Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Non-polluting nuclear power???

Sellafield on the coast in the remote and staggeringly beautiful area of Cumbria is the largest industrial complex in the UK. It produces little yet employs 10,000 people and has armed police guarding its perimeter, why? Because it contains the world's biggest stockpile of plutonium and uranium. Sellafield now produces no electricity. Instead it re-processes spent fuel to produce more unwanted plutoniurn and uranium. Some of this could be turned into fuel, but the MOX plant built to do this at a cost of £400 million has produced, in the seven years since it was built, only 7 tonnes of fuel compared with a production target of 840 tonnes.

Much of the nuclear waste comes from other countries that send their spent fuel to Sellafield to be re-processed and sent back home so that Britain would not become "the nuclear dustbin of the world" but guess what, it has stayed at Sellafield, going nowhere.

Sellafield has a safety record that is a total disaster; from 1950 to 1986 alone there were over 250 safety related incidents. In 1957 there was a fire at the plant; the UK Atomic Energy Authority had built two nuclear reactors (or “piles”) on the site of a World War II explosives factory to manufacture the radioactive element plutonium for use in British atom bombs. Radioactive uranium fuel at pile number one caught fire in 1957 and radioactive material was spread over a large area of North West England. At one point eight tons of uranium was burning. Milk from 600 farms in an area of 500 square kilometres was banned from human consumption and an unknown number of people received additional radiation doses in the form of an isotope of iodine. It is a fact that if just 1% of the Plutonium (the most dangerous nuclear material) stored there was released, it would be ten times as devastating as Chernobyl.

MP Nigel Evans raised the case of a family who were in the area that had suffered horrendous health problems but a government enquiry was refused, see here for the details. There were also suspicions that more was know by the authorities than they wanted to admit about radioactive contamination when it was discovered that workers body parts had been removed at autopsies for testing, see here.

In the words of Dr Simon Taylor University of Cambridge. “The name having acquired controversial and menacing associations, Windscale was re-named in 1981 back to its original name of Sellafield”

The Irish Government and the Northern Irish assembly were understandably irate when it was found the ‘low-level’ waste was being discharged into the Irish Sea and the Irish Sea is now thought to be one of the most radioactive in the world and some beaches in the immediate area are still closed off. What also concerns me is that the waste at the plant will be unsafe for a quarter of a million years. The next time that someone talks about non-polluting nuclear energy, ignore them, because the same sort of incidents have taken place all over the world at nuclear facilities. There is however another way to pollution free power...

The main picture is Sellafield and the other of the Romney Marsh Wind farm on the South Coast of England. It is next to the now defunct Dungeness Nuclear Power Station and you can see more photos of them, the Nuclear Facility and the story of the area here.


Kati said...

That's what concerns me most about Nuclear power, not the PRODUCTION of the nuclear power, but the inability to REALLY safely and properly dispose of the used fuel. Reportedly, 3 Mile Island in the US was a success, as far as safely shutting down with potential melt-down in a way that kept harm from happening (where as Chernoble was a complete disaster), but that still doesn't take into account the fact that the fuel used in Nuclear Power production cannot and willnot EVER truly be discarded safely. Burying it for future generations to find in deep holes in the ground, or in the ocean, is NOT true disposal. And sending it into space is a whole 'nother hazard altogether (not to mention just wrong, cluttering up the beauty of space with more trash).

Thanks for posting these details, Peter!

Margaret's Ramblings said...

I have a dream and in the dream I see government trucks making deliveries to local communities. No, they are not handing out bottled water and od rations after a disaster. They are handing out solar panels for every household in the country and household sized windmills. Someone had finally woken up to the fact that coal burning and nuclear power plants were a bad idea.

But then I wake up and realise that it is only a dream and I can't see any government being brave enough to take such a step.