Saturday, September 04, 2004

EU sues Britain over failure to clean up nuclear waste

By Stephen Castle in Brussels
04 September 2004
The Independent

The Government is facing unprecedented legal action over the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria after a decision by the European Commission to take Britain to court over its failure to clean up more than a ton of dangerous radioactive waste.

There has been international friction for years over the handling of a tank containing plutonium and uranium, some of which dates from the 1950s. Under the Euratom Treaty, signed by the UK, the commission has the power to order governments to document and dispose of radioactive waste. But yesterday's decision to take Britain to the European Court of Justice is the first of its kind, and the Government disputes the legal basis for the decision.

The row centres on the storage of waste plutonium and uranium, kept underwater in reinforced concrete ponds known as B30. These were built in 1959 to store uranium fuel rods used in military and civil reactors. The material accumulated over decades and was never properly documented.

The fuel is under water to keep it cool and to shield workers from radiation, and the ponds are thought to contain 1.3 tons of plutonium. So dangerous is the site that staff are said to be restricted to an hour's work a day near it, and inspectors have been unable to examine the material because of the conditions.

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