13 September 2000 Edition

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EU sues Britain over Sellafield

Secret memos equate Sellafield and Cromwell

The EU Commission announced on Monday, 11 September, that it is suing Britain over plans to dismantle a nuclear reactor at Sellafield in Cumbria.

The installation in question, the outmoded Windscale No. 1 pile reactor, was the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in the world, and the EU is taking action, it says, to protect Irish and other EU citizens. The complex was later renamed Sellafield.

Until last year, the British government refused to give details of plans for the Windscale reactor, asserting it was a military installation exempt from disclosure regulations. The British have now dropped that assertion but are still not providing the necessary information.

Sellafield has been in the news a lot this week. Secret memos leaked to the Guardian newspaper and dating from last summer, show that British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) protested privately to the British government that British diplomats had failed to back the company against Dublin government lobbying against the plant.

On eleaked memo, penned before a visit to the plant by Britain's ambassador to the 26 Counties, Ivor Roberts, bemoaned: ``In its dealings with the Irish government, the British embassy should stand foursquare behind BNFL. This has not always been the case.''

The memo claimed that Irish politicians'objections ``are ill-informed and are fuelled by politicians who see it as an easy issue on which, generally, they cannot lose''.

A further memo, however, goes no small way towards conceding why Irish people may have problems with a nuclear power and reprocessing plant on their doorsteps: ``In essence, opposition is based on the Irish perception that Ireland receives no economic gain from our operations but suffers the unaccepable disbenefit, however minimal of radioactive discharges, and is under the constant threat of the potential efects of a serious accident at Sellafield.''

The memo described Britain's 1998 signature to an international agreement to reduce radioactive discharges into the Irish Sea to almost nothing by 2020 as a ``victory for Ireland, however pyrrhic, as it is the first real aceptance by the UK of international pressure to reduce discharges - albeit over a very extended timescale.

The memo also claims that Irish opposition to Selafield ``is, as so many other things are in Ireland, the result, at least in part, of history... It is not unknown to see Cromwell and Sellafield both mentioned in the same newspaper article.'' Enough said.

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