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EU takes action against Britain over nuclear waste

EU takes action against Britain over nuclear waste
BRUSSELS - Britain faces legal action from the European Commission over its failure to notify Brussels over how it disposes of radioactive waste at the Atomic Weapons Establishment, home to its nuclear weapons industry.

The European Union executive said on Wednesday the UK Environment Agency had failed to notify it of an authorisation granted in 2000 for the disposal of nuclear waste from AWE.

AWE employs around 3,600 people at its two sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield in southern England. AWE is critical to Britain's nuclear deterrent as it designs, builds, maintains and disposes of nuclear warheads.

Under EU rules, governments must inform the Commission in advance if it wants to grant authorisation for radioactive waste disposal so that it can assess the risks to health in neighbouring countries.

"In fact no data were submitted to the Commission, neither in the course of the licensing procedure nor after its closure," the European Union executive said in a statement.

The Commission has sent a so-called reasoned opinion to London, the final step in an infringement procedure before it files suit at the European Court of Justice.

"We are in disagreement with the Commission but it would be inappropriate for us to argue the issues in public when this case is likely to come before the European Court of Justice," said a spokesman for the UK Ministry of Defence.

He said the UK did not accept that the Euratom treaty - which governs the use of nuclear energy in the EU and which the Commission sited in its decision - covers defence activities.

"The ministry of defence abides by international accepted safety and environmental standards as published by bodies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and the International Commission for Radiological Protection," the UK spokesman said.

The Euratom treaty aims to promote the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The Commission is also on Britain's case in two other nuclear cases.

In October 2003 the Commission took Britain to court for breaking EU rules on radioactive waste from a dockyard that refits and refuels nuclear submarines.The Devonport dockyards, run by Devonport Management Limited, are owned by KBR, a division of U.S. engineering and construction firm Halliburton.

Last month the Commission also said it would drag Britain to court for failing to grant EU inspectors full access to part of its Sellafield nuclear site so they could account for highly-radioactive materials.

(Additional reporting by Margaret Orgill in London)

Story by Peter Nielsen and Jeff Mason

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