15 Nov 2001
A High Court Judge today ruled that the Government's recent decision to give British Nuclear Fuels Ltd the go-ahead for the MOX plant at Sellafield was not unlawful under European law. Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace had made the case that the Government had wrongly disregarded the 470 million it cost to build the plant when deciding that the plant was economically justified under EU law (1). In a controversial judgment, Mr Justice Collins ruled that the costs of setting up a new nuclear plant should not be weighed in the balance of economic costs and benefits when deciding whether any nuclear practice is economically justified. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth will consider whether to appeal Mr Justice Collins' decision.
The controversial MOX plant is still the subject of three further legal challenges; two separate actions have been brought by the Irish Government arguing, under one of them, that the MOX plant will break international laws on sea pollution; a third action has been brought by Irish MEP, Nuala Ahern. One of Ireland's challenges will be heard before a tribunal of 21 judges in Hamburg next week. Norway is also said to be considering legal action (2).
Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth also believe that the MOX facility, which is intended to make
nuclear reactor fuel out of plutonium and uranium for export around the world, will increase the risk of
terrorists seizing nuclear material and increase the risk of Sellafield itself being targeted by terrorists.
Plutonium is one of the most dangerous materials in the world. As little as 4kg is required to make a
nuclear bomb. Far less is required to make a 'dirty bomb' _ conventional explosive added to plutonium
so it causes widespread contamination on detonation.
Charles Secrett, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth said:
"Today's judgment allows the Government to ignore plant construction costs when deciding whether a nuclear project is justified. In this land of fantasy economics the Government can fiddle the figures until it gets the result it wants.
"Despite this bitter blow the campaign against MOX continues. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to do what we can to stop this nuclear madness from proceeding."
Stephen Tindale, Executive Director of Greenpeace UK said:
"While today's decision is disappointing, our fight to stop the MOX plant from opening is not over. BNFL's order book is virtually empty, the plant poses a substantial risk as a terrorist target and producer of bomb-making materials, and faces three more legal challenges.
"Tony Blair was right when he highlighted the threats from international
terrorism and nuclear proliferation in his speech to the Labour Party
Conference. It's time his actions matched his words and his Government
stopped allowing activities that will arm the terrorists of tomorrow."
The MOX plant was completed in 1996 but has not begun operations following financial concerns and a scandal in 1999 when BNFL workers falsified safety data on a trial batch of MOX fuel which was about to be tested in a Japanese reactor. Japan has so far refused to sign any MOX contracts with BNFL. This is striking since BNFL's Chief Executive has said that without Japanese contracts BNFL could not justify opening the plant (3).
Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace believe there is no chance that BNFL will ever recoup the costs
of building the MOX plant and that taxpayers will have to bear the brunt of any failure to secure
customers for a nuclear fuel that is more expensive and dangerous to use than the alternatives.
BNFL hopes to make an estimated 50-80 MOX fuel shipments over the next 10 years from the UK to
Europe and Japan. Possible routes from the shipments would take them around South America and
Cape Horn, the Panama Canal or Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, Australia and the Pacific, as well as
through the North Sea, English Channel and Baltic. Many states en-route have expressed concern not
only over attacks on the shipments but over the risk of an accident which would be devastating for
islands heavily dependant on tourism, agriculture and fishing.
Friends of the Earth
26-28 Underwood St.
Tel: 020 7490 1555
Fax: 020 7490 0881