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GREEN GROUPS WIN "PARTIAL VICTORY" ON MOX APPEAL
07 Dec 2001
Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have overturned an important
part of last month's controversial High Court ruling that the Government
had lawfully given the Sellafield Mixed Oxide (MOX) plant the green
light. (1) But the MOX plant can still open, despite the fact that it
will never recover its costs and that it represents a serious threat
to public safety.
The Court of Appeal's decision means that in future, before any new
nuclear project can go ahead, the construction and other capital costs
will have to be taken into account when deciding if the practice is
economically beneficial (2). The Court of Appeal ruled that it was only
on the basis that no other MOX plants will be built in this country
that the Government was entitled to ignore the £470 million already
spent on the MOX plant.
Less than an hour after the Court of Appeal hearing ended last week,
Patricia Hewitt announced in Parliament that MOX was to be transferred
to a new Liabilities Management Authority, the future guardian
of the unprofitable and unsaleable parts of Britain's nuclear industry.
(3) Greenpeace and FOE will be calling on the Government to rethink
its decision to let MOX go ahead.
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,
We're pleased that the Appeal Court has overturned the worst
features of the High Court judgement. But we're angry that this pointless,
dangerous and uneconomic MOX plant is still on course to open. Nobody
wants MOX and nobody needs it. It will simply encourage nuclear proliferation,
increase nuclear pollution and threaten public safety. It's not too
late for the Government to see sense over MOX, and change its mind.
Stephen Tindale, Executive Director of Greenpeace UK said,
The Government argued in court that the MOX plant made economic
and then promptly declared the plant a liability. They cant have
both ways. The Government has no common sense justification for opening
a plant that would only serve to spread plutonium around the world and
increase the danger of nuclear terrorism.
- In the High Court hearing, Mr Justice Collins held that the Government's
decision to give British Nuclear Fuels Ltd the go-ahead for the manufacture
of MOX at Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP)was not unlawful under European
law. Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace argued 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. The Government and BNFL argued that capital costs should normally
be taken into account but should be ignored if they had already been
incurred. In a controversial judgment, Mr Justice Collins had ruled
that the costs of setting up a new nuclear plant should never be weighed
in the balance when deciding whether a nuclear practice is economically
- Although the Court of Appeal today ruled that the Government's decision
to authorise the manufacture of MOX fuel at Sellafield was not unlawful,
the Court held that Mr Justice Collins had been wrong to decide that
capital costs (including construction costs) should never be taken
into account when deciding whether a practice giving rise to radiation
was economically justified.
In a judgment, with which Lord Justices Waller and Dyson agreed, Lord
Justice Simon Brown held that the environmental groups had rightly
argued that the capital costs inherent in a new type of practice
... are indeed a cost of the practice and relevant, therefore, when
evaluating the overall economic benefit (or detriment) likely to result
from adopting the practice.
Nonetheless, the three Court of Appeal judges held that, as SMP was
likely to be the only MOX plant built in this country there was no
requirement for the Government to take into account the costs of construction
that had already been incurred (the 'sunk costs') SMP when deciding
if the practice of MOX manufacture generally was justified.
- Within half an hour of the court hearing ending, Patricia Hewitt
last week announced to the House of Commons the creation of a new
Liabilities Management Authority (LMA) to take control of the UK's
civil nuclear liabilities and associated assets. The LMA, rather than
BNFL, will now be responsible for the Government's interest in the
management of public sector civil nuclear liabilities. In particular,
the LMA will take on responsibility for the whole Sellafield site
including Sellafield MOX Plant. The reason for the restructuring was
said by the DTI to be that BNFL's long term liabilities now exceed
its assets. Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace say that this means
that BNFL is effectively bankrupt. The new information could not be
put before the High Court before its judgement. Friends of the Earth
and Greenpeace will be writing to the Secretary of State for the Environment
demanding that the decision to give MOX the go-ahead on the grounds
of economic viability should be urgently reconsidered.
- Earlier this week, the United Nations International Tribunal of
the Law of the Sea rejected the Republic of Ireland's application
for interim measures to halt the operation of Sellafield MOX plant
prior to the full hearing of the case against the UK next year. However,
in the tribunal's judgment, the 21 judges noted that Britain had an
obligation to prevent pollution of the marine environment that might
result from operation of the plant. The tribunal also ordered the
UK to cooperate with Ireland in preparing an assessment of possible
consequences for the Irish Sea arising out of the commissioning of
the MOX plant and devising measures to prevent such pollution. Nuala
Aherne, an Irish Green MEP has also made a complaint to the European
Commission that the 'sunk costs' of the plant amount to an 'illegal
subsidy'. The EC has said it will take this complain seriously
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