Ireland fails in attempt to prevent Sellafield MOX plant opening

Ireland has failed in its legal attempt at an international tribunal to prevent Sellafield's mixed oxide plant (MOX) in the north of England from opening for commercial production of reprocessed fuel for use in nuclear power plants, but the tribunal has ordered better co-operation between the UK and Ireland over the matter.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, based in Hamburg, Germany, ruled against Ireland’s request to prevent the opening of the Sellafield MOX plant in Cumbria on 20 December, but has decided that Ireland and the UK should each submit an initial report on measures to prevent pollution of the Irish Sea from the MOX plant by 17 December.

“In the circumstances of the case, the tribunal found that the urgency of the situation did not require the prescription of the provisional measures as requested by Ireland, in the short period before the constitution of the Annex VII arbitral tribunal,” the tribunal declared in a statement. However, the statement added that cooperation is fundamental in the prevention of marine pollution. “In the view of the tribunal, prudence and caution require that Ireland and the United Kingdom cooperate in exchanging information concerning risks or effects of the operation of the MOX plant and in devising ways to deal with them, as appropriate,” said the tribunal.

Following considerable consultation, at the beginning of October, the British government ruled that British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), the company that runs the Sellafield site, could go ahead with opening their new full-scale MOX plant, which produces ceramic pellets of mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium for use in nuclear power plants. The decision was rapidly followed by a High Court challenge by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, which, even at appeal, failed on 7 December to prevent the opening of the MOX plant. However, no other MOX plants will be built in the UK, according to the High Court.

“We welcome the tribunal’s unanimous decision that the arbitral tribunal has jurisdiction,” said the Irish Minister with Responsibility for Nuclear Safety, Joe Jacob. “We welcome the tribunal’s unanimous decision to prescribe provisional measures recognising that the United Kingdom has an obligation to co-operate with Ireland, and that the United Kingdom has an obligation to prevent pollution of the marine environment which might result from the operation of the MOX plant.”

“We will continue to prosecute our case with vigour and energy and commitment, to ensure that the United Kingdom permanently ceases to pollute the Irish Sea, subjects the MOX plant to a proper environmental assessment, and cooperates more fully with Ireland,” said Jacob. “We will also be proceeding to persuade the OSPAR arbitration tribunal to order the United Kingdom to disclose the information on the MOX plant that it is withholding. And we will be considering what steps, if any, to take on challenging before the European Court of Justice the United Kingdom’s decision that the MOX plant is economically justified.”

The MOX plant is due to become operational on or around 20 December, a BNFL spokesman told edie, following the outcome of Greenpeace and FoE’s High Court appeal.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie