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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 12:27 GMT
UK to address Sellafield concerns
Opponents fear the plant may damage marine life
The UK Government says it will do what it can to address Scandinavian concern about radioactive discharges from the Sellafield plant in north-west England that move into the North Sea.

We are anxious to find a solution to technetium-99 which meets Norway's concerns

Michael Meacher,
UK environment minister
Environment Minister Michael Meacher accepted there was a "perception of harm" in countries like Norway, where people fear emissions from the nuclear reprocessing plant are damaging their vital fishing industry.

"I think they are right to be concerned about this problem," Mr Meacher told BBC Radio 4's Today programme from Bergen, where he is attending a two-day conference on North Sea pollution.

He said he was looking at ways of stopping emissions of a particular radioactive nuclide, technetium-99, that is of concern to the Norwegians.

Review process

Ocean currents carry small traces of radioactivity from Sellafield's waste pipe on the Irish Sea coast across to Scandinavia, and it has been detected in shellfish and seaweed in Norway.

Michael Meacher
Mr Meacher joined a protest about over-fishing
"I should make clear that there has been a 99% reduction in the discharge of radionuclides to the Irish Sea over the last 25 years," Mr Meacher said.

The risk to human health from Sellafield discharges was "minimal", he stressed.

He said a "formal decision" was about to be made on technetium-99, following the completion of a review of technology that "might make it possible" to remove it from the Sellafield's discharge.

Overfishing problem

The Bergen summit is being attended by nine countries that border the North Sea.

On Wednesday - the first day of talks - the Norwegian Government said it was taking legal advice on how to stop British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) discharging radioactive waste into the sea.

Mr Meacher was lobbied at the conference by peaceful demonstrators calling for the complete closure of Sellafield.

He was also confronted by a protest about overfishing in the North Sea.

The ministers are warning that large areas of the sea will need to be closed off to fishing within two years if the alarming decline in stocks is to be reversed.

The BBC's Tim Hirsch
"It has been detected in shellfish and seaweed"
UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher MP
"There is a perception of harm"
Norwegian Environment Minister Boerge Brende
"If it is harmful on land in the UK, then it is harmful poured into the Norwegian ocean"
See also:

21 Mar 02 | Europe
Sellafield waste row escalates
19 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
Norway demands UK nuclear rethink
29 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
Irish politicians unite in Sellafield row
08 Nov 01 | UK
Q&A: Sellafield's Mox plant
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