April 2003

UK accused over Sellafield pollution

The Guardian, April 29, 2003
by David Hencke, Westminster correspondent

Original address: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,945317,00.html

[Posted 29/04/2003]

Norway has accused Britain of ruining its lucrative Arctic lobster business by failing to stop radioactive discharges from Sellafield.

The Norwegian environment minister, Borge Brende, has protested to his UK counterpart, Michael Meacher, over the delays in implementing a plan to stop discharges from Sellafield of the chemical technetium-99 into the Irish sea. The chemical, once absorbed by humans, accumulates in the thyroid gland and intestinal tract and greatly increases cancer risks.

A leaked ministerial letter from the Norwegians, seen by the Guardian, expresses anger and frustration that Britain has failed to fulfil a promise to stop the discharges, which were resumed nine years ago.

The row has been fuelled by the discovery of a big rise in the chemical found in lobsters caught off Norway's coast, and the prices of "Arctic-quality" lobsters are falling as a result. Britain has undertaken to reduce radioactive discharges from Sellafield but has increased the discharges of technetium-99.

The Norwegians have also protested to the European commission, asking it to intervene. In June Norway and Ireland will carry their protests to the meeting of the Ospar commission in Bremen, Germany, which controls pollutant discharges into the sea.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said: "The leaked letter which was given to me is couched in pretty undiplomatic language. The effect if nothing is done about stopping these discharges will be very serious."

The environment agency has been monitoring moves to introduce a new procedure to render the chemical harmless, but this has been delayed for three months because of technical problems.

The agency is to consult on whether British Nuclear Fuels should build a £100m storage facility so it can impose a moratorium on future discharges. Mr Meacher has told the Norwegians that he is reluctant to impose one without a new storage facility.

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