Clinton steers to safety on N-plant issue

The US President has moved deftly to avoid irritating either US congresspersons or the British government on the issue of the controversial nuclear plant in Sellafield.

Published: Saturday 15 May 1993

A TACTFUL reply to seven members of the US congress who had complained about the Thorp nuclear reprocessing plant in Britain, US president Bill Clinton says he will take up the matter after a full review of Washington's non-proliferation policy.

The congresspersons had warned the plutonium produced at the L2.8 billion plant could increase the spread of nuclear weapons. A decision by British Prime Minister John Major's government against commissioning the plant would be a "significant contribution" to non-proliferation efforts, the letter added.

Major, however, was taken aback when questioned on the issue during his recent visit to the White House and called for immediate briefings from London.

The Sellafield plant has become an issue in the wake of US secretary of state Warren Christopher's recent statement that preventing the spread of nuclear weapons is a prime Washington concern when considering allocation of aid. His comments were made in response to reports that North Korea had ignored a UN deadline for permitting inspection of its nuclear facilities.

British Nuclear Fuels, which built the Sellafield nuclear plant, contends the plutonium that the plant would reclaim cannot be converted for weapons use without "substantial expertise and equipment".

The issue is compounded further by a study published in the British Medical Journal (Vol 306, January 9, 1993), which confirmed reports that there is an increase in the incidence of cancer in the below-24 age group around the Sellafield plant. Scientists do not ascribe a reason for this rise, but they do not exclude proximity to the Sellafield plant as a mere coincidence.

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