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Civilian Nuclear Industries Under Siege Of New Concerns

A part of the newly designed nuclear reactor for the Iranian power station Busher leaves by train the plant 'Izhorkiye zavodi' in Kolpino, on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, 16 November 2001. AFP/EPA photo by Nikita Infantyev
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  • Dublin (AFP) Nov 18, 2001
    Ireland is to launch a new legal bid aimed at blocking Britain's decision to proceed with a controversial MOX nuclear recycling plant, a government spokesman said on Sunday.

    Attorney General Michael McDowell will lead a team of lawyers in Germany on Monday that will ask the Hamburg-based UN Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to order an immediate suspension of the controversial 470-million-pound (670-million-dollar) development at Sellafield on Britain's west coast.

    The move is being made ahead of the convening of an international arbitration tribunal under the 1982 UN Convention for a full hearing of Ireland's case.

    Both Britain and Ireland are signatories of the convention.

    Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has been pressing for the closure of the entire Sellafield complex, and the decision to expand it without consulting Dublin has angered ministers.

    Ahern has described Sellafield as a "surviving dinosaur of a defunct military-industrial complex" and said it was the single most serious threat to the Irish environment.

    "We will be seeking a suspension of the commissioning of the MOX plant on December 20," a spokesman for the public enterprise ministry said on Sunday.

    "The purpose of the legal action is to prevent the operation of the MOX plant and the international movements of radioactive materials in and around the Irish Sea that will be associated with it," he added.

    The government is taking the legal proceedings on the grounds that Britain has "violated numerous provisions" of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

    "The government considers that the UK has failed to co-operate with Ireland by withholding information on the MOX plant and has failed to carry out a proper environmental assessment of the plant and associated transportation of radioactive materials," the spokesman said.

    "By permitting new discharges of radioactive materials into the Irish Sea it has also violated its obligations to protect the marine environment."

    Last week, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth failed to get the mixed plutonium and uranium oxide plant go-ahead declared unlawful at the High Court in London.

    Japanese town votes against nuclear plant

    Meanwhile on the opposite side of the world a tiny Japanese town Sunday voted overwhelmingly against inviting an electric company to build a nuclear plant there in a rare step of calling a poll even before a building proposal is made, reports said.

    Some 67 percent of votes cast by residents of Miyama, some 300 kilometres (185 miles) west of Tokyo, were against the plan.

    The votes against totaled 5,215 while those for numbered 2,512, Kyodo news agency said.

    Voters showed a keen interest in the legally non-binding plebiscite, the third held in Japan on nuclear power plants with some 89 percent of the town's 8,748 eligible voters casting their ballots.

    As the result of the vote came out, mayor Tatsuo Shiotani told a news conference there would be no campaign to invite a power company to build a nuclear plant in the town, Kyodo reported.

    "Debate in the town on nuclear power has come to an end," he said.

    It is the third municipal in Japan to vote on a nuclear power plant but the first to vote even before a power company has made a formal proposal.

    "We took the first step to decide the future of Miyama today. We have done what we should do," Kenichi Furuhashi, the representative of an opponents' group told a television network earlier Sunday.

    Chubu Electric Power Co. Inc., which serves the seaside town with a population of 10,292, "has nothing to do with today's voting," said another town official.

    "There was a proposal from the company some four decades ago, but it was dashed due to enormous protest," he said.

    But recently, the local chamber of commerce and industry had tried to resurrect the plan.

    The chamber and promoters filed a petition with the local assembly calling for the construction, leading other residents to file a counter petition.

    Proponents wanted the plant for economic reasons, the official said. "For one reason ... the town's population is declining," he said alluding to expectations that the project might create jobs.

    The result of the vote is legally non-binding, but the town's 18-member assembly "will take into account in decision making the residents' will" as expressed Sunday, he said.

    Chubu Electric Power, based in the central Japan city of Nagoya, was hit by two accidents this month.

    A steel pipe at a nuclear reactor cracked and leaked radioactive steam in a pressure-injection system in Hamaoka, 180 kilometers (110 miles) southwest of Tokyo, on November 7, according to Chubu Electric.

    The 540,000-kilowatt reactor leaked radioactive water during an inspection two days later.

    None of the radioactive material had escaped from the facility, the power company said.

    Japan's worst nuclear accident occurred at a uranium processing plant in the village of Tokaimura, 120 kilometres (75 miles) northeast of Tokyo on September 30, 1999.

    Three workers at the Tokaimura plant set off a critical reaction when they poured too much uranium into a precipitation tank, using steel buckets instead of mechanical methods.

    The accident exposed more than 400 residents to radiation in what was the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986. Two of the workers later died.

    Russia ships nuclear reactor parts to Iran

    In separate developments, a Russian equipment producer Friday shipped a key component of a nuclear reactor to Iran, under a deal which has angered the United States, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

    The Izhorskiye Zavody company, based in Saint Petersburg, sent the shell of a reactor to Bushehr, where Iran plans to build a water-cooled nuclear power station, the company's officials said.

    An Iranian nuclear energy ministry official, who was present at the ceremony at the Russian plant to bid the reactor shell a safe journey, said Tehran hoped for continued bilateral cooperation in "key industries".

    The Russian company has already built 20 reactor assembly kits for power stations in Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria and is about to complete the manufacture of equipment for two units of China's Tian Wan nuclear plant.

    Russia's cooperation with Iran has alarmed Washington which considers Iran to be a "rogue state" and fears that Moscow might supply Tehran with nuclear, biological or chemical arms.

    "We believe Iran uses Bushehr as a cover for obtaining sensitive technologies to advance its nuclear weapons program, as we have said in the past," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said.

    However, Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month vehemently denied charges that Moscow might violate its obligations on nuclear non-proliferation.

    Most of the material to be used in the first tranche of the nuclear project at Bushehr, in western Iran, will be delivered at the start of 2002, the Russian atomic energy ministry announced last month.

    Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, during a visit to Moscow last March, expressed concern at mounting delays in the construction of the Bushehr power plant, ordered in January 1994 after the German constructor Siemens withdrew in the face of US pressure.

    Washington and Jerusalem fear the Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation could enable Tehran to acquire the technology needed to build nuclear weapons, an accusation that Russia dismisses.

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