December 2001

Norway gives Ireland strong support

The Irish Times, 18 December 2001

[Posted 19/12/2001]

The Government's campaign to curb Sellafield's operations has been supported strongly by the Norwegian government, which warned that Irish Sea radioactive discharges threaten its fish stocks, writes Mark Hennessy.

The Minister of State for Public Enterprise, Mr Joe Jacob, yesterday met the Norwegian Minister for the Environment, Mr Borge Brenda.

Later, Mr Brenda met in London with the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mrs Margaret Beckett, and the Minister for the Environment, Mr Michael Meacher.

The Government will today make a submission to the Hamburg-based International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea as part of its attempt to prevent Sellafield's MOX plant coming into operation.

The tribunal refused to give an injunction earlier this month, but it then demanded that the UK and Ireland exchange information about the risks associated with MOX's operation.

Legal advisers from both sides met last week in Dublin Castle, said Mr Jacob. "It has not been evident to us that there has been a major improvement in that co-operation, but that is as much as I will say about that pending the ITLOS submission," he said .

The tribunal has the power to reverse its decision to allow the MOX plant to come into commission on Thursday, though there is no evidence yet that it is prepared to do so.

Mr Brenda said Sellafield's discharges into the Irish Sea drift to the Norwegian coast, when they should instead be stored safely.

The levels of some radioactive elements were increasing, he warned, though fish stocks levels were still just one-third of those allowed by the EU.

"It is a growing problem in Norway that it is developing in the wrong direction," said Mr Brenda, who visited the British Nuclear Fuels installation late yesterday.

Ireland put forward "a strong case" to the tribunal, he went on.

"If Ireland doesn't win, it is not because it does not have a good case, but rather that international environmental law is not as strong as it should be."

The Government has still not been officially informed about last week's closure of a number of British nuclear reactors, following a safety scare.

"We were not advised in accordance with agreements. The incident just adds to what we have come to expect. It adds to the lack of credence that can be had in what the British authorities say," Mr Jacob said.

The Norwegian support is a boost for the Government, particularly since Mr Brenda announced that Oslo is ready to begin to prepare its own legal challenge.

"As marine nations we share a common sense of responsibility towards our seas. Consumers are increasingly and justifiably demanding uncontaminated food from uncontaminated sources.

"Radioactive pollution of the seas caused by complexes such as the monster that is Sellafield, which in our view have no economic justification whatsoever, is the last thing fishing nations such as Ireland and Norway can tolerate," said Mr Jacob.

Britain and Ireland had met a deadline to submit reports outlining consultations they had held on the MOX plant, a spokesman for the Hamburg-based Tribunal said yesterday.

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