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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 17:58 GMT
Should Sellafield be shut down?
A United Nations maritime tribunal has rejected a bid by Ireland to block plans to expand operations at Britain's Sellafield nuclear waste plant.

The Irish Government had tried to challenge plans for the controversial plant to start reprocessing mixed plutonium and uranium oxide (Mox) into a powerful energy source.

It argued that the 470m development, on the Cumbrian coast opposite Ireland, breaks international laws on sea pollution, and poses safety and security concerns.

But Sellafield is a major employer and the Mox plant will re-use otherwise useless plutonium and combine it with uranium to produce a new fuel source.

Is this the right decision? Should Sellafield be closed down, or does it have an important role to play?

This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.


Your reaction:

In a county ravaged by foot and mouth.... the revenue brought in by BNFL is doubly important

Kieran J, Cumbria, UK
Whatever environmental problems Cumbrians have with living in the most "radioactive" part of the UK (Sellafield, Chernobyl fallout, Nuclear Submarine Shipyard) the reality is that Cumbria can't afford for Sellafield to close. In a county ravaged by foot and mouth, with the resultant effects on Lake District tourism, the revenue brought in by BNFL is doubly important. Considering the government hasn't released the money for either agriculture regeneration or replacement industry investment, for them to close Sellafield would be negligence: giving in to environmental lobbying and foreign intervention without local consultation. Were it the threatened closure of a struggling large employer in a Labour heartland town, there would no doubt be condemnation from ministers.
Kieran J, Cumbria, UK

Just saying a plant is a major employer doesn't mean that it is right to keep it going. The Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India was a major employer and it managed to kill 20,000 people, and is STILL leaking poisons into the ground. How many million years will it take for Sellafield's by-products to be safe?
Mike Zandvliet, United Kingdom

I think it poor show, the UK should respond considering the response from Ireland over this. It is obvious we have a problem with this and yet there seems to be no agreeable alternative posted by the UK. Anything goes wrong and Dublin is only 70 miles away...
Vinny, Netherlands (Irish)

We have to shut down Sellafield to stop producing pollution. Adapting to lower energy use and to clean, sustainable energy generation is the only viable future.
Dr. Morris Bradley, Edinburgh, Scotland

Sellafield is a vital part of the solution to helping us find suitable renewable energy processes - to stop it now would be like changing the shape of the wheel from round to square.
Barry Rochfort, England

According to BNFL the east Irish coast is slightly polluted, slightly isn't good enough

Martin McGuire, England
Why should Ireland have to put up with a foreign countries nuclear pollution, when they are opposed to nuclear fuel? According to BNFL the east Irish coast is slightly polluted, slightly isn't good enough.
Martin McGuire, England

Nuclear power is miraculous and efficient but has such a devastating potential to go wrong that I believe any further investment in it is folly for the future. I think it is time that we started investing substantial amounts of time and money into renewable, environmentally- friendly energy sources as, in the long run, this is the only way forward.
Danny, UK

Shutting down Sellafield would be absolute folly. Claims of pollution in the Irish Sea are largely fabrications by pressure groups such as Greenpeace to further their own political agendas. Sellafield is a high-tech plant which operates to the highest safety standards and is the right way for us to deal with our nuclear waste. These "environmentalists" do not understand that without a reprocessing and storage facility such as Sellafield, which separates the isotopes in nuclear waste for safe storage and recycling, we'd be left with thousands of tonnes of high-level waste to store unsafely and at great risk to the environment. I'd like to know exactly what they think we should do with all of our nuclear waste should we close down Sellafield.
Iain Nicholson, UK

On long term, there is no real opportunity to nuclear power. Considering the world's population growth, the fossil resources and the alternative resources are simply not enough to support us all with sufficient energy. Therefore it will be necessary to have a reasonable mix of all kind of energy sources to satisfy future needs. Just try to calculate the consumption of 15 billion people....and now all living on western standards!!!!!
Dr. Heinrich Ziegler, England

Sellafield should have been closed years ago, as soon as the dangers were identified. Hopefully this is just a minor setback.
Tom, Republic of Ireland

Who on earth are they to tell the UK what to do?

Andrew Wild, UK
Sellafield should certainly NOT be closed down. The United Nations Maritime Council made absolutely the right decision. The Republic of Ireland is just wanting to meddle in the affairs of the UK. Who on earth are they to tell the UK what to do?
Andrew Wild, UK

Investments in nuclear power seem to be unwise, when there is such viability in renewable sources, and such need for energy efficiency in any case. Nuclear power remains unsafe (for management if not technological reasons), uneconomic, and unnecessary. It is also linked to military nuclear capacity, use of which (according to the International Court of Justice) in most instances appears to be illegal under existing international law.
John Manoochehri, Geneva

It's not simply a matter of closing the plant down, rather that we have spent the last 50 years making waste that is very difficult to get rid off. Basically we are stuck with places like Sellafield to deal with the waste we have. Being from Whitehaven and having a number of family members work at the plant, I can see both sides. It is essential for the local (very depressed) economy but on the other hand, incidents like the fire at the plant in the 50s and contamination leaks leave a legacy for the local community and those further a field. Shutting it down isn't going to get rid of the waste. If its not reprocessed then we'll have to think of some better way to store it, and as the proposed NIREX bid failed, what about a storage facility in the South East? I'm sure that the anti-nuclear protesters that travel up to Cumbria would have something to say about that.
Sandra, UK

All nuclear power should be phased out. It is an outdated technology whose benefits do not justify the enormous dangers to humans and the environment. This issue transcends national borders, and Ireland is justified in being very concerned about this plant.
Micahel Hengels, Wisconsin, United States

The Irish government is right, the UN tribunal is wrong

David Woods, UK
It has been demonstrated over & over again that the profit motive and safety and security make very uneasy bedfellows. Nuclear energy is not safe and despite the vast sums spent on PR campaigns to persuade us otherwise the public knows this. The nuclear companies waver between condescension and contempt towards those who present the unvarnished truth about the impossibility of their industry ever being safe. The Irish government is right, the UN tribunal is wrong. We never seem to learn by experience
David Woods, UK

I am not entirely convinced that Sellafield is 100% safe. But then what is? However, as an exiled Cumbrian, I am unwilling to see the only major employer in this forgotten part of England closed down. The result would be catastrophic for the area.

If the critics can come up with some sensible plans to provide alternative employment, then I would listen to them with more respect. But until then, do not expect West Cumbrians to pay for your principles with their poverty. Rick Worth
Rick Worth, Brazil

Sellafield should not be closed down. Until fusion reactors make current fission ones obsolete, the waste produced only has to be stored until it can be lifted off the Earth and dumped in the Sun. So the waste will be a problem for the 40 years or so and NOT for 500 years like the nuclear opponents claim. I can live with that.
Paul Smith, UK, Staffordshire

Probably best to close it before someone crashes an aeroplane onto it.
Mike Omasta, UK

The argument that it creates job is a false economy if the nuclear energy ends up destroying us! We know so much about the dangers (and benefits) of nuclear energy and about a limited fossil fuels - can't the 470m be put into developing environmentally friendly energy (look! Jobs!) instead?
WGS, UK

Surely they too have a right to protect themselves

Jonathon Thew, England
Sellafield needs to be shut down! Let's face the facts that the plant is in such a location that any release of nuclear material poses a serious threat, not only to Ireland, but to the entire surrounding area. Should we really ignore the threat Sellafield has become to our neighbour and completely ignore their wishes? Surely they too have a right to protect themselves.
Jonathon Thew, England

Their past record has been one of nothing but pollution. Whatever the claimed advantages of their new process, the only guarantee is that the environmental costs will be much greater than BNFL's short-term financial gains, but because they don't appear on the balance sheet they will be conveniently ignored by the political hierarchy as well as the management. Sellafield should have been shut down years ago.
P, UK

Time and time again, action against Sellafield fails. Perhaps this is because there is actually nothing wrong with the place? Most people who comment on the place have never been there and know very little about it. Just let them get on with what they do.
Gareth, England

Shut it down now! If we concentrated on using renewable sources of energy we would not have to risk both the people of England and Irelands health by maintaining what is, and always has been, a patently unsafe industry. There is no reason for us to have to use nuclear power. If the government gave funding in the same measure as they have done with Sellafield, towards renewable energy, we would all benefit. This is a matter of morals - ignore the people of England & Ireland and kill them slowly with Nuclear power or use our heads by building renewable energy producing plants. The 'faut' economic benefits of nuclear power would then dissipate.
Alan De Brun, UK

Looks like the law is not such an ass after all
John, France

The possibility that jobs would be lost being used as justification for continuation of a process can never be a valid argument

David James, United Kingdom (England)
It always seems that governments require there to be absolute proof that a process causes health problems before they will take any objective investigations. GM trials and mobile phones are other cases in point. Also, the possibility that jobs would be lost being used as justification for continuation of a process can never be a valid argument.
David James, United Kingdom (England)

Sellafield is a dangerous and expensive white elephant. The government should stop throwing money at it and start seriously investing in renewable energy technologies.
Martin Packer, UK

This is an internal matter for the UK and the Irish have no justification for interfering

Alex Banks, UK, living in Irelan
I fully sympathise with the Irish, but like it or not, this is an internal matter for the UK and the Irish have no justification for interfering. Perhaps the Irish would instead like to give us 2 billion for loss of earnings plus the money that would have to be invested to provide alternative industries for those workers to work in. Unfortunately they have a 2 billion deficit in their budget this year, so this option is not available!
Alex Banks, UK, living in Ireland

Of course it should. It's dirty, dangerous and expensive. Just one significant accident would have us all irradiated for decades - a major incident would be worse than Chernobyl simply because of our population density. Shut it now.
Simon, UK

Not without a very good reason and I haven't heard anything remotely sensible yet. The biggest red herring being sea pollution. Have any detectable levels of waste product been found? No. They are not likely to be. Pure fresh seawater contains natural levels of all elements and amongst such things as gold and silver there is also 200 tonnes of Uranium in every cubic kilometre of seawater. Whatever does leak into the sea (if any) is gone for good.
Ken, UK

Yes it should be shut down. The nuclear power industry is hazardous, damaging to the environment and a prime target for terrorists. You never hear of a terrorist threat to wind farms.
David wood, UK

Talk to these people about decommissioning costs and watch them change the subject

David Staveley, England
I would like to see as much investment from the taxpayer in renewable energy as there is in nuclear power. Talk to these people about decommissioning costs and watch them change the subject.
David Staveley, England

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