Energy minister defends UK over Irish allegations on MOX fuel manufacture at Sellafield before UNCLOS Tribunal hearing

June 11, 2003

London, 10 June 2003

Commencement of Arbitral Tribunal established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) - Ireland v United Kingdom

Proceedings to date

In The Hague today, five international arbitrators begin hearing the oral phase of a dispute brought against the United Kingdom by the Government of Ireland under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The tribunal will consider Ireland's claim that the United Kingdom's decision that the manufacture of MOX (mixed oxide) fuel is justified was taken without proper regard to certain provisions of UNCLOS - a claim the UK Government emphatically refutes.

On the eve of the hearing, United Kingdom Energy Minister Brian Wilson was clear in his support for the UK position saying: "We understand Irish concerns over Sellafield and were pleased that Ireland participated in the five separate rounds of consultation on the MOX plant.

"The fact is that the Sellafield MOX Plant does not generate any significant radioactive waste and has virtually no impact on radioactive discharges. The European Commission has made clear that the operation of the plant would not lead to any detrimental environmental impact on Ireland, or indeed on any other Member State of the European Union.

"We therefore regret that this case has been brought. We will respond comprehensively to Ireland's arguments and demonstrate that they have no basis in law or in fact.

"The UK and Ireland are very much in agreement on the substantive issues we face in maintaining safety and security at nuclear sites; reducing hazards and avoiding negative impacts on the environment are priorities that we all share. I discussed these priorities with the Irish Environment Minister on 28 May. Once this case is over, I hope we can return to a more cooperative and constructive approach to relations over Sellafield issues."

Notes to editors

1. The Sellafield MOX Plant manufactures Mixed Oxide (uranium and plutonium) fuel for use in foreign nuclear power stations. Before the plant could begin to operate, the practice of MOX fuel manufacture had to be justified in accordance with European legislation.

Following five rounds of public consultations beginning in January 1997, Margaret Beckett and Alan Milburn decided that MOX manufacture was "justified" in October 2001.

2. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) contains various provisions concerning protection of the marine environment. Ireland alleges the United Kingdom has failed to meet a number of these in reaching its decision on the manufacture of MOX fuel

3. In October 2001, Ireland requested an Arbitral Tribunal be set up under the dispute settlement provisions of UNCLOS. The five Arbitrators are:
- Judge Thomas A Mensah;
- Professor James Crawford SC;
- Maitre L. Yves Fortier CC QC;
- Professor Gerhard Hafner; and
- Sir Arthur Watts KCMG QC.

4. Ireland and the United Kingdom have submitted written arguments to the Tribunal. These may be found on the website of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at www.pca-cpa.org/

5. The oral arguments will be heard at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on Tuesday 10 June 2003, and are expected to continue until June.

Department of Trade and Industry, Press Release No. P/2003/334

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