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20 April 2000 Edition

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British government involved in Sellafield cover-up


Louth Sinn Féin County Councillor Arthur Morgan has said that management reshuffles announced at British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) this week are ``a distraction from the urgent requirement that the Sellafied nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria be shut down''. Morgan also said that following the broadcast of a Channel Four documentary on the issue, it was now clear that successive British governments had been involved in a massive cover-up in relation to the abuse of safety procedures at Sellafield.

British Nuclear Fuels Chairperson Norman Askew announced a major management restructuring plan on Tuesday, 18 April, and a two-year action plan entitled ``Going Forward Safely''. However, the fundamental problems with BNFL's business are not addressed in the report, which aims to treat the symptoms and not the cause of BNFL's problems which remains Sellafield's involvement in reprocessing plutonium.

Three damning Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) reports published in February revealed safety levels at Sellafield that were ``only just tolerable''. They also confirmed a build-up of highly dangerous liquid nuclear waste on the site and the deliberate falsification of safety records on plutonium fuel (MOX) shipped to Japan.

Since the revelations, BNFL's other regulator, the Environment Agency, has added to the NII's criticisms, saying they ``seriously question the competence of BNFL's management of radioactive waste and its commitment to environmental protection''.

On Thursday, 13 April, Britain's Channel Four television programme Dispatches revealed internal BNFL documents which showed cover up after cover up by BNFL and the British government in relation to safety breaches at Sellafield. The programme also highlighted the unhealthy relationship between BNFL and the British government, revealing government complicity with BNFL's digraceful record and the privileged tratement given to BNFL by the government which involved an abuse of the parliamentary process.

It also showed how BNFL scripted ministers' statements, drew up government legislation affecting the nuclear industry and got their way with the British Prime Minister.

Last week, Greenpeace and the Japanese campaign group Green Action, wrote jointly to the NII, revealing new evidence published in the UK, Germany and Japan since the NII reports. This evidence shows that the NII's investigation into the falsification of safety data on MOX fuel was far too lmited to discover the true extent of the problem.

Greenpeace spokesperson Dr Helen Wallace said:''The NII were wrong to assure the Japanese people that BNFL's fuel is safe. Their investigation failed to recognise the fundamental protection difficulties that BNFL has in making nuclear fuel from its growing stockpile of plutonium. BNFL's plutonium trade, always indefensible, is also economically unviable.''

BNFL's customers for MOX fuel in Japan, Germany and Switzerland have all suspended business with the company .

Since the NII reports were released, the Dublin government, along with Denmark has proposed an immediate end to the ongoing discharges of nuclear waste into the sea from reprocessing Sellafield and La Hague in France. The proposal will be considered by the Ospar Commission, which is charged with the prevention of marine pollution in the Northeast Atlantic region, in Copenhagen in June.

Greenpeace has called on British Prime Minister Tony Blair to back the proposal.

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