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Brussels, 30 March 2004

Nuclear safeguards: the Commission imposes binding measures to put an end to an infringement at the Sellafield site in the United Kingdom

The UK authorities today received a request from the Commission to put an end to a situation regarded as unacceptable at the Sellafield nuclear facility. Loyola de Palacio, the Vice-President responsible for Energy and Transport, said: "The Commission is responsible for checking that the Member States comply with the provisions agreed by the Member States in the framework of the Euratom Treaty; it is essential that these checks can be carried out". The Commission's analysis concludes that the UK operator, British Nuclear Fuel plc (BNFL) has failed to comply with the provisions of the Euratom Treaty and the rules concerning accounting for nuclear material and the access of Commission inspectors to nuclear material to check the nature and quantity of the nuclear material. The UK will have to submit an action plan by 1 June 2004 proposing the measures needed to put an end to this infringement. Loyola de Palacio added: "This problem has been known for a long time, but no concrete initiative has been taken by the operator to rectify it. The situation had therefore become untenable for the Commission. It calls into question the credibility of our safeguards, which our team of inspectors has been carrying out for fifty years in accordance with very high standards".

BNFL manages a number of facilities at the Sellafield site in the UK. Most of them, including the one involved in the present case (B30), process spent nuclear fuel. Pursuant to the Euratom Treaty, these installations are subject to Community inspections consisting of checking accounting records of the nuclear material held by the operators and comparing them with the results of on-the-spot inspections. The ultimate aim of the inspections is to ensure that the nuclear material used is not diverted from peaceful uses, i.e. the generation of nuclear energy for non-military uses.

However, for a number of years, the Commission's inspection services have informed BNFL that the nuclear material held in B30 could not be inspected properly, in contravention of Articles 79 and 81 of the Euratom Treaty. It is irradiated fuel stored in a pond. In accounting terms, it is impossible to determine accurately the quantities of material stored and on-the-spot inspections cannot take place because of the high level of radiation and poor visibility in the part of the facility concerned.

Recognising the technical difficulties preventing an immediate solution, the Commission has regularly requested BNFL, the last time in March 2003, to submit an overall plan setting out the measures needed to put an end to the situation. However, despite its commitments, BNFL has so far failed to come up with a formal action plan or adopt the measures needed to put an end to the infringement once and for all.

Formally, the Commission today adopted a Directive under Article 82 of the Euratom Treaty enjoining the UK to present to the Commission before 1 June 2004 an overall plan ensuring adequate accounting for the nuclear material in question, as well as physical access to the facilities concerned. In addition, the UK authorities are required to submit to the Commission every six months a report on progress with implementing the plan.

Should the UK authorities fail to meet these obligations within the deadlines set, the Commission could impose penalties directly on BNFL.

To find out more about nuclear safeguards, please consult the brochure on the following website:

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