Thursday, November 17, 2011

Could studies of the decades of radioactive (plutonium) contamination at Sellafield, UK help in understanding Fukushima radiation risks?

(Via Shut Sellafield: Image:

Map of nuclear radiation at Sellafield, in northwest England, just south of Scotland, on the Irish Sea: "In 1990 a government funded project used helicopters to survey radiation "hot spots" in the area. The map (above) shows the radiation levels are highest (red and brown) around the estuary of the Rivers Esk and Mite and around Sellafield itself." (Image:

This week the UK government gave approval to NuGen (owned by Spanish multinational Iberdrola and French multinational GDF Suez)* to construct a new nuclear plant at Sellafield, a plutonium manufacturing and nuclear waste reprocessing complex plagued with a history of accidents, radiation (plutonium) contamination, and tons of nuclear waste:
...Britain has held firm in the post Fukushima-era to the advancement of nuclear power, unlike many large European economies like Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Belgium, all of whom are either abandoning their nuclear power capacities or have voted not to begin building nuclear facilities to begin with in the wake of the Japanese disaster.

Germany will be phasing out its nuclear power plants in favour of renewable energy by 2022 and Switzerland is following suit in 2034. Belgium has said it will shutter its oldest plants by 2015, with the remainder to come offline by 2025, dependent on whether the country can find alternative power sources. And Italy voted overwhelmingly in a summer referendum not to even start a nuclear programme.

Even Japan has opted for a 40-year nuclear phase out plan.
The announcement of the construction of the multi-billion-pound nuclear fuel plant has followed the closure of an identical plant, shut down because it was unfit.

The UK built the Sellafield nuclear complex in the 1940's for the same reason as the US constructed the toxic Hanford nuclear complex in Washington State and the Soviets constructed the Mayak complex in Siberia: to produce nuclear weapons. As with Hanford and Mayak, the region around Sellafield, located in England's largest national park has become a nuclear waste dump. The park, which includes the Lake District, is a tourist destination.

For decades, Sellafield dumped radioactive waste by pipeline into the Irish Sea. The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR Convention) reported Sellafield has deposited an estimated 200 kilograms (441 lb) of plutonium into the marine sediment of the Irish Sea. Cattle and fish are contaminated with plutonium-239 and caesium-137 from Sellafield.

Sellafield, where Japanese nuclear energy companies sent nuclear waste for reprocessing, also produced Technetium-99, a radioactive element created from reprocessing, which Sellafield also discharges into the sea. Between 1952 and 2009, Sellafield discharged more than 47,855 terabecquerel of cesium-137 and strontium-90, two of the most dangerous radioactive elements to human health, according to calculations based on data from the U.K. Environment Agency and the Journal of Radiological Protection.

In 1983, high radioactive discharges of ruthenium and rhodium 106 resulted in the closure of beaches along a 10-mile stretch of coast in Cumbria, along with warnings against swimming in the sea. Greenpeace protested the discharges by attempting to cap the pipeline gushing radioactive waste into the sea. Their Geiger counters indicated radioactivity at 1,500 times the "normal" level.

An open pit has been used to store radioactive waste, including over a ton of plutonium (some from the Tokai Mura plant in Japan). The pool is not watertight and has been leaking.

A 1997 UK Ministry of Health report stated that children living close to Sellafield had twice as much plutonium in their teeth as children living more than 100 miles (160 km) from the nuclear complex; afterwards a UK official stated that the plutonium did not present a health risk. However, instances of leukemia in children who live on the English and Irish coasts reflect anomalies: the rate of childhood leukemia in the area near Sellafield exceeds the national average by ten times; one child in sixty in Seascale, the village of nearest the plant, will die of of leukemia.

Both the Irish and Norwegian governments have sought the closure of the facility.

