Sellafield has dumped half a tonne of plutonium onto the seabed.

The first thing the visitor to Sellafield notices is the fierce wind coming in off the sea. The potential for a benign form of energy at the former Windscale (literally windy cliff) seems enormous.

The coastline is scenic and near to the lake district yet the tiny resort of Seascale, atrophied since the 1950’s, is witness to one local industry, tourism, that has been decimated by the nuclear plant next door. The nuclear bosses at Sellafield like to paint a picture of a safe and economic industry producing electricity and jobs for the local area. Nothing could be further from the truth.


Ever since Windscale operations started in the early 1950’s Cumbria has been made into a national sacrifice area for the maniacs in Whitehall. When the Queen opened the Calder Hall reactor at the site in October 1956 she claimed that “Today this new power which has proved such a terrifying weapon of destruction is harnessed for the first time for the common good of our community”. Like the Queen’s fake mediaeval palace at Windsor, this was a complete con, and to prove equally expensive to maintain. Calder Hall was designed for maximum production of weapons plutonium, with heat for electricity very much a by-product. Even today, most of the electricity produced at Sellafield is used by Sellafield itself. The production of plutonium for nuclear warheads, such as Cruise, Polaris, Pershing and now Trident, continues.

The 1957 Windscale fire is the most notorious incident at the plant. The chimney where the fire took place has yet to be dismantled. BNFL now admit that from 1953 to 1955 the chimney scattered more radiation over Cumbria due inadequate filters than was released in the 1957 fire. Nearby is the B204 reprocessing plant building which was abandoned after a fire in 1979.

The whole building is describes as “at the very least low level radioactive waste”. The building is being dismantled piece by piece for burial. Out to sea, Sellafield has dumped half a tonne of plutonium onto the seabed, with a radioactive half-life of 24,000 years. The new THORP plant plans to release up to 15 million curies of Krypton 85 into the atmosphere, a known cancer agent. Sellafield is already one of the largest sources of radioactive discharge in the world. The incidence of childhood leukaemia around Sellafield is up to 10 times higher than the UK average - radiation is the only established environmental cause of leukaemia in children. Adult leukaemia rates along the North Lancashire coastline are 3 times the national average. Contamination from Sellafield has been found on coastlines as far away as Iceland, Denmark and Germany, as well as around the coast of the Irish Sea.

“Adult leukaemia rates along the North Lancashire coastline are 3 times the national average.”

By the end of the century Sellafield will be storing more than half the world’s stocks of plutonium (nearly 100 tonnes) if THORP goes ahead - enough to make over 16,000 atomic bombs of the type that destroyed Nagasaki. The dictatorship of South Korea which wants to get the bomb, is said to be an important new market, according to British Nukiller Fool’s chief executive, the unfortunately named Neville Chamberlain. Japan and Germany are other major customers.

BNFL’s plans for Sellafield do not end with THORP. They are already planning to build a £250 million plant producing mixed-oxide (MOX) uranium fuel cells at the site, with the German company Siemens. Siemens have been halted in their plans to build the plant at Hanau near Frankfurt by the strength of the German anti-nuclear movement. Once again, their gain will be our loss unless we learn the lessons.

The local economy has been devastated by Sellafield. A large workforce has been brought in, mainly from outside, to work at the plant. The local industries, such as tourism and fishing, have been virtually destroyed. Every job at Sellafield costs £68,000 to create, compared to £5,000 to create jobs in light engineering (making wind generators for example). Sellafield has taken 98 per cent of the industrial grants available to Cumbria - the area no longer qualifies, for such grants because of the amount taken. A program of alternative energy production at Sellafield could create more work, more electricity and cost a lot less financially and in terms of the environment. Someone will still have to monitor Sellafield’s nuclear waste for the next 12,000 human generations.

By the way, there are some pretty strong waves that could be harnessed - but don’t swim in them, or get too much sand in your shoes.

Thanks to Sellafield Women’s Peace Camp for some of the information. The Camp takes place each month. Contact 13 Paton St., Manchester M1 25A or phone 061 434 7484 for details. Sellafield will be a major focus of the Anti-Nuclear Network’s campaign in the coming year.

- SOURCE: Anti-Nuclear Network Newsletter (see Resources)

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