Ireland Fails to Secure Sellafield Information

Publish date: July 3, 2003

Written by: Erik Martiniussen

The Hague International Court of Arbitration Wednesday turned down a suit from Ireland seeking information about Sellafield’s construction costs and projected income from sales of its controversial mixed plutonium and uranium oxides fuel, or MOX, saying that Dublin’s suit did not correspond to an inquiry about environmental conditions.

On Wednesday, Dublin brought suit, under the auspices of the Oslo-Paris Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment in the North-East Atlantic, or OSPAR. But The Hague court turned down the request for the financial information.

“The tribunal finds Ireland’s claim that the United Kingdom has breached its obligations under Article 9 of the OSPAR convention by refusing to make available information does not arise,” the court decision to turn down the second case read. This means essentially that, under last week’s decision, Ireland may seek environmental information about Sellafield’s MOX fabrication plant, but that financial and commercial records are off limits.

Commercial Information Protected
“Today’s ruling unequivocally supports the UK position that commercially confidential information need not be disclosed where this would cause unacceptable harm to the commercial interests of a business,” Britain’s Minister of Energy Stephen Timms said in a statement to the press.

“All information concerning the environmental impact of the Sellafield MOX plant has been published,” he said.

The Irish suit was the second brought to The Hague tribunal over Sellafield in less than a fortnight. Last week’s suit requested that all MOX production be stopped at Sellafield because of the plant’s discharges of radioactive waste into the Irish Sea and the sea transportation of MOX fuel carried out along the Irish coast, which many consider to be an open invitation for terrorists because of the fuel’s plutonium content.

The court rejected this request, but suspended the case until “not later than” December 1st on grounds that, the court said, European Commission courts, not the tribunal, may have jurisdiction in the case.

The court, however, strongly recommended last week that both parties abstain from any actions regarding the dispute in order not to aggravate the situation. It also criticised the UK for lack of cooperation with Ireland on nuclear safety issues at Sellafield and ruled that Ireland and the United Kingdom should seek a medium of closer communication regarding these issues.

Irish Spirits Not Dampened by Failure
This week’s suit over Sellafield’s commercial information, though unsuccessful, did not, however, dampen the spirit of Irish Minister of the Environment Martin Cullen, who insisted that even the failure of the case was a step forward because it paved the way for further legal action.

“We’re stronger today than we were yesterday,” Cullen told the Irish Examiner newspaper. “The tribunal rejected Britain’s view that it had no right to hear the case.”

The Sellafield MOX plant opened in December 2001, and is the largest MOX fabrication plant in the world. Ireland has strongly opposed the plant’s operations since its opening, claiming it will be a prime terrorist target, and that its discharges of radioactive substances threaten the environment.