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· Night 2 setlist for U2:UV at the Sphere, Las Vegas, 30/09/23


'I won't let a Chernobyl happen here'

Posted on Monday, April 22 @ 05:01:53 CEST by Macphisto

(The Observer) -- Ali Hewson, wife of U2's Bono, on why the band is leading a campaign in Ireland and beyond about the nuclear threat from Sellafield

From her living room in Co Dublin, Ali Hewson, the wife of U2 frontman Bono, looks out across the Irish Sea - which bobs across to the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant, squatting bleakly on Britain's Cumbrian coast.

She both loves the view and resents it for its daily reminder of the danger that the plant poses. 'This is a nuclear-free land and yet if anything happens to that plant, the east coast of Ireland is straight in the firing line,' she says. 'The Irish nation is not even in the debate; we have no choice and yet we take all the risks.

Hewson's Shut Sellafield campaign - one of the largest environmental protests launched by one nation against another - grew from a late-night chat with Bono in January. If every household in Ireland could somehow be persuaded to register their concerns with the British Prime Minister, they agreed, things might start to change.

'This is an issue of acute, personal concern to every Irish resident,' she said. 'We are sitting ducks just waiting for an accident to devastate our lives and our country.

'The British Government has ignored our concerns about this for long enough. We will make this an election issue and, if we don't make them listen this year, we will come back next year and the year after.'

The suggestion has, thanks to Hewson's endless energy, grown to dominate the Irish community over the past fortnight. Supporters run the gamut of Ireland's pop and sporting successes, including Ronan Keating, Westlife, Samantha Mumba, U2 drummer Larry Mullen and pop siblings The Corrs, alongside the World Cup football squad and the national rugby team.

Ireland's politicians would, Hewson said, have been delighted to leap on board, but: 'I have wanted to keep this on a civil level because I see it as a health and environmental battle, rather than a political issue. I wanted the average man and woman on the street to have a chance to say how they feel; after all, it is they who will live or die.'

The protest, which has seen almost every one of Ireland's 1.3 million households return their prepaid postcard bearing an anti-Sellafield message, will reach its climax on Friday, when the cards are delivered en masse to the breakfast tables of Tony Blair, the Prince of Wales and the chief executive of British Nuclear Fuels, Norman Askew.

Sellafield has long been a source of contention between the British and Irish governments; the Irish government has repeatedly challenged the plant in the European courts, without success, and even took out a series of anti-Sellafield advertisements in the British press last year.

'When we tested out support for our campaign, we were amazed by how personally every Irish person takes this issue,' said Hewson. 'Almost everyone we spoke to had some story about how they, their family or their friends had suffered from an illness they were convinced was linked to Sellafield.'

Their fears were boosted last week when the British Green MEPs launched a highly critical report on Sellafield's discharges, alleging that the two million gallons of mildly radioactive waste water the plant discharges into the Irish Sea each day are equivalent to a large-scale nuclear accident each year.

Such claims, however, are dismissed by the UK Department of Trade and Industry, which disputes the alleged links to cancers and insists that Britain is making good progress towards cutting discharges to close to zero by 2020.

'We already have the most artificially radiated sea in the world washing up on our shores,' said Hewson. 'All we're asking the British government to do is to err on the side of caution. I have seen what happened in Chernobyl and there is no way I am going to let that happen here.

'We know the plant can't be shut down because the waste that is already there needs to be stored and protected for thousands of years, but we want the British Government to stop producing more material.

'If Tony Blair could look me in the eye and tell me my children are definitely safe, I might leave them alone. But in the past five years there have been more than 15 incidents that have left us with serious cause for concern,' she added.

'After 11 September, everyone is questioning their own personal safety and their children's safety, and, when the people of Ireland look at their vulnerability, Sellafield sticks out like a sore thumb.

'The plant has to be on top of any terrorist's list. The result would be catastrophic not only for the people of Ireland, but for everyone in Britain and Europe, too.'

Amelia Hill
The Observer

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