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Britain scraps Sellafield nuclear deal

Press TV – January 13, 2015

Britain said on Tuesday that it had scrapped a deal worth $30.2 billion with an international consortium to clean up the Sellafield nuclear facility in Cumbria in the northwest of the country.

The contractors of the project were Amec of Britain, Areva of France and URS, an American company. They have been fired from the job that was delegated to them six years ago after their leader was accused by the government of “delays and exceeding budgets”.

Meanwhile, there are reports that while rising costs have been a major motivation for the decision, among the problems encountered was the accidental shipping of radioactive waste to a landfill, which resulted in a fine of more than $1 million.

Despite the problems, members of parliament hesitated to tear up the contract last year in part because of concerns about the government’s ability to get the decommissioning job done, the Telegraph said.

The government’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) will now take ownership of the clean-up.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey described Sellafield as “the biggest and most complex nuclear site in Europe” and said “it’s right that we keep the way it’s being managed under constant review”.

He added that a “strategic partner” would be found from the private sector.

January 13, 2015 Posted by | Corruption, Economics, Environmentalism, Militarism | , , , , | 1 Comment

Radioactive materials disappear in UK over last decade

RT | May 6, 2013

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has released papers under the freedom of information act, revealing that radioactive materials have gone missing from businesses, hospitals and universities more than 30 times in the past 10 years.

The papers revealed by the HSE, the UK government’s safety watchdog, list some big names in British industry as amongst the culprits including Rolls-Royce Marine Power Operations in Derby, which makes the reactors for Britain’s nuclear submarines, it was reported in The Guardian on Monday.

Small pellets of highly radioactive Ytterbium-169 were lost from the Rolls-Royce marine division, while a 13kg ball of depleted uranium went missing from the Forgemasters steel works in Sheffield, The Royal Free hospital in London lost caesium-137 used in cancer treatment. A report into the incident found that it “had the potential to cause significant radiation injuries to anyone handling [it] directly or being in the proximity for a short period of time.”

In another case, materials containing caesium-137 were lost on a North Sea oil rig by the oil services firm Schlumberger.

While at the site of the former atomic energy research center at Harwell near Oxford, cobalt 60 was found under a tube store under a machine during clearance.

Earlier this year a small canister of iridium-192 was stolen from a van in Lancashire, but was later found at a nearby retail park almost a month later.

“The unacceptable frequency and seriousness of these losses, some with the potential for severe radiological consequences, reflect poorly on the licenses and the HSE regulator. I cannot understand why it is not considered to be in the public interest to vigorously prosecute all such offences,” John Large, an internationally consultant to the nuclear industry, told The Guardian.

“Such slack security raises deep concerns about the accessibility of these substances to terrorists and others of malevolent intent,” he said.

While the HSE successfully prosecuted the Royal Free Hospital, Shlumberger and the massive Sellafield nuclear plant, other organizations have got away with written warnings.

In the case of Sellafield, the nuclear reprocessing facility pleaded guilty at Workington magistrates to sending mixed general waste, such as plastic, paper and metal from controlled radioactive areas to the Lillyhall landfill site in Workington when it should have been sent to the low-level waste repository [for low level nuclear waste] at Drigg, Cumbria.

The science departments of York and Warwick universities were luckier; they received written advice over losing radioactive materials during science demonstrations.

While the Loreto high school in Manchester is being investigated over the loss of americium-241.

“Some of these radioactive sources are very persistent, for example the Royal Free hospital’s lost caesium-137 has a half-life of around 30 years, so it remains radio-toxic for at least 10 half-lives or about 300 years,” said Large, who led the nuclear assessment risk for the raising of the destroyed Russian nuclear submarine Kursk in 2001.

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Environmentalism, Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

UK nuclear site shutdown totals $160bln amid cost overruns

RT | February 4, 2013

Decommissioning one of the “most hazardous” nuclear sites in Europe has already cost Britain $106 billion, and further expenses are expected, officials have said. Sellafield chiefs have come under fire for missed deadlines and inflated salaries.

­Sellafield, the nuclear reprocessing site in Cumbria, northwest England, stores 82 tons of plutonium waste. A plant director called one of the plant’s buildings, B30, “the most hazardous industrial building in Western Europe.”

The closure was announced in June 2012, following concerns over terrorist threats and environmental damage.

The total lifetime cost of decommissioning and clean-up has hit £67.5 billion ($106 billion), the Public Accounts Committee said in a new report – two-thirds the total amount the UK spent on the National Health Service in the years 2011 and 2012, and nine times the spending on the Teacher Pension Scheme in the same time period, Guardian Data reported in its annual audit of UK government spending.

The report, published on Monday, highlighted “critical problems” with both the clean-up attempt and the costs of removing hazardous radioactive waste. The Sellafield clean-up was severely criticized by a Commons Select Committee, which commented on the PAC report.

“An enormous legacy of nuclear waste has been allowed to build up on the Sellafield site. [And] there’s no indication of when that cost will stop rising,” Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts Margaret Hodge MP said in a statement released along with Monday’s report.

Hodge added that 12 of 14 major projects at the plant were behind schedule, and five are over budget, posing severe risks to both people in the area and the environment. “Basic project management failings continue to cause delays and increase costs,” the Commons Select Committee said.

The ‘Prospect’ trade union called for closer scrutiny of Sellafield’s owners. The report said that nuclear executives from private companies have received a “reward for failure”, and are being paid “huge salaries”, averaging £690,000. One director was paid just over £1.2 million, according to the report.

