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Friday, 9 November, 2001, 18:57 GMT
Irish start legal action over Sellafield
Spent nuclear fuel is reprocessed at Sellafield
The Irish Government began legal action on Friday to stop the operation of a new reprocessing plant at the Sellafield nuclear power station.

The action against the UK follows concern by Ireland at the environmental impact of the Cumbria plant on the Irish Sea.

Norway - which shares Ireland's concerns - has given its backing to the campaign and indicated it would be prepared to join it in the courts as a "last resort".

At London's High Court, action by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (FoE) to declare the government's decision to allow the new plant as unlawful, was due to finish on Friday.

Judgement in the case is expected to be reserved.

'Concern to everyone'

The Irish Government's worries over the new plant were increased by fear of more terrorist attacks after the 11 September strikes in the US.

Dublin was infuriated by the UK Government's decision last month to allow the plant.

This is something that is of concern to everybody on this side of the Irish Sea.

Deirdre Clune, Fine Gael

Its action is being brought under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Ospar Convention on the Marine Environment.

Deirdre Clune, environment spokesman for the Irish opposition party Fine Gael, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We are delighted to see our government taking this kind of action.

"This is something that is of concern to everybody on this side of the Irish Sea."

"Our chief worry... has always been environmental pollution, the threat of radioactivity being released into the Irish Sea, and we have had evidence of it sweeping across to our coasts."

"Since 11 September, the anxiety has heightened and there is a genuine fear of terrorist attack on Sellafield right now," Ms Clune said.

Norway has also been worried about pollutants flowing into its own waters.

"We have already expressed our support, both morally and politically, for the process started by the Irish and we understand fully the worries they feel as they are the same worries we feel in relation to our own coastal areas," the leader of Norway's parliamentary energy and environment committee, Bror Yngve Rahm, told Reuters.

He said that if Norway also found grounds for a legal challenge it would use the courts as "a last resort".

Environmental campaign

Lawyers for Greenpeace and Friends Of The Earth argued in court in London on Thursday that a flawed and distorted approach to crucial economic tests had allowed the decision to operate the plant to go ahead.

Campaigners have protested at Sellafield

British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) wants to take steps towards the operation of the plant, which would process mixed plutonium and uranium oxide (Mox), by 20 December.

As well as the tests necessary for EU law, the environmentalists said there was insufficient evidence the plant would attract customers such as the Japanese to make it viable.

Lord Lester QC, for the environmental groups, argued that construction costs of 470m had been "disregarded" in assessing whether the scheme could be economically justified.

The environmental groups also believe the plant is dangerous because it could make it easier for terrorists to obtain nuclear materials.

Government ministers have argued that the scheme was justified because it would provide "significant economic benefits" and had a "net present value of 216m".

The mox plant, which turns "spent" plutonium and uranium into usable fuel, was completed by Sellafield's owners BNFL in 1996.

See also:

08 Nov 01 | UK
Q&A: Sellafield's Mox plant
08 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Nuclear plant faces legal challenge
23 Oct 01 | UK Politics
'Sellafield time bomb' warning
03 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Nuclear plant gets go-ahead
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