The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) All Ireland Forum calls on Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan to challenge the UK Government over shocking claims made by a high-level ‘whistleblower’ at the Sellafield site in Cumbria, which were aired on last night’s BBC ‘Panorama’ documentary. (1) NFLA also calls on the Radiological Institute of Ireland to review its risk assessment on the impact of a major incident at Sellafield on Ireland given the allegations made.
NFLA is also publishing today an overview of the wider issues of Sellafield reprocessing provided by independent radiation consultant, Dr Ian Fairlie. (2)
Amidst the serious allegations made in the BBC documentary include:
- ‘Panorama’ found parts of the Sellafield site regularly have too few staff to operate them safely. During one quarter there was 19 times that such issues occurred. Meg Hillier MP, who chairs the UK Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee was shocked by the figures and said in the documentary: “It is incredible. It defies belief actually that anything could be working at below safe staffing levels. There is no excuse.”
- Radioactive materials like uranium and plutonium have been stored in degrading plastic bottles in cupboards for a number of years. Only now are they beginning to be dealt with.
- The whistle-blower (a former senior manager at Sellafield) said his biggest fear was a fire in one of the nuclear waste silos or one of the reprocessing plants, saying: “If there is a fire there it could generate a plume of radiological waste that will go across Western Europe.”
- Parts of the site are “dangerously run down” and officials from its former managing company Nuclear Management Partners raised concerns some sites could collapse over time, creating a potential environmental catastrophe and a dangerous radioactive release.
- The full cost of decommissioning Sellafield could be as high as £162 billion and take over a century to undertake.
NFLA have consistently raised similar concerns over the past 20 years (2), and it is not particularly surprised with these new allegations. However, the comments made by the whistleblower and by former senior officials at Sellafield within the documentary emphasise the urgency of the problem, the decrepit nature of much of the facility and the intolerable risk it continues to pose to the public, not just in Cumbria, but for the island of Ireland and even the whole of Western Europe.
NFLA praises the courage of the whistleblower and for the BBC to show such a programme, given their paucity of critical coverage on the nuclear industry in recent years. NFLA note there has been some recent improvements at the site, but these are still completely inadequate in comparison to the level of intolerable risk and the sheer amount of hazards on site. Issues like staff shortage are particularly unacceptable given the huge £1 billion+ annual budget the facility receives from the UK Government. It really is time for more openness and transparency in the operation of the Sellafield site and NFLA calls on the Irish Government to make its concerns known.
NFLA is also sending to the Government the latest analysis on Sellafield by Dr Fairlie, which widens the concerns of the NFLA to the reprocessing facilities on the site. Dr Fairlie’s report outlines the sorry history of reprocessing at Sellafield and the wide environmental consequences of an accident at the site, which could easily affect Ireland, depending on the wind direction. (3)
The NFLA representative at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Radiation Issues Committee, Dr Paul Dorfman, will also table the findings of the documentary at the Committee’s next meeting, seeking answers from specialist staff in the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland on the implications of a major accident at Sellafield.
NFLA All Ireland Forum Co Chair Councillor Mark Dearey adds:
The BBC Panorama documentary on Sellafield highlights yet again why this hazardous site some hundred miles from the Irish coastline remains of such alarm to Irish Councils. I call on Charlie Flanagan to immediately contact his UK counterpart and demand the issues raised by the Sellafield whistleblower are dealt with urgently. He should also ask the Irish Radiological Protection Institute to review its risk assessment of an incident at Sellafield. A fire in the reprocessing facilities could endanger much of Western Europe. That is why such facilities must be closed down and the priority move towards the safe management and decommissioning of the entire Sellafield site.”
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) BBC Panorama, 5th September 2016
(2) See, for example, a report by the NFLA SC Policy Advisor Pete Roche for Friends of the Earth Cumbria, ‘Towards a Safer Cumbria: How government, regulators and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority have neglected nuclear waste in Cumbria’, March 2013
(3) NFLA Radioactive Waste Policy Briefing 65, ‘The Nonsense of Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing’ by Dr Ian Fairlie, 6th September 2016, is attached with this media release and will be placed on the homepage of the NFLA website http://www.nuclearpolicy.info