Monday 19 November 2018

Sellafield plant opening unleashes wave of fury

Treacy Hogan Environment Correspondent

THE controversial new nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield yesterday opened for business, pushing Anglo-Irish relations to their lowest ebb in years.

After standing empty for more than five years, the mixed oxide (MOX) plant began preparing to recycle used uranium and plutonium to produce fuel for power stations across the world.

It expects to be producing fuel early next year.

The development was hailed as "wonderful news" by British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), the company that runs the plant, and welcomed locally as a jobs boost.

But yesterday's 2.15am move provoked the fury of the Irish Government.

Joe Jacob, Minister with Responsibility for Nuclear Safety, described the action by the British authorities as "one of supreme arrogance".

"It defies logic. It defies reason. It defies the laws of natural justice," he said.

"It is morally wrong to pollute the environment any environment. But when that environment forms part of another jurisdiction I can only describe it as a form of selfishness that knows no bounds and one that recognises no boundaries."

Mr Jacob vowed that the Government would continue to exploit every available legal avenue to shut down the plant.

It is believed that the first highly radioactive shipment was moved into the Cumbrian plant under darkness.

Commissioning the plant will increase radioactive discharges to the Irish Sea and expose Ireland to potentially catastrophic contamination from an accident or terrorist attack at Sellafield, the Government warned.

Yesterday's move also clears the way for armed shipments of nuclear waste and MOX nuclear consignments to travel through the Irish Sea next year less than 30 miles off the east coast of Ireland.

Green Party deputy John Gormley, who led a protest outside the plant yesterday, also expressed outrage that the British Government had allowed the new MOX plant to open.

The protest started at 8am yesterday with protestors chaining themselves to the railings outside the plant. Mr Gormley fronted a blockade with more than 100 protesters from the environmental campaign group, Gluaiseacht, in a bid to disrupt the plant's commissioning.

"This is an outrageous decision," Mr Gormley said. "This new MOX plant poses an enormous threat to the well-being of future generations of Irish people.

"It is unnecessary, it is not an economically viable proposition and it will now make it easier for terrorists to obtain nuclear material."

Mr Gormley said opponents would concentrate on future action. This would include continuing with the UN case; a possible legal challenge in the EU Court of Justice; a review of the Euratom Treaty and the building of a diplomatic international coalition against Sellafield.

This would include bringing pressure to bear on countries such as Japan and Germany who are sending spent fuel to Sellafield for reprocessing. The National Installation Inspectorate gave the go ahead after inspecting the plant yesterday..

Operations head Jack Allen said: "I am very proud of the MOX workforce who have worked so hard to get us to this stage."

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News