Irish anger at UK nuclear incidents

Minister describes British reprocessing plant as nuclear monstrosity

Irish energy minister Emmet Stagg has today told the British government of the Republic's "serious concern" about recent incidents at the Sellafield nuclear plant. Sellafield is situated in north-west England, 190 km from the Irish coast.

Mr Stagg called the British Ambassador Veronica Sutherland for a meeting this morning. A spokeswoman told ENDS that he communicated "the concern of the goverment and the Irish people over the situation at British nuclear plants in general and particularly at the Sellafield reprocessing plant". She added that Mr Stagg made no secret of Ireland's desire to see the Sellafield facility shut down.

The diplomatic row was prompted by two accidents at Sellafield in two days. On Sunday, six workers were slightly contaminated with radiation while carrying out maintenance work on a reprocessing plant. The following day, radioactive liquid leaked from a storage tank after heavy rain. BNFL, the site operator, says there was no danger to employees or the environment from the incidents, which are still under investigation.

Immediately after the accidents, Mr Stagg issued an angry statement. The "litany of leaks, mishaps and incidences surrounding the Sellafield complex has totally shattered public confidence in the complex", he said. "I find it quite incredible and indeed outrageous that within the space of 24 hours there have been two further incidents at this nuclear monstrosity....I call it a disgrace."

This morning, Mr Stagg also made clear to Britain's ambassador his opposition to plans to dump nuclear waste underground near Sellafield. This week, an internal memorandum was leaked from the company planning a waste repository at the site, creating new doubts about the safety of the proposal. Environmental group Friends of the Earth then issued a report suggesting that radioactivity could escape from the repository, contaminating groundwater (ENDS Daily 3 February).

Responding to the debate, British environment minister John Gummer announced that he is considering re-opening a public inquiry into the plan. He invited new evidence on the proposals to be submitted within three weeks.

Follow Up:
Irish Department of Transport, Energy and Communications fax: +353 1 6709633. BNFL .

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