Britain condemned for safety lapses at Sellafield by environment chief

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Brussels has stepped up the international pressure on Britain over lapses at the Sellafield nuclear power plant with an outspoken condemnation by the European environment commissioner, Margot Wallström.

Brussels has stepped up the international pressure on Britain over lapses at the Sellafield nuclear power plant with an outspoken condemnation by the European environment commissioner, Margot Wallström.

In the clearest criticism yet of the British government, Ms Wallström told the European parliament that she is "highly concerned" over the falsification of data at Sellafield, adding that "we cannot tolerate any negligence in relation to nuclear safety within the present and greater European Union".

"The neglect of internationally agreed nuclear safety standards should be openly and firmly condemned," she added.

The falsification of quality control data occurred in the mixed oxide (Mox) fuel plant at Sellafield on material destined for customers in Japan but not yet exported. The falsified data, revealed by The Independent last September, was subsequently found to affect Mox fuel on its way to Japan - initially declared free of fabrication by BNFL, the operator of Sellafield.

Ms Wallström's comments follow pressure from the parliament's industry committee which tabled a formal question to the commissioner over Sellafield. Its vice-chair, Nuala Ahern, a Green MEP from Ireland, made a blunt attack on the speed and effectiveness of British safety procedures, arguing that the report by the UK Nuclear Installations Inspectorate "is a damning indictment of safety at the plant and falsification of safety checks there". She added: "What are we to make of the fact that this investigation by the UK Nuclear Inspectorate resulted from a press report in the UK Independent following which the UK government sent in the nuclear inspectorate? Surely it should have been the other way around."

Ms Wallström's comments will be an embarrassment to the Government, which has faced international pressure not only from Ireland but from Denmark and other Nordic countries concerned about radioactive contamination of their fishing waters.

However, the commission has few real powers in this area because, under the International Convention on Nuclear Safety, the responsibility for policing standards lies with member states.

One source said Ms Wallström's comments were designed to increase the "moral pressure" on the Government.

Sellafield won some support in the parliament. Giles Chichester, the UK's Conservative spokesman on trade and industry, said: "Sellafield is a vital national industry for energy supply. It is deeply regrettable that an unholy alliance between the Greens and Irish MEPs has resulted in a classic knee-jerk reaction."

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