The Irish government has reacted angrily to Wednesday’s decision by the UK to allow the manufacture of mixed oxide fuel (MOX) at its Sellafield plant in Cumbria. Speaking in the Irish parliament, Bertie Ahern, Irish Prime Minister said that his government would pursue “every legal avenue” to halt the commissioning of the plant.

A meeting between Irish and British officials to discuss the matter had been scheduled for today, but the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs took the decision ahead of the meeting and said that it had all the necessary information to justify production at the plant.

Ahern said that Dublin would now seek to overturn the approval through the Ospar Convention, a treaty signed by North Atlantic countries to protect the marine environment, or challenges under European Union and United Nations law.

“We will continue to do everything we possibly can, both legally and politically on every front, to stop the British government from continuing with the proposals,” he told the Irish parliament.

An editorial in Thursday’s Irish Independent broadsheet called the move “one of the most irresponsible and harmful decisions made in any major democracy in many years”.

Sellafield lies 60 miles off the Irish coast and, since it went into service as the world’s first commercial nuclear power station in 1956, has been the subject of a series of protests from the Irish, concerned by the environmental threat it posed.

The MOX plant has been idle for five years awaiting approval for production. It has been the subject of five enquiries over the period generating 11 000 responses, 80 per cent of which were in favour of the facility. A setback in the approval process occurred in September 1999 when it was revealed that workers had falsified data at the plant.

The British government decision was reached after it had satisfied itself that the plant was economically viable and that the benefits outweighed any environmental concerns. Critics question whether there will be sufficient business for Sellafield and say that if the capital costs of building the plant were included, it would never pass the test.

Plant operators, BNFL said that it has sufficient interest and firm orders to justify operation.

The Irish Prime Minister is expected to contact Mr Blair at an early stage, to protest against the decision. Meanwhile, Joe Jacob, the Irish minister responsible for nuclear safety, said that Ireland was now drawing up a separate legal action under European Union law, and was considering a claim under the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea.