15 July 1999 Edition

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Nuclear ships to pass by Irish coast

BY ROISIN DE ROSA

Does Minister Woods agree with nuclear fuel ships sailing by our coast? ``Does he? That is what I want to ask of the minister whose job it is to protect this state, its marine and natural resources,'' says Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan.

Greenpeace has discovered that British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (BNFL) intends to ship nuclear fuel to Japan shortly. The shipment, apparently to be protected from `terrorist attack' by an accompanying heavily-armed frigate, contains MOX (Mixed Oxide), a fuel which contains both uranium and plutonium.

BNFL has said that this shipment, which must pass right along the coast of Ireland through St. Georges' channel, which is only 40 miles wide at Carnsore Point, on its way across the Atlantic, sails with the agreement of the Irish government.

``All of us here in the county know people who have cancer or who have died of cancer. On just one road here in county Louth, every house has someone affected,'' says Arthur Morgan. ``How can Minister Woods agree to let this ship pass by. What gives him the right to allow it?''

Denis Maher, a spokesperson for Minister Woods' department, says ``it is not a matter for agreement or disagreement. We would prefer that these shipments weren't happening.'' Did the government then make a complaint about these forthcoming shipments? ``No. That is not in question, if these ships pass through waters adjacent to ours. We may not like it, but we have to accept it as the de facto situation. The ships do not come into our territorial waters, I can guarantee that.''

Territorial waters extend to some 300-350 miles offshore. Will there be ships or observation in place to guarantee that BNFL does not adopt the shortest passage on the convoy's way through St. George's Channel? ``No. I know the route that they take. There is a government agreement between ourselves, France and England that we be notified. We have been notified of the days of sailing.''

And what days are they? People might like to know. Maher replied that he would not be at liberty to disclose this information. ``Their job is only to notify the proper authorities''. That does not extend, it seems, to the people of Ireland.

So did Minister Woods agree? He didn't disagree. And in the words of Voltaire, deciding to do nothing is to support the status quo - what Mr. Maher calls the de facto situation.

``De facto it may be, which is just exactly why we want it changed,'' says Arthur Morgan. `` People are dying here in Ireland just because of Sellafield. Minister Woods clearly did not heed Alan Mullen's advice, just before his death, `to shout it from the rooftops'.''

Shouting it might not achieve the closure of Sellafield, but at least it's a start.

An Phoblacht
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