Anger at backing for nuclear waste plant

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Environmental groups have condemned a report that concludes there is a "robust" economic case for opening a nuclear-waste plant at Sellafield in Cumbria.

The public version of the report by accountants Arthur D Little Limited, published yesterday, says there are strong reasons to suggest the opening of the Sellafield mixed oxide plant (SMP) would be in the national economic interest.

The accountants, who were asked to do the review by Government ministers before the general election, calculated there was a 97 per cent chance of the SMP earning £216m during the lifetime of the project.

Friends of the Earth is challenging the basis of the calculations, claiming accountants did not take into consideration the estimated £460m that was spent on building the SMP. If they did then the project would lose about £250m.

British Nuclear Fuels, which runs the Sellafield site, built the SMP four years ago to reprocess the spent plutonium fuel of overseas customers, mainly in Japan but also in Germany.

The company had been waiting for the Government to issue an operating licence when in August 1999 it was hit by the scandal over the falsification of safety data within the smaller mixed oxide (Mox) demonstration facility, first revealed by The Independent.

Mox fuel rods made in the demonstration plant and already delivered to Japan have had to be returned to Sellafield, with the result that BNFL's Japanese customers lost confidence in the company.

BNFL needed Japanese orders to justify a licence to operate its new SMP. Meanwhile Japan wanted the company to have a licence before it went ahead with orders.

Norman Askew, BNFL's chief executive, said: "This report shows our economic case stands up to rigorous scrutiny and clearly demonstrates that the plant is in the national interest."

Mark Johnston, of Friends of the Earth, said the Arthur D Little report confirmed the plutonium plant will lose hundreds of millions of pounds. "We consider it would be unlawful for the Government to give the plant the go-ahead, and it is a scandal it was ever built in the first place. Ministers must dismiss BNFL's application or risk further legal challenge," Mr Johnston said.