The UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has rejected a bid by the government of Ireland to block the commissioning of BNFL’s Sellafield MOX plant (SMP).

The Irish government had asked the Hamburg-based tribunal to issue “provisional measures” to prevent operation of SMP before February — when the ruling by an arbitration tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is expected. The tribunal stated: “It is the responsibility of the UK if it wants to commission the plant and later run the risk of it being closed down.” The UK was ordered to “devise, as appropriate, measures to prevent pollution of the marine environment” that might be a result of the operational launch of SMP next summer. The tribunal also ruled that, pending the arbitration tribunal, the UK and Ireland should “exchange further information with regard to possible consequences for the Irish Sea” and monitor “effects of the operation of the MOX plant for the Irish Sea.” After the hearing, judge Rudiger Wolfrum said: “The court was disturbed by the lack of cooperation between the two countries.” The Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern has attacked the UK’s decision to commission SMP. In a full-page advertisement in The Times he argued that SMP contravened international law on sea pollution. The advertisement stated: “Sellafield poses an unacceptable and unnecessary risk to our environment.” It went on to say that “Sellafield poses a grave security risk to both our countries.” In a separate bid to prevent the commissioning of SMP, three Court of Appeal judges rejected an appeal brought by Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, following a High Court ruling that the government had acted lawfully in giving the go-ahead for SMP.

The first stage of active plutonium commissioning began on December 20, 2001. BNFL said there would be a “phased and prudent ramp-up of commissioning” prior to the start of full commercial operation.