Page last updated at 12:31 GMT, Friday, 19 March 2010

Brown invites international inspectors into Sellafield

Mr Brown wants the UK to help other nations develop nuclear power

International inspectors are to be allowed into the Sellafield nuclear plant for the first time as part of a global push for nuclear security.

Gordon Brown said he had invited International Atomic Energy Authority officials to inspect the reprocessing plant in Cumbria in the near future.

The UK is backing a US-led move to secure all fissile material around the world amid concerns of terrorist risks.

Mr Brown also said he was extending nuclear co-operation with France.

In a speech in London, he said he had agreed to work more closely with France on the issue at a meeting with President Sarkozy last week but insisted the UK was still committed to its independent nuclear deterrent.

As a long-standing nuclear power, Mr Brown has argued the UK has a important role to play in helping other countries develop civil nuclear technology in a safe manner as well as supporting international efforts to curb the further proliferation of atomic weapons.

'Nuclear excellence'

To show his support for US President Barack Obama's global nuclear plan, he said he had invited officials from the IAEA to visit Sellafield - which has been reprocessing spent nuclear fuel since 1964.

Sellafield also stores nuclear waste from countries around the world although its nuclear generating facility ceased operation in 2003.

Mr Brown said the UK "could lead global efforts to secure the safe global expansion of civil nuclear power".

A government spokesman said no date had been set for the visit although it was unlikely within the next six months.

He said IAEA inspectors - who have made similar visits to other reprocessing facilities around the world - would assess Sellafield's security measures against international standards and use the visit as an opportunity to learn from best practice and technological advances.

Mr Brown also used his speech to the Foreign Press Association to reiterate his support for the Trident nuclear deterrent, which the Lib Dems and some defence experts have called to be either scrapped or scaled back because of the debt crisis.

"We wish, of course, to see multilateral disarmament around the world and we are ready to contribute towards that," he said.

"But in a world that is so insecure, particularly with other countries trying to acquire nuclear weapons, we do not see the case for us withdrawing the independent nuclear deterrent that we have," he added.

Sellafield has been hit by a number of safety and security concerns over the years, the most recent being 30kg of plutonium which was unaccounted for in 2005, enough for seven nuclear bombs, which the plant put down to an auditing issue rather any "real loss" of the material.

In the same year acid containing uranium and plutonium leaked from a pipe at the plant in what was described by the Health and Safety Executive as the most serious of seven safety breaches of "actual consequence" at UK nuclear plants over the past decade.

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