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Nuclear plant challenge rejected

HAMBURG, Germany -- Ireland has lost a legal bid to keep Britain from starting work at a controversial nuclear waste reprocessing plant.

A U.N. court based in Hamburg refused to grant Ireland's request for an injunction to halt the December 20 start-up of a mixed oxide (MOX) fuel plant at the Sellafield nuclear site.

Ireland went to court because it feared radioactive discharges from the 472m plant, which is located across the Irish Sea on the northwest coast of England.

Campaigners say residents in some Irish east-coast towns suffer higher-than-average cancer rates, which they blame on Sellafield.

The facility has been mothballed since 1996 because of financial and safety concerns.

But the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea was not convinced the situation was urgent enough to require an injunction.

Instead, it ordered Britain and Ireland to exchange more information about risks faced by starting up the plant, which would produce a fuel that mixes uranium oxide and plutonium.

"The court was disturbed by the lack of cooperation between the two countries. Our aim was to force them to cooperate," Judge Rudiger Wolfrum told reporters after the hearing.

In its ruling, the tribunal said "the duty to cooperate is a fundamental principle in the prevention of pollution of the marine environment."

The court ordered the two countries to submit reports to the tribunal by December 17.

Wolfrum said the deadline was deliberate and would give Ireland time to consult about the MOX plant before start-up.

At a two-day hearing last month in Hamburg, Irish Attorney General Michael McDowell told the court the issue was about protecting the Irish Sea from radioactive pollution.

The British government argued in writing that the court lacked jurisdiction in the case.

Joe Jacob, the Irish minister responsible for nuclear safety, said Ireland was pleased the tribunal recognised Britain had an obligation to "prevent pollution of the marine environment which might result from the operation of the MOX plant."

He said Ireland might take its case to the European Court of Justice.

Ireland wants an international arbitration tribunal to be set up under a U.N. provision to resolve the dispute. That tribunal should be established in early February.

Jacob said he wants Britain to delay start-up until an agreement has been reached on preventing pollution.


• 10 Downing Street
• Irish Government

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