Sellafield: EC versus UK

6 September 2004

The European Commission (EC) is to take the United Kingdom to court in the culmination of a decade-long struggle over plutonium accounting on the Sellafield site.

For many years, European Union (EU) inspectors working under the Euratom treaty have complained that BNFL’s accounting for the contents of the B30 spent fuel store is inadequate. B30 contains a series of spent fuel pools which, in total, are thought to hold 1.3t of plutonium. Inspectors say that visibility in the store is too low and radiation levels too high to assess the contents quickly and accurately enough for spot safeguards inspections. In addition, about 400kg of the plutonium is in the form of sludge on the pool floors.

In March this year, the EC issued a directive ordering the UK to present a plan of action that will enable BNFL to account for the material to its satisfaction, with a deadline of 1 May.

That deadline was extended by one month and energy commissioner Loyola de Palacio waited a further three months before losing patience and referring the matter to the European Court of Justice on 3 September, saying the information she received was not sufficient. It will be the first time a Euratom signatory has been taken to Europe’s highest court under the treaty’s terms.

A spokesman from the UK’s Department of Trade and Industry told EurActiv: “Issues of nuclear safety and the environment do not fall under the Euratom treaty” and that the UK government would consider its response to the legal challenge. The department insists that there is no suggestion of the materials being diverted or any safety or environmental issue.

As a result of the increased pressure, de Palacio now expects the UK to put forward “adequate commitments and plans.”

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