June 2003

Under-fire Sellafield operator hit with £3bn loss

The Irish Examiner, 3 June 2003
By Michael O'Farrell, Political Reporter

Original address: http://www.online.ie/news/irish_examiner/viewer.adp?article=2026543

[Posted 09/06/2003]

SELLAFIELD nuclear facility's operators will announce losses of £3 billion today, as Ireland prepares to launch a fresh legal challenge against the controversial plant next week. British Energy, which the British Government saved from collapse earlier this year, will reveal its full-year figures showing unprecedented losses.

The accounts will reveal operating losses of £500m and a devaluation of over £2.5bn on the company's eight nuclear and one coal-fired power stations. The group also owes £1.3bn.

A spokesman for Environment Minister Martin Cullen repeated the Irish Government's position that Sellafield can no longer be justified.

"We have always maintained that Sellafield does not make sense, both from an environmental and an economic point of view, and these latest figures just prove that," he said.

"The plant just can't be justified anymore on any grounds, and we are aiming to prove that."

Ireland has already mounted several legal challenges to Sellafield. The latest was taken under the Ospar Convention in the Hague last year.

The Ospar Convention brings together 16 states which commit to measures for the protection of the North Atlantic.

The result of that case, in which Ireland sought access to reports on the economic status of the MOX plant at Sellafield, is expected in the coming months.

A new case, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, will begin next week.

The new case will focus on radioactive discharges from Sellafield into the Irish Sea. Britain has admitted this year that discharges have increased, but put the increase down to older plants being taken out of service.

Ministers from 16 North Atlantic countries will discuss the matter when they gather later this month at an Ospar Convention.

However, only Norway and Denmark have supported Ireland's call for reduced discharges. Initial measures were agreed at the last Ospar ministerial meeting five years ago.

A statement prepared for the meeting in Bremen makes no reference to alternatives to nuclear reprocessing.

Some 2000 cubic meters of nuclear by-product called Technetium-99 (Tc-99) are stored in ageing waste tanks at Sellafield. In the past, large volumes of the radioactive substance have been discharged into the Irish Sea. Despite the last Ospar commitment, Britain's discharges have actually grown instead of declining. Under its commitments Britain is obliged to reduce its nuclear waste discharges to close to zero by 2020.

The British Nuclear Industries Inspectorate has ordered the Tc-99 waste at Sellafield emptied by 2007, but its operators are proposing to dump the nuclear waste into the Irish Sea. The first dump is scheduled to take place in September.

Last month, Norwegian Environment Minister Borge Brende met with his British counterpart Michael Meacher to propose a moratorium on discharges, which was turned down.

Last week, the Irish Government wrote to the British authorities about the mooted increase in discharges.

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