Letter: Plutonium perils

TODAY (16 March) is the final day for submissions to the UK Environment Agency in response to the application by British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) to commission the Sellafield MOX Plant in west Cumbria.

A fierce debate is going on between the proponents and detractors of this process, which mixes plutonium oxide extracted in nuclear reprocessing plants with uranium oxide and binds them in ceramic pellet form for burning in thermal reactors.

BNFL has run an imaginative PR campaign about turning burnt matches into fuel for future generations. But the target audience didn't understand it.

The industry sees MOX as a means of returning plutonium to the contracting utilities in a safe and uncontroversial form and a lifeboat to cling to until international opinion swings back in their favour and they are called upon to build the next generation of nuclear power plants, and ultimately the fast breeder.

BNFL was permitted to build the Sellafield MOX plant before the last government had arrived at any policy on the merits, or otherwise, of mixed oxide fuel fabrication, increased transportation of radioactive materials, potential proliferation concerns (by blurring the distinction between civil and military end use) and spent MOX fuel management.

This Government must not repeat the mistakes of its predecessors. It must "call-in" BNFL's application to commission the Sellafield MOX Plant. It must consider, in an open and transparent manner, the case for a public inquiry where all the issues can be thoroughly investigated in the context of the sustainable society this government is committed to delivering.

PATRICIA BIRNIE, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, USA; SARAH BURTON, Greenpeace; MARTIN FORWOOD, Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment; PAD GREEN, Friends of the Earth; MARTIN KALINOWSKI, International Network of Engineers and Scientists against Proliferation, Germany; DAVE KNIGHT, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament; XANTHE HALL, International Physicians for the Prevention of War, Germany; MARTIN HEMINGWAY, Nuclear- Free Local Authorities; ARJUN MAKHIJANI, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Washington DC; MICHAEL MARIOTTE Nuclear Information and Resources Service, Washington DC; KRISTEN OSTLING, Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout, Canada; PAUL LEVENTHAL, Nuclear Control Institute, Washington DC; THOMAS SMITH,

Environmental Society, Imperial College London; GRACE THORP

National Environmental Coalition of Native Americans, US; Dr LIZ WATERSON, Nuclear Strategy Group Medact; JOHN WATSON, Socialist Environment and Resources Association

Penrith, Cumbria