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Swiss vote scuppers efforts to close two nuclear reprocessing plants

The accord would have led to the closure of plants such as Sellafield, in Britain


An initiative by Denmark and Ireland to close nuclear reprocessing plants in France and Britain, has failed after opposition from Switzerland and several other European countries.

The vote was held by signatories of a convention on protecting marine life.

Switzerland joined Britain, France, Germany and Finland in opposing the bid at a meeting of the 15 member states of the Ospar Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic.

The opposition deprived the proposal of the necessary 12 votes out of 15 to pass and become legally binding. If successful, it would have meant a ban on reprocessing nuclear waste and the closure of the La Hague plant in France and Sellafield in Britain.

The reasons behind Switzerland's opposition are complex. Switzerland supplies spent fuel rods to both plants for reprocessing. Although the Swiss government has put forward a draft law banning reprocessing, it said it could not vote for the measure at the meeting because discussions in Switzerland on the draft had not been completed.

On top of that, the cabinet wants to put forward a counter-proposal by next March to two popular intiatives, one calling for nuclear energy to be scrapped altogether, the other for a moratorium on the construction of any more power stations in the country.

The Danish and Irish intiative is now set to be resubmitted with amendments for a vote before the Ospar conference ends on Friday. It is believed the new version will be watered-down and will simply call for new and more stringent measures to be put in place to raise hurdles for nuclear re-processing permits to be granted.

The international environmental organisation, Greenpeace, estimates nearly 10 million litres of radioactive contaminated water is siphoned off into the North Sea and the Atlantic every year. The British plant at Sellafield has in particular made negative headlines frequently, especially in connection with the high number of child cancer-sufferers living nearby.

At the last Ospar conference in Portugal in 1998, a majority of countries, including Switzerland voted for an end to all nuclear waste dumping at sea by 2020. The only opponents then , were Britain and France.

swissinfo with agencies

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