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Wednesday, July 22, 1998 Published at 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK


Sellafield to stay open - Prescott

Sellafield's future is again being called into question

A threat of closure hanging over the Sellafield Nuclear Reprocessing Plant in Cumbria has been dismissed by the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott explains why Sellafield will not have to close
European environment ministers are meeting in Portugal to discuss how to clean up the continent's seas, with many asking for a ban on all radioactive emissions.

However, there is confusion over what the main proposal will mean.

The company running Sellafield says a complete ban would lead to the plant having to shut, since it would be impossible to reduce emissions to zero and still function.

Meanwhile, Mr Prescott hopes technology can be developed to ensure Sellafield's future while reducing emissions.

Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme whether he was prepared to close Sellafield, he said: "No, of course we are not and the resolutions don't say that at all."

'Zeros or near zeroes'

Hear what Danish minister Svend Auken wants from the conference
The programme had earlier heard from the Danish Environment and Energy Minister Svend Auken, who insisted that the zero level was necessary to protect vulnerable areas such as Greenland.

He said he understood it was contained in a formal proposal from the French - the only nation other than Britain with significant levels of radioactive emissions.

[ image: John Prescott says wait and see what the negotiations produce]
John Prescott says wait and see what the negotiations produce
When it was suggested to Mr Prescott that not only was the zero level essential, but also that Sellafield was inevitably under threat, he said discussions had a long way to go.

"All this business about zeros, and near zeros is a matter of negotiation, and to assume that Sellafield has to close on that, is not an assumption you can make."

He disputed whether the French really suggested a complete phasing out, and said Mr Auken had told him that this level would only be a requirement if technology was developed to achieve it.

"I know Svend says that because we were discussing this until one o'clock this morning, so I've got to say to you that I have a better knowledge of what his position is, and that's called negotiation."

He asked people to judge the two-day conference when it was completed, and an agreement hopefully reached.

"Britain is leading the role in those negotiations," he added.

The Danish minister, who accused Britain of being the worst offender on this matter, said reducing emissions to background levels was not acceptable since emissions of hazardous chemicals were already being reduced to zero.

'Fish are safe to eat'

The firm which runs Sellafield gave the programme a further interpretation of the French proposal.

Sellafield's Colin Partington: "Zero's not possible."
Safety adviser for BNFL, Colin Partington, said he believed the zero level was only necessary for new plants.

"Zero's not possible. It's not possible for the chemical industry and it's not possible for us," he said.

He added that £600m had been spent on reducing discharges bringing them down by "a factor of a hundred".

He also attempted to reassure people that the plant was clean.

"Everyone agrees that immediately off the coast of Sellafield, all the fish here are safe to eat. Clearly further away they are even safer."

The alternative was burning more damaging fossil fuels, he said, and he believed that governments across Europe would object to this even more strongly.

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