British nuclear operators face being sued for billions of pounds by the Irish government and Irish victims of any radioactive damage they cause under legal changes to be introduced this year.
Politicians and campaigners in Dublin have long complained about the impact, both historical and potential, of the UK’s civil nuclear programme close to its shores, with particular focus on the safety record of Sellafield. The Cumbria site is located less than 100 miles from Ireland’s east coast.
Greenpeace has warned that the dumping of the reprocessing plant’s liquid waste has made the Irish Sea among the most contaminated waters in the world, even though Ireland itself produces no nuclear energy. Irish fishermen have been angered by catches of unsaleable mutated fish and by findings that they have been exposed to low-level radiation.
However, Ireland’s government and environmental campaigners have struggled to make international legal headway to clampdown on Britain’s nuclear activity, soon to be expanded with a new fleet of power plants starting with Hinkley Point C in Somerset. In 2006, for example, the European Union blocked ministers from taking a case to a United Nations tribunal in an attempt to force the closure of Sellafield.
Ian Salter, an international legal expert in nuclear issues at lawyers Burges Salmon, said: “If a country has no nuclear installations in it, then they will benefit from the changes. Someone in Ireland could bring a claim to a court in the UK in a way that they couldn’t before.
“It is a much more straightforward process. This makes the situation much simpler for the victim and [it] could be used by a national state.”
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