MEPs warn of terror risk to Sellafield

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European MPs warned yesterday of the danger of a terrorist attack on the nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield.

The warning came during a European Parliament committee session in which the plant in Cumbria was described as one of the world's worst polluters. During a sometimes stormy meeting, a Labour MEP was accused of making a racist remark to an Irish colleague as exchanges became heated over Sellafield's safety record.

Discharges from Sellafield have long been of concern in Ireland and campaigners have deluged Downing Street with postcards calling on Tony Blair to shut Sellafield.

Yesterday the argument was extended to encompass the added dangers posed by terrorism. Several Irish and British MEPs united in voicing fears that, after the 11 September attacks, Sellafield and a similar plant at Cap de la Hague in France might be terrorist targets. Avril Doyle, a Fine Gael MEP argued: "Before 11 September I would have laughed at the suggestion, but the game has changed completely since then – completely and tragically for all of us. We need experts to try to quantify the increased risk of a major credible terrorist attack on Sellafield and Cap La Hague since September 11."

Nuala Ahern, an Irish Green MEP, also warned of a "serious risk of a terrorist attack".

Roy Perry, a Conservative MEP, said he had written to Mr Blair asking what measures had been put in place since 11 September, but had received no reply. "There seem to be two ways of dealing with this. The French government has gone for openness, keeping people informed about security measures, but the British Government prefers total secrecy on such matters. They cannot both be right. We need to know what is being done," he said.

The hearing was plunged into controversy when a British Labour MEP, Gordon Adam, was accused of making a racist comment to Ms Ahern.

She claimed that during the exchanges over the safety record of Sellafield Mr Adam said that, because she is Irish, she did not understand English. Ms Ahern described Mr Adam's comments as "unacceptable and racist and extraordinary for the European Parliament where we do not insult people because of their national identity".

Mr Adam was not available for comment, but a spokeswoman for the Labour Party in the European Parliament said the comment was inappropriate. Her understanding was that the matter was closed.

The committee discussed a report by the Paris-based World Information Service on Energy on the possible toxic effects from the Sellafield and Cap de la Hague plants, both of which discharge radioactive material into the environment.

The report says discharges from the plants are some of the largest man-made radioactive releases in the world. It argues that "discharges result in high radioactive concentrations in foodstuffs" and says that "it cannot be ruled out that these very large releases" could contribute to leukaemia clusters around Sellafield.