On Aug. 3, the government (Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA)) owned MOX (plutonium) fuel plant, subsidized by British taxpayers, was closed. Its primary customers were Japanese nuclear plants, including Fukushima Dai-Ichi:
"The Hamaoka plant, owned by Chubu, the intended recipient of the first fuel, is currently closed awaiting extensive reinforcement work. Following Chubu, Tepco [Tokyo Electric Power Company] were destined to take 50% of the plant output and they as owner of the Fukushima plants are clearly facing the most extreme challenges."

Speculation about the future of the plant has been rife for months, as it became clear that the Japanese nuclear industry was unlikely to recover after Fukushima.

The NDA said: "[We have] concluded that in order to ensure that the UK taxpayer does not carry a future financial burden from [Sellafield Mox plant] that the only reasonable course of action is to close [the plant] at the earliest practical opportunity."

The NDA said it would continue to store Japanese plutonium safely, and "further develop discussions with the Japanese customers on a responsible approach to support the Japanese utilities' policy for the reuse of their material".
Sellafield still dumps eight million liters of radioactive nuclear waste into the Irish sea—every day.

How has this radioactive (especially plutonium) contamination affected fish and agricultural food products from the region surrounding Sellafield? When did cancers, including leukemia, begin to spike? Is the UK keeping and sharing longitudinal records on radiation levels and correlating these with cancers and other disorders (heart disease) correlated with nuclear radiation exposure? This kind of information might be helpful to residents of Fukushima and Japan, many whom express concern at plutonium exposure from MOX fuel, which was manufactured at Sellafield and used at Fukushima.

The Sellafield Nuclear Complex:
• REPROCESSING: 2 Plants - B205 Magnox, responsible for gross discharges and historic enviromental contamination. THORP, opened1994, adding greatly to discharges. Failing to meet 10 year target of 7000 tonnes. No new overseas contracts.

• VITIRFICATION: Opened 1991. Subsequent poor performance and accident rate. Third production line being constructed after original lines failed to meet yearly targets.

• ENCAPSULATION: 2 Plants. Drumming solid and sludge intermediate level wastes from historic and current operations. At least 30 years before any UK final disposal site for wastes.

• MOX: 2 Plants. Demonstration facility (MDF) producing 8 tonnes MOX fuel per year since 1993 for Europe and Japan. New 120t plant (SMP) not yet licensed to operate due to concerns on justification and viability. No plans to use MOX fuel in UK power stations.

• REACTORS: 4xMagnox 50MW. Operating 25 years beyond original life-span, until recently producers of Plutonium for UK weapons
* In December, 2014, Toshiba (Westinghouse's parent company) bought Iberdrola's stake in the NuGen Sellafield consortium. Hitachi acquired the Horizon nuclear project in 2012.

Some sources:  (Articles dated before 2008 are cites in Marilynne Robinson's meticulously researched Mother Country: Britain, The Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution, published in 1989):

• "Dublin demands Sellafield action" (Ian Black, The Guardian, Feb. 18, 1984).
• "More pollution found on coast near Sellafield" (The Guardian, March 10, 1984).
• "'Plutonium food' sought for children" (Richard Evans, The Times, May 21, 1985).
• "Shut this open sewer" (New Scientist, Feb. 27, 1986).
• "A lot of fuss about a few millisieverts" (Sharon Kingman, New Scientist, May 15, 1986).
• "Majority say No to nuclear power" (Steve Vines, The Observer, Sept. 14, 1986).
"Minister admits total failure of Sellafield 'MOX' plant" (Geoffrey Lean, March 9, 2008).
• "Ministers gamble on new £6bn Sellafield plant" (Steve Connor, Oct. 10, 2011).
"Toshiba pays £85m for stake in NuGen to build nuclear plant at Sellafield" (The Telegraph, Dec. 24, 2013). 
"NuGen agree plans to build first new UK nuclear plant" (The Telegraph, June 30, 2014). 

Environmentalist Watchdog Groups:

Shut Sellafield

• Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment

People Against WYLFA-B (The campaign against a new nuclear power station at Wylfa, Anglesey (Cymraeg: Yr ymgyrch yn erbyn atomfa newydd yn y Wylfa, Ynys Môn)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice blog, good job done man! keep it up...