Category: Archive

Dublin Report UK’s Sellafield plant still emits a litany of lies

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

When a tough Kilkeel fisherman tells you he has occasionally spotted twin-headed fish in his nets, not to mention other piscine oddities, you pay close attention.

After all, County Down is perilously close to the UK nuclear plant at Sellafield. And fish know no borders.

Alarming statistical reports in Dundalk link a cluster of infant leukemia with nuclear emissions as long ago as the 1950s.

These are remarkably similar to reports across the water in Britain, which suggest that the children of fathers working in the plant have much higher statistical incidents of leukemia than the British national norm.

Researchers have also discovered that radiation levels in shellfish caught in the Irish Sea have increased. While they are still low, the fact that they are present at all is more than mildly alarming.

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The Sellafield plant has featured in Irish newspaper headlines for years. It remains a serious bone of contention between the two countries.

Now it seems that it may also become something of an international controversy. It has emerged that records in the plant have been falsified on an ongoing basis.

The result is that Japan and Nordic countries, which have taken nuclear fuel from Sellafield on the basis of allegedly cast-iron assurances, are also at odds with the British.

Sellafield is situated less than 100 miles from the Irish coast in Cumbria, in Wales. Initially built for the construction of nuclear bombs, it is the largest nuclear facility in the UK. Because of its proximity to the most heavily populated part of Ireland along the East Coast, it is a serious danger to much more than just marine life.

For decades, British Nuclear Fuels, the responsible authority, has assured Irish governments that its nuclear reprocessing is safe. It has insisted that its processing regulations are absolutely foolproof.

So much for assurances.

Instead, it has recently emerged that some staff at the plant, which provides a much-needed 20,000 jobs in Wales, lied about output. The company claims it did not know.

The lies continued during a three-year period. Material that should have been tested went untested. Information was falsified. Management structures were not adequate enough to detect the fraud.

What a mess, and less than 100 miles from Dublin.

The British have admitted as much. After the falsification was discovered, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, watchdog for the British nuclear industry, conceded there had been a systematic management failure.

It also made 22 recommendations. The British government insists that Sellafield is its business, and that it is safe business. Continually, it has resisted all outside attempts to ensure that supervision meets international standards.

For decades, it has generally ignored protests from the Irish government.

Once known as Windscale, Sellafield was built in 1950 and the first plutonium rods emerged from the plant in 1952. Only four years later, it increased radiation discharges into the Irish Sea on an experimental research basis. What that may have done to generations of fish, nobody yet knows.

Naturally, there was no attempt to obtain prior agreement from any other countries, especially Ireland, which would be understandably alarmed about such experiments. It was all done with the arrogance typical of the British nuclear industry chiefs at that time.

In 1957, a year linked with increased incidences of infant leukemia in the Dundalk area of County Louth, there was a major fire at the plant when a fuel cartridge split. No less than three tons of uranium were set alight. It took three days to get it back under control. Contaminated milk had to be destroyed in Cumbria.

Although safety measures were much improved during the 1960s when the plant supplied power to the national grid, 35 workers were contaminated when an explosion sent a burst of radioactive gas into the air in 1973.

Only 27 such "incidents" were made known to the British and Irish people. Yet as the result of an inquiry in 1977, it was revealed that there were 194 "significant events," which is nuke-speak for "serious," at the plant.

Finally, after miles of beaches had been put off limits to the public, and after it was discovered that leukemia among infants was 10 times the national average in 1996, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. was fined a paltry £25,000 for breaching safety regulations.

Only a year later, 10 more workers were contaminated.

Now the Japanese, who buy large quantities of fuel rods from Sellafield, are particularly enraged. It was proven that workers had falsified safety reports, fooling plant management into thinking that required checks had been carried out when, in fact, they had not. The Japanese have shipped back a supply of nuclear fuel to the plant.

Successive Irish governments, depending on the level of public concern, have worked quietly to have the plant closed down. BNFL, closely backed by many members of the British parliament, has strenuously resisted all such attempts. It has also fought against the imposition of international controls, particularly by the European Commission, which is now voicing increased concern about nuclear power regulations.

Irish politicians are beginning to face the unpalatable facts. One is that a serious accident at Sellafield could release more than 100 times the radioactivity dispersed into the atmosphere after the Chernobyl disaster.

A tragedy of such proportions would effectively spell the end for the people of Ireland, and for most of Britain as well. Yet most British politicians have been remarkably reserved in their comments. Neither is the British public particularly alarmed. Apart from some serious TV investigative programs, there has been little publicity.

The sanguinity, especially in Ireland, is remarkable. Few seem to believe that such man-made disasters can, and do, happen.

Yet, in the longer term, the nuclear processing plant may pose much more danger to all of the people of Ireland than developments, or the lack of them, north of the border.

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