is prosecuted over nuclear risk
The Independent, 22 June 2003
Original address: http://news.independent.co.uk/business/news/story.jsp?story=417764
Euro legal action on pollution
threatens private firms at military sites, reports Severin Carrell.
The UK is being prosecuted for breaching international
nuclear safety rules after allowing a US-owned dockyard to dump a five-fold
increase in radioactive discharges into the sea.
The European Commission claims the UK failed to
investigate fully the health risks of allowing Devonport dockyard in
Plymouth, run by the Brown & Root subsidiary of the US engineering
giant Halliburton, to pump more radioactive tritium into the Tamar river.
The case, which will go to the European Court of
Justice, could hit the profits of private firms running the UK's military
nuclear sites. The Commission claims the UK has repeatedly failed to
take proper account of the potential risks to other countries from its
radioactive waste discharges - breaching its legal duties under the
Euratom Treaty of 1957.
The Devonport prosecution is the second in which
the UK has been accused of breaching the same set of safety rules, The
Independent on Sunday can reveal.
Last month, the Commission took the UK to the European
Court of Justice for failing to carry out proper safety checks when
it closed down a small nuclear reactor at Greenwich naval college in
south-east London in 1996. The reactor had been used for more than 30
years for training nuclear submariners.
Both cases could have serious implications for Britain's
nuclear weapons programme and are fiercely contested by the Ministry
If the Commission wins, the UK will have to introduce
stricter and potentially more expensive controls on radio- active discharges
and be forced to prove they are safe and justifiable.
This could hit the privately run nuclear bomb-making
factory at Aldermaston, which is operated by a consortium of BNFL, Serco
and the US armaments firm Lockheed Martin, by forcing it to cut its
release of radioactive waste into the air.
Devonport Management, the Plymouth yard's operating
company, could face far higher costs refitting the Trident submarine
fleet tocut its waste discharges into the sea. The cost of decommissioning
Britain's retired nuclear submarine reactors could also increase.
Whitehall sources claim Brussels is empire-building
but senior emergency planning officials have accused the Government
of "arrogance" in ignoring its legal obligations. Caroline
Lucas, Green Party MEP for south-east England, said: "If we're
dealing with something as potentially hazardous as radioactive waste,
it's extremely worrying that we are ignoring such important rules."
In a third legal dispute, Britain has told the Commission
it will resist moves to give Brussels greater control over the handling
of accidents at nuclear power stations run by British Energy and BNFL.