EC to take legal action over Sellafield

04 September 2004
By Geoff Meade

THE European Commission is to take legal action against the British Government over "unacceptable failings" in dealing with nuclear waste at the Sellafield plant in Cumbria.
The commission is convinced Sellafield's operator, British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), is meeting EU standards for tackling nuclear waste. However, the dispute is over verification of the safety of spent nuclear fuel currently stored in a 'pond' at the Sellafield site.

Fine Gael MEP, Avril Doyle Avril Doyle said the commission's move was "a long time coming".

"At last the EU Commission has accepted the concern voiced by the Irish people and others in relation to the hazardous irradiated fuel storage area," she said.

She said British Nuclear Fuels had failed to grant proper access to EU inspectors with the most recent incident occurring last June. "It is now high time to back up censure with legal action," she added.

The situation at Sellafield was "unacceptable", said Loyola de Palacio, commission vice-president responsible for Energy and Transport. "This problem has been known for a long time, but no concrete initiative has been taken by the operator to rectify it. The situation had therefore become untenable for the commission."

The British Government acknowledges the problems of accounting precisely for the waste, but ministers are annoyed the commission is pursuing BNFL using rules designed to ensure nuclear waste does not get into the wrong hands.

A British Government spokesman said: "The Government has already set up a decommissioning agency to clean up at Sellafield.

"There is no suggestion of any leakage. What we are talking about is verifying the exact scale of nuclear material waste deposited in a pond many many years ago. We know where it is, and we have been analysing with the Commission how best to deal with it for several years. But we will not be rushed into any action not in line with the imperatives of public and environmental safety," he said.

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