Contamination of the Irish Sea
The government-owned Sellafield Nuclear Plant is situated on the northwest coast of England by the Irish Sea. It employs over 7000 people and produces 8% of the UK's energy and weapons grade material which is used in the production of nuclear weapons. Since 1952, Sellafield has been dumping radioactive waste into the Irish Sea. This has turned it into one of the most radioactive bodies of water in the world.
The vast site contains Britain's first two plutonium producing reactors, the world's first four commercial nuclear reactors, a defunct AGR reactor, two nuclear fuel reprocessing plants, Britain's main plutonium stockpile and acres of high and intermediate level nuclear waste stores. It also has a new Visitor Centre that gives a pleasant upbeat view of how British Nuclear Fuels sees the world. Chris Harding, BNFL Chairman said the £9 million spend on the Visitor Centre was "money well spent." It cost £5 million to build and £4 million a year to advertise and run.
Sellafield is now estimated to discharge as many as 9 million litres of radioactive effluent into the Irish Sea each day. Fish, shellfish, and sea plants have all been found to contain substantial amounts of radiation. Contamination from the plant is found throughout the Irish Sea and up into the North, Baltic, Norwegian, Barents, and Greenland Seas.
Human lives may also be at risk from this waste. Spray from the Irish Sea turns into radioactive dust and can be found on beaches and in people's homes. Increased rates of cancer have been reported on the east coast of Ireland and the west coast of England. Although in 1996 UK government scientists ruled out a link between cancer and radiation from Sellafield, it is claimed by opponents to Sellafield that the report was inconclusive. They continue to pursue further investigation.
"Sellafield is poisoning the environment and risking the public health of millions of people in the UK and neighbouring countries. This is all but criminally negligent behaviour and we call on the new British government to stop these discharges as part of its review of UK environmental policy."
Damon Moglen, Greenpeace International
There are eleven silos full of radioactive nuclear waste at Sellafield. Each silo contains an amount of waste eight times the amount that was released at Chernobyl in 1986. If vapour was released from one of these silos the result could be a disaster much worse than Chernobyl. Radioactive waste has a half-life* of 24,000 years. The worry of a major accident comes from smaller accidents that have occurred at Sellafield in the past. The first of these was the Windscale Disaster in 1957. More recently, in 1983, it was discovered that on three seperate occasions, a mixture of radioactive waste, solvent, and water was directly discharged into the Irish Sea. The level of radioactive contamination in the water around Sellafield was reported as being 100 to 1000 times the normal level which led government officials to close 40 km stretch of beach north and south of Sellafield.