to halt nuclear waste in surprise U-turn
The Independent, 22 June 2003
By Severin Carrell
Original address: http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/environment/story.jsp?story=417833
Ministers are poised to halt the dumping of radioactive
waste from Sellafield in a dramatic U-turn, The Independent on Sunday
Britain is facing court action from Norway and Ireland
over its refusal to stop discharging radioactive waste from the Cumbrian
nuclear reprocessing plant into the Irish Sea. But the Norwegian government
said yesterday that Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for the
Environment, had written on Friday offering to suspend the dumping of
radioactive Technetium 99 (Tc-99) until March next year.
The letter said that the suspension of dumping was
to allow British Nuclear Fuels Ltd, which runs Sellafield, more time
to find a way to permanently store the waste on land. The offer - confirmed
by Mrs Beckett's officials last night - has taken anti-nuclear campaigners
and the Norwegians by surprise.
At a meeting last month between the then environment
minister, Michael Meacher, and his Norwegian counterpart, Borge Brende,
the Norwegians were told discharges would not be halted.
The new proposal reflects mounting embarrassment
about Britain's isolation over Sellafield. The UK is already being sued
by the Irish government over the plant's radioactive discharges.
Norway and Ireland allege that the radioactivity
accumulates in fish and lobster, threatening their fishing industries
and the health of consumers. They are worried about the environmental
consequences of the BNFL's plans to release 2000 cubic metres of Tc-99
into the sea between now and 2007.
But the Department of the Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs warned that BNFL and Nirex, the Government's radioactive
waste disposal agency, still had to find a way to solidify the waste
for long term storage.
Greenpeace and the Nuclear Free Local Authorities
group denounced the offer because Britain would continue pumping other
radioactive wastes - breaching a promise in 1998 to stop doing so.
"This is a cynical attempt by the UK to distract
attention from their failure to do anything for the last five years
on overall discharges of radioactivity. In fact, it's going up,"
said Pete Roche, a Greenpeace spokesman.