Nuclear inquiry 'betrays nerves'

THE CABINET OFFICE is co- ordinating a review of British Nuclear Fuels' new pounds 1.8bn reprocessing plant in Cumbria, in a move that is thought to betray political nervousness about the project on the part of the Department of the Environment.

BNFL said yesterday that it was neither surprised nor concerned by the review. However, informed sources suggest that the transfer to the Cabinet Office of responsibility for decisions on the future of BNFL's plant indicates that the Department of the Environment is nervous about its responsibility for approving radioactive emissions from the new plant.

The inquiry may re-open arguments about the need for the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant that was given the go-ahead in 1977.

According to the Cabinet Office, inter-departmental discussions are being chaired by Peter Owen, the deputy secretary, 'as part of the routine business of officials. They are being chaired by the Cabinet Office in line with its co-ordinating function'.

However, the inquiry will cover a much wider brief than Thorp's environmental impact and will review the implications of international trade and shipments of plutonium, and the economics of the plant.

Officials from several government departments - including the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Department of the Environment, Trade and Industry, the Foreign Office, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office - are involved in the review.

Thorp was completed this year but has been lying idle because of delays by the Pollution Inspectorate in issuing authorisations for radioactive emissions from the plant. HM Inspectorate of Pollution finally issued a draft of its authorisation last month for public comments.

However, the Government had received thousands of letters of concern about Thorp even before the consultation period started.

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