Ireland demands the closure of Sellafield

Anti-nuclear campaign - Irish PM appeals directly to Britons in advertisement protesting against radioactive pollution
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The Independent Online

Bertie Ahern, Ireland's Prime Minister, yesterday called on the people of Britain to help him to get the Sellafield nuclear plant shut down as a "danger to the entire population of these islands".

His unprecedented initiative, in a special official statement, goes over Tony Blair's head to appeal to Britons to join him in trying to change their own government's policy. This extraordinary action marks the depth of Irish anger and frustration after years of trying to get successive governments to listen to concern about the Cumbrian nuclear complex.

In another remarkable move, Fianna Fail, Ireland's governing political party, yesterday took a full-page ad in a British national newspaper to put the case for closure. Signed by the party's representatives in both houses of the Dail and the European Parliament, it says that Sellafield is turning the Irish Sea into "a nuclear fuel highway" and poses "a grave security risk to both our countries". It also calls on ministers to reverse their decision last month to start up the highly controversial mixed oxide (Mox) nuclear fuel plant on the site.

"This is as much an issue for the British people as it is for us in Ireland," said Mr Ahern. "We will campaign ceaselessly to prevent the opening of the Mox plant and to shut Sellafield – for all our sakes." He will raise the issue personally with Mr Blair at a meeting of the Anglo-Irish Council in Dublin on Friday, and has already had extensive talks with the Prime Minister of Norway about further action against the complex.

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, writing in the Independent on Sunday today, calls the Mox plant "dangerous and uneconomic", and calls for nuclear power to be "phased out" altogether.

Ireland has been expressing concerns about Sellafield, which is just 112 miles from its coast, since the plant started operations in the 1950s. The protests have accelerated over the last decade. But the last straw was the decision to give the go-ahead to the Mox plant – which is designed to put into circulation many tons of nuclear fuel, containing enough plutonium for hundreds of terrorist bombs – so soon after the events of 11 September.

Last week the Irish government took Britain to court – the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg – to try to get the plant stopped. Mr Ahern promised to "relentlessly pursue every legal avenue" to achieve this goal.

It is also taking legal action under an international sea pollution convention to force Britain to show it a full copy of a report used to make the economic case for the plant.

Ireland told the Hamburg court that the decision to let the plant start up in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington was "difficult to comprehend".

It said "the desire of terrorist groups to obtain nuclear materials (such as Mox fuel) with which to manufacture a bomb" had "become clear". The vessels used to transport the fuel to Japan and other customers would also be "vulnerable to terrorist attack". It added that the new climate warrants a "wholesale review" of the security issues raised.

The British Government responded that its Office for Civil Nuclear Security had judged that the plant's operation would "present negligible security risks" and that "its view remains unchanged" despite "the events of 11 September".