Commission takes UK to court over Sellafield

The European Commission is taking the UK to the Court of Justice saying that its authorities have not met appropriate safety rules and have refused to allow full safety inspections at the Sellafield nuclear plant.

The Commission issued a Directive on March 30 this year, asking for the UK authorities to present an action plan to ensure proper accounting of the nuclear materials stored in one of the installations on site, as well as physical access to the facilities concerned (see related story).

However, the response given by the UK was not regarded as a formal response by the Commission, as it had not been officially approved by the competent UK authorities and does not provide the information needed to assess whether the proposed measures satisfy the requirements of the Directive.

Loyola de Palacio, Commission Vice-President for energy and transport, said: “The Commission has to protect the general interests of EU citizens, which cannot be subordinated to political, technical or other considerations. The Euratom Treaty contains clear provisions on this. The Commission intends to apply them with determination though it remains willing to look for appropriate solutions in the matter with the UK authorities.”

The Directive adopted by the Commission on 30 March asked the UK to take all legal and administrative action necessary to put an end to the infringements detected at the Sellafield site. The main concern of the Commission centres on nuclear material held in B30, a series of concrete ponds which store radioactive waste under water.

The Commission wants a complete plan for guaranteeing, within a reasonable timespan, that all nuclear materials stored in the pool would be properly accounted for by BNFL, and that this part of the site would be made fully accessible for inspection by Euratom safety inspectors.

The UK response to the request contains no details on specific aspects such as the granting of necessary Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) licences and authorisations. In addition it contains no details about investment projects or an adequate financing plan, so does not allow the Commission to judge to what extent the measures proposed meet the requirements of the directive.

The matter has been referred to the Court of Justice in accordance with the procedure provided for in Article 82 of the Euratom Treaty.

By David Hopkins

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