The British government has announced that it is inviting tenders for the purchase of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing complex in Cumbria.

The sell-off will come through the disposal of the state-owned British Nuclear Group, the company which runs Sellafield, as well as several atomic power plants across Britain.

The sale means that the operation and decommissioning of Sellafield, and other nuclear sites, would become the responsibility of the private sector.

The disposal of BNG is part of a wider plan by the British government to privatise the decommissioning of atomic power stations across Britain.

The agency whose job it is to oversee this nuclear clean-up is the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

The estimated cost of decommissioning is continuing to rise and has now topped €100bn.

The British government is currently undertaking an energy review which will include a decision on whether or not to go ahead with a new generation of nuclear power plants.

The Fine Gael spokesperson on the environment has said he is against any deal which would result in Sellafield becoming the responsibility of the private sector.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio, Fergus O' Dowd said the British government should remain in charge of the plant.

He said there should be more transparency and accountability at the plant and said a deal which would see it going into private hands would go against this.

Issue raised in Dáil

The proposed sale of the plant may be raised by the Taoiseach when he meets the British Prime Minister Tony Blair next week.

Finance Minister Brian Cowen said that given the relationship between the two men, this was a matter that could be raised when they meet in Armagh next week.

Mr Cowen, who was taking the Order of Business in the Dáil this morning, said the proposed sale had "heightened" concerns in Ireland about the palnt.

Fine Gael's Richard Bruton called for more information to be made available to TDs so a realistic debate could be held on Sellafield.

Labour's Emmet Stagg said the plant was a ‘junkyard for nuclear waste from around the world’, and claimed the Government had been told lies by the British government about it.

Dan Boyle of the Green Party called for the Government to cancel its contribution to Euratom, which he said indirectly funded the British nuclear industry.