial sensitivity when the issue is trading in nuclear weapons material is clearly unacceptable and hopefully this week the curtain will be lifted," Burnie added.

Over 80 Governments recently condemned a shipment made by BNFL of rejected plutonium MOX fuel from Japan to the UK. The Arbitration Court is expected to make a decision later this year.

Notes to editors:

Ireland is also pursuing a legal case against the UK and the Sellafield MOX plant through the International Tribunal for the United Nations Law of the Sea. That case will come to court in 2003.

Ireland is citing its rights under the Oslo Paris Commission (OSPAR) Article 9 to have access to information. It has brought the case to be settled through international arbitration as allowed under Article 32. The case relates to the disclosure of information by the UK Government during the authorisation process for the MOX plant.

The OSPAR formally has no involvement in this case which will centre on what is covered by commercial exemptions to the right to access information in a convention covering pollution in the north-east Atlantic. The OSPAR convention was opened for signature in Paris in 1992 and has been signed or ratified by 15 European nations.

The Sellafield MOX plant through its operation will increase radioactive discharges to the Irish Sea and increase the amount of nuclear waste at the Sellafield site. It will also lead to an increase in the transportation of plutonium through the Irish Sea (and around the world) threatening environmental contamination, nuclear accident, terrorist attack and proliferation.

In June 2001 the then Irish Minister responsible for Sellafield issues, Joe Jacobs, stated, "…Dublin believes the development is neither economically nor socially justified. Last week the Irish Minister for the Environment Eamon Cullen described the case as a "defining moment" in the drive to have the British Nuclear Fuels complex at Sellafield closed down. "Getting access to those reports is the key to making a factual assessment on which to base further action," he said. See, Irish Times October 17th 2002.

The century-old Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) was established by the Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, concluded at The Hague in 1899 during the first Hague Peace Conference. The most concrete achievement of the Conference was the establishment of the PCA: the first global mechanism for the settlement of inter-state disputes. The 1899 Convention, which provided the legal basis for the PCA, was revised at the second Hague Peace Conference in 1907. There are currently 97 States, which are parties to one or both of the Conventions. Three nominated Arbitration Judges will hear the case during the next week.

In particular the UK Government commissioned the report, "Assessment of BNFL's Business Case for the Sellafield MOX Plant," from consultants Arthur D Little. The report was released in July 2001 but vital financial and other data about the prospects for the plant were censored and not released publicly, to the UK High Court or the Government of Ireland. ADL did not consider the possibility that BNFL may fail to win business in Japan, even though future Japanese contracts even then were highly uncertain. Alongside BNFL, ADL has subsequently gone bankrupt.

Further information:

Contact:

Greenpeace press office on 0207 865 8255

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