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Last Updated: Friday, 30 May, 2003, 09:31 GMT 10:31 UK
Sellafield comment 'offensive'
Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant
Comments made by the UK energy minister about the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant are "offensive", a County Down MP has said.

The minister, Brian Wilson, criticised the "long procession of scare stories" which have appeared in the media about the plant in Cumbria.

He said that when he heard claims about clusters of Down Syndrome births along the east coast of Ireland, he "reaches for the sick bag".

South Down MP Eddie McGrady said on Friday that the comments were "gratuitously insulting".

"I find the minister's remarks to be grossly insulting to the people who are in the Down Syndrome group in north Louth," he said.

'Political pawns'

Mr Wilson said he did not believe his comments were offensive.

He said he did not like claims about Down Syndrome because he thought it used people as "political pawns in support of a contention which has proven to be untrue".

"What I was saying was, let's have better informed dialogue about Sellafield but leave the emotive stuff out of it, particularly that claim, which doesn't have a leg to stand on," he said.

The Irish Republic's Environment Minister, Martin Cullen, met Mr Wilson on Wednesday to express his concerns about the 50-year-old facility, which stores waste before it is released into the Irish Sea.

Mr Cullen pressed him on reports that a roof of the building was damaged and at risk of leaking.

It is claimed that a 100m package is needed to protect public safety at Sellafield and prevent a radioactive leak.

The Irish Government has campaigned for the closure of Sellafield and has started legal moves to stop it operating.

In early May, a study by Ireland's nuclear watchdog - the Irish Radiological Protection Institute -claimed that radioactive discharge from Sellafield continued to be the dominant source of contamination in the Irish Sea.

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