Thursday 14 November 2019

Clear and present danger

BBC Panorama exposé shows Sellafield is 'most hazardous site'

Anne Campbell

The run-down nuclear plant at Sellafield is a 'clear and present danger' to the people of Dundalk and the surrounding areas, a local Green Party councillor has said, after a BBC Panorama exposed a catalogue of safety concerns at 'Britain's most hazardous nuclear site', just 50 miles from Louth.

Panorama found parts of Sellafield 'regularly have too few staff to operate safely and that radioactive materials have been stored in degrading plastic bottles'.

The programme was told that parts of the facility are dangerously rundown.

Sellafield told the reporters the site in Cumbria is safe and has been improved with significant investment in recent years.

The Panorama investigation was prompted by a whistle-blower - a former senior manager who was worried by conditions.

He explained that his biggest fear was a fire in one of the nuclear waste silos or one of the processing plants and said: 'If there is a fire there it could generate a plume of radiological waste that will go across Western Europe'.

The programme, aired on Monday night, renewed calls from politicians, including Green Party councillor Mark Dearey and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, for the Irish government to press their British counterparts to ensure the safety of the controversial plant, which is near the end of its life.

And Cllr Dearey, who was one of a number of Irish people who took a case against the British government over the Sellafield plant in the 2000s, says multiple changes in management at the site, which operates under a subsidiary of the British government, are to blame for the 'serious under-staffing in critical areas'.

Cllr Dearey said there are 100 tonnes of waste plutonium on the site, enough to make 22,000 nuclear warheads and there is 'a hundred years of safety management ahead, at the cost of £1.6bn a year'.

Mr Adams called on the government to 'demand the complete closure of the Cumbria Sellafield nuclear plant' and added that Louth 'is in the front line of any threat posed by Sellafield'.

The issues raised in the Panorama programme are just among a large number that have been exposed over the years, Cllr. Dearey said. He said: 'It has been underfunded for years and there has been under-staffing in critical activities on the site. There have been many changes in management at Sellafield over the past number of years, but it still a subsidiary of the British government.

'The nuclear storage tanks, in particular, represent a hazardous and unmanageable risk, according to Ian Fairlies, who today released his latest report on Sellafield. In it, he reiterates that one official view concluded that, at worst, an explosive release from the tanks could kill two million Britons and require the evacuation of an area reaching from Glasgow to Liverpool. If the wind is blowing in the other direction, that's Ireland, Dundalk right in the path of it.

'Our government needs to take this seriously and listen to this whistle-blower'.

Irish Independent