Fouth quarter of 2001

Irish Government Presents WISE-Paris Report as "Evidence" in Case Against the UK Over the Sellafield MOX Plant

WISE-Paris, 23 November 2001

[Posted 23/11/2001]

In its case lodged against the United Kingdom concerning the new Sellafield MOX plant, Ireland, on 9 November 2001, called on the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to prescribe provisional measures pending the constitution of an arbitration tribunal, basing part of its argumentation on the recently-published report drawn up by WISE-Paris, and commissioned by the Directorate General for Research of the European Parliament. On the 19 and 20 November 2001 public hearing, the Irish party claimed that "the data contained in the summary of the report remains intact as evidence" before the Tribunal. The latter is expected to give a ruling on 3 December 2001.

Following the 3 October 2001 decision by the British Government to authorise the operation of the new mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility at Sellafield, Ireland instituted arbitration proceedings (1) on 25 October 2001 for contravention of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea against the UK, asking the latter in parallel to suspend the authorisation of the new plant and to stop international movements of radioactive materials associated with it.

The UK having declined to take the requested measures, Ireland submitted a Written Request on 9 November 2001, in which it called upon the Hamburg based UN Tribunal to issue injunctions to prevent the UK from starting the MOX facility and to stop movements of nuclear material to and from Sellafield pending arbitration.

In Part 1 of the Written Request, Ireland used the General Conclusions of the STOA Report (2) in its argumentation, affirming that "the dangers to the marine environment, and consequently to human health, which are posed by existing reprocessing activities at the Sellafield site, are widely recognised. A recent example is the independent report commissioned by the European Parliament's Scientific and Technological Option Assessment Programme… Against this background, it is clear that any discharges from the new source represented by the MOX plant would violate the United Kingdom's (Law of the Sea) obligations."

The UK's Written Response, submitted on 15 November 2001, rejected this argument and attempted to undermine the scientific value of the Report, on the basis of a single article published by the Irish Sunday Business Post, (3) according to which the study was qualified as "unscientific". In fact, as was noted by the Irish party at the public hearing, (4) despite the "enormous assistance from experts" no attempt was made in the UK's Written Response to "attack any of the data in the STOA report". Instead, the document only referred to a comment regarding the unauthorised release of information contained in the report. For the Irish party, it is clear that the "contractual dispute … has no bearing on (the) content", and that "the United Kingdom has chosen not to challenge (the) scientific data contained in the report". It pointed out to the fact that no "figure has been contradicted" and that the UK is "not in a position to dispute it".

Ireland also highlighted the vulnerability of the MOX plant, affirming that it "can only serve to increase the attractiveness of subjecting Sellafield to terrorist attack… Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 the spotlight has been placed firmly on threats of terrorist attack on nuclear facilities, including transports. Increased safety precautions have been taken in respect of nuclear facilities around the world, which are now recognised to be prime targets for terrorist attack".

The UK strengthened the no-fly zone over nuclear plants but has omitted so far to specify whether it intends to "install anti-aircraft batteries at Sellafield" as part of the "security precautions" taken by the Government. (5) British Nuclear Fuel Limited (BNFL), the operator of the Sellafield site, plans to start operation of the MOX plant around 20 December 2001. (6) The UK's decision to start the plant gave rise to a running fire of proceedings.

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth lodged proceedings on 8 November 2001 against the UK Government before the High Court. The two NGOs claimed that the UK Government's go-ahead to start the MOX plant was unlawful, because it was a breach to the justification principle as set out in the 1996 Euratom Directive. According to them, the Government had not shown sufficient economic justification for the plant and ignored its "construction costs".

The High Court rejected the allegation put forward by the NGOs but the latter are appealing the judgement and the hearing before the Court of Appeal is set for 27 November 2001.

Norway is also considering legal action to force the UK to curb its radioactive emissions from Sellafield. The leader of the Parliamentary energy and environment committee, Bror Ynge Rahm, expressed "support, both morally and politically, for the process started by the Irish Government", while considering a legal action "as a last resort". (7)


  1. International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, Hamburg, The MOX Plant Case (Ireland v. United Kingdom), Provisional Measures,
  2. The Report together with the evaluation of three experts were published by STOA under the title POSSIBLE TOXIC EFFECTS FROM THE NUCLEAR REPROCESSING PLANTS AT SELLAFIELD (UK) AND CAP DE LA HAGUE (FRANCE), A first contribution to the scientific debate. The Report is downloadable from the European Parliament's site:
  3. Leading scientists slam EU report on Sellafield, Sunday Business Post, 4 November 2001
  4. International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, Hamburg, The MOX Plant Case (Ireland v. United Kingdom), Provisional Measures,
  6. Reuters, 15 November 2001
  7. Reuters, 9 November 2001

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