Irish fears over nuclear shipments

The Irish coastguard have been keeping a close eye on marine traffic this week as the diplomatic wrangle over the potential pollution from the Sellafield nuclear facility continue to sour relations between Dublin and London.

In the latest spat, Ireland’s Environment Minister Dick Roche has called for assurances from the British Government that shipments of reprocessed fuel being transported from the plant through the Irish Sea will not enter Irish territorial waters.

The Mixed Oxide (MOX) Plant at Sellafield uses plutonium, separated during reprocessing of spent fuel for foreign customers at Sellafield, and returns it in the form of MOX fuel for use in nuclear reactors.

Dublin, which has made its displeasure about the siting of Sellafield clear on many occasions, is now concerned about the potential of a radioactive leak in the event of a vessel carrying the waste through the sea that separates the two countries running into trouble.

“The continuing concerns of the Irish Government in relation to the transportation of nuclear waste and fuels through the Irish Sea have been made known to the UK authorities,” said Mr Roche.

“These concerns relate to safety, security and environmental risk from an accident or incident. Utilising the voluntary, confidential, advance, notification arrangements which have been in place for a number of years now, the Government secured an assurance from the UK that the MOX Fuel shipment would not enter Irish territorial waters and that the shipment is governed by a stringent system of regulation established in line with internationally agreed standards and recommendations.

“Nevertheless, the Irish Coast Guard are monitoring the situation.”

The Irish Government’s concerns in relation to nuclear shipments are regularly and repeatedly conveyed to the UK Government at Ministerial and official level.

“The United Kingdom Government is under no illusions as to Irish Government policy on such shipments,” said Mr Roche.

“They are aware that these shipments cannot enter Irish waters. In this regard, I can also promise the Irish people that I will continue to voice their concerns about the marine shipments of nuclear material at every possible forum.

“Ireland in its proceedings before the UNCLOS Arbitral Tribunal forcefully argued that the MOX Plant is inextricably linked with the operation of THORP with all that this entails in relation to marine radioactive discharges to the Irish Sea and our ongoing safety concerns.

“These concerns, regrettably, are regularly reinforced by the poor ongoing safety record at the Sellafield complex and more recently by the serious incident at the THORP Plant in April 2005. The Irish Government will continue to use every diplomatic, political and legal route available to bring about the safe and orderly closure of the Sellafield plant.”

Sam Bond

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