10/06/2003

Irish government's legal case against Sellafield gets under way

The Irish government has begun legal proceedings in The Hague today to seek the closure of the Sellafield power plant.

Five international arbitrators will begin hearing the oral phase of the dispute brought against the UK by the Government of Ireland under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The tribunal will consider Ireland's claim that the UK's decision that the manufacture of MOX fuel at Sellafield is justified was taken without "proper regard to certain provisions of UNCLOS" - a claim the UK Government emphatically refutes.

On the eve of the hearing, UK Energy Minister Brian Wilson said: "We understand Irish concerns over Sellafield and were pleased that Ireland participated in the five separate rounds of consultation on the MOX plant.

"The fact is that the Sellafield MOX Plant does not generate any significant radioactive waste and has virtually no impact on radioactive discharges. The European Commission has made clear that the operation of the plant would not lead to any detrimental environmental impact on Ireland, or indeed on any other Member State of the European Union.

"We therefore regret that this case has been brought. We will respond comprehensively to Ireland's arguments and demonstrate that they have no basis in law or in fact."

Ireland's Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Martin Cullen, has described the Irish Government’s legal action relating to the MOX plant at Sellalfield as “an action to protect Ireland’s interests”.

The Minister said: “The case was taken when the strongly held objections of the Irish government to the commissioning of this plant, conveyed many times and over many years to the UK, were disregarded. We regret that our concerns were rejected and that we were required to take these steps to protect Ireland’s interests.”

Attorney General, Rory Brady SC, will lead the Irish legal team and will make the opening statement to the Tribunal.

The case is the second of two international legal actions undertaken by Ireland against the UK in relation to the Sellafield MOX Plant. Oral proceedings in the first case took place in October 2002 under the OSPAR Convention and a decision is pending.

The Sellafield MOX Plant manufactures Mixed Oxide (uranium and plutonium) fuel for use in foreign nuclear power stations. Before the plant could begin to operate, the practice of MOX fuel manufacture had to be justified in accordance with European legislation. Following five rounds of public consultations beginning in January 1997, Margaret Beckett and Alan Milburn decided that MOX manufacture was "justified" in October 2001.

The hearings will proceed for approximately three weeks from June 10 to 27 and will be open to the public with some exceptions where material being referred to is of a confidential nature.

(GMcG)

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