“We need more evidence that the salaries paid to NMP senior directors match their actual performance within the company. Closer scrutiny would ensure that the public is actually paying for expertise that brings added value to the clean-up operation and not just bolsters NMP Ltd’s reputation,” Mike Graham, Prospect’s national secretary, said in a press release.

The report came the same week that court action was taken against Sellafield over its illegal dumping of nuclear waste in a local landfill. On Thursday, a court case will open in which the nuclear operator will be accused of breaching environmental permits when it dumped four bags of nuclear waste in a landfill at nearby Lillyhall, without any authorization.

“Furthermore, now that Cumbria county council has ruled out West Cumbria as the site of the proposed geological disposal facility, a solution to the problem of long-term storage of the waste is as far away as ever,” the committee said.

February 4, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Militarism, Nuclear Power | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sellafield: The dangers of Britain’s nuclear dustbin

RT | July 10, 2012

Britain’s nuclear industry is again the center of controversy. The UK has the biggest stockpile of Plutonium in the world, but there are no definite plans for how to get rid of it – and the delays are costing the UK taxpayer billions.

­A record number of radioactive particles have been found on beaches near the Sellafield nuclear plant, in North West England. The authorities who run it admit it’s the most radioactive place in Western Europe but insist it’s safe.

Sellafield is where all storage of radioactive materials and nuclear reprocessing in the UK takes place. It was once at the heart of plutonium manufacturing for the British atomic weapons program.

Despite the controversy that surrounds the plant, there are plans to build new reactors at Sellafield. The government has approved initial plans to build a fast PRISM reactor on the site. Most locals are against it. They want the UK government to commission a safety study into Sellafield’s effects on the health of the local population.

Janine Allis-Smith has a lot of experience of dealing with the fallout from Sellafield. She is a senior campaigner from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE) and lives only a few miles from the plant. Her son was diagnosed with Leukaemia and she blames Sellafield.

She told RT, “Kids play on the beaches, they get sand in their clothes.” This sand, she explains, could contain dangerous radioactive particles released from the nuclear complex and “Parents have a right to know the risks”.

Anti-nuclear campaigners are demanding the beaches be closed or at least signs put up warning the public of the potential danger.

Sellafield has been monitoring a number of beaches near the plant since 2006, when it was ordered to do so by the UK government’s Environment Agency after the discovery of a highly radioactive particles. Between 2010 and 2011, 383 radioactive particles were found and removed.

However, locals claim they are not sufficiently informed about the pollution at the site. Allis-Smith explained that they are fulfilling the legal minimum requirement, so that although information is available, no-one knows about it. The local council has refused to become involved.

A study in the 1980’s found that over ten times the national average of childhood Leukaemias occurred near Sellafield. Thirty families tried to take the company who then ran the site to court and lost.

“There has never been a proper investigation into the environmental impact of the plant and there should be.” Allis-Smith said.

Cold war legacy

It is not surprising that people like Allis-Smith are worried. Behind the razor wire, security guards and public relations campaigns, Sellafield is home to some of the most radioactive buildings in Europe.

The UK has the largest stockpile of Plutonium anywhere in the world and it’s all stored at Sellafield. Plutonium is used for the manufacture of nuclear weapons and is extremely radioactive with a half-life of 25,000 years.

According to Francis Livons, research director of the Dalton Nuclear Institute in Manchester, this 113 tonne Plutonium mountain is the historical consequence of the British nuclear weapons programme in the 1950’s and 60’s and of over 60 years of reprocessing nuclear fuel. Since the late 1980’s the plant has been plagued by technical failures and, according to Livons, and a lack of political will to invest in new technology that works. He also said a vast amount of other nuclear waste stored at Sellafield “is not in a good state at-all.”

It is the task of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to clean all this up. The plans are to pay the French company Areva, who have proved their technology works, to build a new mixed oxide fuel (MOX) plant.

The other option is to let the US-Japanese GE-Hitachi build a new fast PRISM reactor on the site to burn the plutonium and produce electricity. This is a more elegant engineering option but the reactor is totally unproven and is decades away from completion.

The GE-Hitachi plans have been met with dismay by many locals, despite the prospects of large scale job creation in the area. Martin Fullwood, campaign co-ordinator at CORE has branded the proposals “absolute nonsense”.

Livons admits that the fast reactor plans are extremely ambitious, given that this type of reactor has never been built anywhere in the world before.

Fullwood says Sellfield is “A can of worms” and believes “The NDA are clutching at straws”. However, he concedes that something must be done about the nuclear waste. But Livons says “The NDA is finally beginning to get to grips with what is a really nasty problem that lots of governments have tried to run away from. Things are finally starting to happen.”

Sellafield is a legacy of cold war decision making and will remain a problem for decades, and will cost the UK taxpayer tens of billions of pounds to clear up. The British public are worried new reactors built in the UK will also be mismanaged. The government and scientists maintain that modern nuclear power stations are much cleaner and more efficient than the old ones.

If new nuclear does go ahead in the UK then the technology will be French, Japanese or American. Britain’s post war dreams of being a world leader in nuclear energy lie in radioactive ruins in Sellafield.

Douglas Parr, the head scientist at Greenpeace, told RT, “Sellafield is a monument to the huge failings of the British nuclear industry.”

July 11, 2012 Posted by | Environmentalism, Militarism, Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Comments Off on Sellafield: The dangers of Britain’s nuclear dustbin