July 2003

Ireland threatened over Sellafield row

The Independent, 29 June 2003
By Severin Carrell

Original address: http://news.independent.co.uk/business/news/story.jsp?story=419988

[Posted 02/07/2003]

Ireland's attempt to sue Britain over radioactive discharges from BNFL's Sellafield site has been thrown into disarray after the European Commission claimed its action was illegal.

In an unexpected twist in the long-running battle, the Commission has itself threatened to take legal action against Ireland unless Dublin drops its claim over Sellafield's discharges into the Irish Sea. The Commission wrote to Bertie Ahern's government in May claiming that Ireland was illegally bypassing the EU's legal system by trying to take action under two other marine conventions.

It has now challenged Dublin, dealing a potentially fatal blow to Ireland's long-running attempts to stop or heavily cut waste dumping by BNFL from its reprocessing of MOX nuclear fuel.

Ireland claims Britain has broken its legal obligations to protect the marine environment and had pursued its main case under the UN's Convention on the Law of the Sea. But the Convention's arbitration tribunal delivered one serious setback to Ireland's case last week. It refused Dublin's request for immediate measures that would in effect close the MOX plant pending the full hearing of the case, which will take place later this year.

However, in what is a turf war over legal jurisdiction, the Commission has told Ireland it has no legal right to take action under the UN Convention or through the second legal route being pursued by Dublin, the Ospar pact on marine pollution.

The Commission claims these actions improperly by-pass the EU's legal framework, which Ireland is obliged to follow as a member state.

The Independent on Sunday revealed last week that the UK Government had unexpectedly struck a deal with Norway to suspend the dumping of radioactive Technetium-99 into the Irish Sea for nine months. The deal, a u-turn in British policy, is expected to lead the Norwegians to dropping their own threatened legal action against the UK.

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