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Wednesday, 19 December, 2001, 13:32 GMT
Norway demands UK nuclear rethink
Norwegian trawler and gulls   BBC
Norway fears its marine resources may be damaged by Sellafield's radioactivity
Alex Kirby

Norway is appealing to the United Kingdom to halt radioactive discharges from the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant.

The Norwegian Environment Minister, speaking after visiting Sellafield, told BBC News Online he felt very uncomfortable about the plant.

He said he would be writing to the UK Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, urging her to prohibit further discharges.

Otherwise, Norway would consider what legal remedies were available to it.

The minister, Borge Brende, visited Sellafield in northwest England on 18 December, the day after meeting his Irish counterpart, Joe Jacob, in Dublin. Ireland has already begun proceedings against the UK over Sellafield's discharges.

"We're focusing on Sellafield's discharges of technetium-99 and on the level of radioactivity going into the Irish Sea," he said.

"It remains a contaminant for a very long time, and I am very concerned about Britain's plans to allow these discharge levels to continue unchanged up until 2006.

Rising levels feared

"We're now finding technetium-99 in seaweed along Norway's west coast, and in Svalbard, in the high Arctic.

"Yet on our border with Russia, there's almost none. My officials say it must come from Sellafield."

Sellafield reactor dome   PA
Sellafield's discharges have fallen
Mr Brende said the plant's owners and operators, British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), wanted to store the technetium until they could treat it. But he said British health authorities advised against storage on health and safety grounds.

"If it's not safe to store it, we can't help asking whether it's safe to discharge it," Mr Brende said.

"This autumn we found 600 becquerels of radioactivity in the seaweed - and 400 in lobsters. There's no guarantee those levels won't have reached the EU safety level of 1,250 becquerels by 2006.

"There's no health risk at the moment. But we think there is cause for concern.

"I've met Mrs Beckett twice in the past two months, and there's been no real movement by the British.

Veiled warning

"I want her to know that all we're asking for is for BNFL to store this material and treat it, and that's a reasonable request.

"Obviously we're concerned about the potential for nuclear proliferation and for terrorism that somewhere like Sellafield presents. Who isn't?

Newspaper advert opposing Sellafield   PA
No mistaking some Irish feelings
"But the technetium is our main concern. If the UK decides to discharge into the Irish Sea material it could store and treat, we'll be looking at what we can do in law.

"Mrs Beckett is due to decide on the new technetium discharge levels early in 2002. I'm writing to her, asking her to think again.

"I've now been to Sellafield, and it's clearer to me that there are alternatives to discharging the stuff.

No discussion

"The best Christmas present Mrs Beckett could give the Nordic people would be to think again about this."

Technetium-99 is a health hazard only if it enters the body, where it can be carcinogenic.

Mrs Beckett's officials say she was unable to discuss the Environment Agency's proposed decision on technetium-99 discharges from Sellafield with Mr Brende "for legal reasons".

They add: "She did, however, assure Mr Brende that Norway's concerns would be fully taken into account."

See also:

17 Dec 01 | Northern Ireland
Irish appeal over nuclear plant
03 Dec 01 | England
New Sellafield terror warning
15 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Sellafield saved - for now
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