Dispute to stop British trade in plutonium moves to International Arbitrarian Court

Press release - 20 October, 2002

With the opening of a unique legal case brought by the Government of Ireland against the British Government at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague tomorrow, the international effort to stop the UK producing and transporting dangerous plutonium fuel (MOX) around the world moves a step forward (1).

The hearings concern the licensing and operation of the controversial Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP), which was built by state- owned company British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL). Ireland argues that in approving the plant the British Government withheld vital information on the operation of the facility, including its commercial viability. It will be seeking during the week to have access to details in UK Government reports which were claimed to be 'commercially sensitive' prior to authorization of the plutonium facility.

"The UK Government has been rightly dragged into international court over its obsessive and secretive support for a nuclear business that makes no economic sense. This business will leads to massive radioactive contamination of the environment, and puts into global commerce thousands of kilograms of bomb-usable plutonium," said Shaun Burnie, nuclear campaigner of Greenpeace International.

In 2001, Greenpeace legally challenged the UK Government's approval of the SMP on the grounds that its environmental risk outweighed any economic benefits, and therefore authorization was not justified under European law. The UK argued that BNFL would secure business with its largest potential clients in Japan, and that the cost of the plant, 470 million sterling, could be written off - at taxpayers expense (2). Although the High Court in London then accepted the UK Government's arguments and ruled against Greenpeace, Ireland's legal argument at the Permanent Court of Arbitration is a strong one.

Since the process was launched in June 2001, BNFL has informed the UK Government that it is bankrupt, despite having for years claimed that its plutonium business was highly profitable. BNFL has also failed to secure any MOX contracts with Japan, and with no prospects of securing business following major scandals in Japan in recent months.

"Ireland's case this week is a milestone in the global efforts to stop this dangerous trade and will be watched by nations around the world who demand an end to this madness. Hiding behind the curtain of commercial sensitivity when the issue is trading in nuclear weapons material is clearly unacceptable and hopefully this week the curtain will be lifted," added Burnie.

Over 80 Governments recently condemned a shipment made by BNFL of rejected plutonium MOX fuel from Japan to the UK. The Arbitration Court is expected to make a decision later this year. Ireland is also pursuing a legal case against the UK and the Sellafield MOX Plant through the International Tribunal for the United Nations Law of the Sea, this case will come to court in 2003.

Notes: 1 - Ireland citing its rights under the Oslo Paris Commission (OSPAR) Article 9 to have access to information has brought the case to be settled through international arbitration as allowed under Article 32. The case relates to the disclosure of information by the UK Government during the authorization process for the SMP. Ireland claims that the UK on the operations of the SMP, including its likely customer base did not provide it. The OSPAR formally has no involvement in this case which will centre on what is covered by commercial exemptions to the right to access information in a convention covering pollution in the north-east Atlantic. The OSPAR convention was opened for signature in Paris in 1992 and has been signed or ratified by 15 European nations. The Sellafield MOX Plant through its operation will increase radioactive discharges to the Irish Sea and increase the amount of nuclear waste at the Sellafield site. It will also lead to an increase in the transportation of plutonium through the Irish Sea (and around the world) threatening environmental contamination, nuclear accident, terrorist attack and proliferation. In June 2001 the then Irish Minister responsible for Sellafield issues, Joe Jacobs, stated, "...Dublin believes the development is neither economically nor socially justified. Last week the Irish Minister for the Environment Eamon Cullen described the case as a "defining moment" in the drive to have the British Nuclear Fuels complex at Sellafield closed down. "Getting access to those reports is the key to making a factual assessment on which to base further action," he said. See, Irish Times October 17th 2002. The century-old Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) was established by the Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, concluded at The Hague in 1899 during the first Hague Peace Conference. The most concrete achievement of the Conference was the establishment of the PCA: the first global mechanism for the settlement of inter-state disputes. The 1899 Convention, which provided the legal basis for the PCA, was revised at the second Hague Peace Conference in 1907. There are currently 97 States, which are parties to one or both of the Conventions. Three nominated Arbitration Judges will hear the case during the next week. 2 - In particular the UK Government commissioned the report, "Assessment of BNFL's Business Case for the Sellafield MOX Plant," from consultants Arthur D Little. The report was released in July 2001 but vital financial and other data about the prospects for the plant were censored and not released publicly, to the UK High Court or the Government of Ireland. ADL did not consider the possibility that BNFL may fail to win business in Japan, even though future Japanese contracts even then were highly uncertain. Alongside BNFL, ADL has subsequently gone bankrupt.