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Swiss resume nuclear waste shipments to Britain

The spent fuel is from the Mühleberg power plant in canton Bern Keystone

The Swiss authorities have resumed shipments of nuclear waste to Britain, more than a year after Switzerland stopped sending spent fuel rods to the Sellafield re-processing plant amid safety fears.

A convoy carrying spent uranium power rods left the Mühleberg power plant in canton Bern on Tuesday. It is heading for the French port of Dunkirk, but altered its route to avoid Greenpeace protesters, who were waiting for it near Kerzers in canton Fribourg.

Members of the environmental organisation caught up with the convoy in Fleurier in canton Neuchâtel. A dozen activists blocked the road leading into the town.

The two trucks carrying the waste turned back and sought another road to leave Switzerland. They crossed into France through the small border post at Le Locle, despite further attempts by Greenpeace members to block their progress.

Two loads of spent nuclear fuel are being sent to the Sellafield plant in Cumbria. A total of seven spent rods, each weighing two tonnes, are locked inside a special security container.

The transport, organised by Sellafield’s owner, British Nuclear Fuels, will take a week to reach its destination.

Swiss shipments of spent nuclear fuel rods to Sellafield were suspended after a report in February 2000 by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate – Britain’s atomic safety watchdog – criticised slack safety procedures.

The owners have now instigated a “zero tolerance” policy for employees in a bid to improve conditions at the site. Anyone caught breaching safety rules can now be fired on the spot.

Switzerland was not the only country to suspend shipments to Britain. Japan and Germany, British Nuclear Fuels’ biggest foreign customers, had also placed a moratorium on their dealings with Sellafield.

The Germans resumed their collaboration with the plant in January.

The Swiss Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (HSK) gave the authorisation earlier this month for shipping to resume. A team of Swiss experts checked the Sellafield installations before the Inspectorate gave its all clear.

The Bernese power company, BKW, owner of the Mühleberg plant, has planned seven more shipments of spent fuel to Britain. Transport should end in March next year.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR