Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Nuclear Accident Coverup?

Disclosure of a huge radioactive spill in England could turn the tide against nuclear proliferation, but US media won't say a word.

Mismanagement at the "Thorp" spent fuel reprocessing plant at England's notorious Sellafield facility allowed some 22,000 kilograms of uranium and 200 kilograms of plutonium—enough for 20 nuclear weapons—to go missing over the course of at least 3 months. A leaking pipe was spilling a nitric acid solution of the radioactive metals into a huge sump tank to create a "Level 3 Incident" on the 7-level International Nuclear Events Scale.

Although the word from British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) is that everyone in nearby Cumbria, on England's west coast, is perfectly safe, the incident is more than a public relations nightmare—it is a financial mess. Thorp (Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant) was generating £1 million a day towards the United Kingdom's £2.2 billon annual nuclear facility cleanup budget. Thorp's revenue came from contracts to reprocess spent fuel from power stations in the United Kingdom and 8 other countries, but in its 12 years of operation it never came close to fulfilling its quota, and was already being sued for having fallen years behind schedule. Now the government faces heavy costs to design and build robots to repair the leaking pipe (any human entering the building would die from the radiation), process the dissolved metals into manageable form and store the hot material somewhere, somehow.

BNFL management is being punished with bonus cuts for its "complacency".

What does this latest Sellafield problem (there have been many others) say about the economic viability of nuclear power? For over half a century no real solution for nuclear waste disposal has emerged. Direct monetary costs of "temporary" storage are staggering and current environmental and public health costs may be even higher. In many ways—technological, economic, moral, political, and criminal—nuclear power operations promote nuclear warfare and nuclear terrorism.

The American public should consider Sellafield in shaping its attitude toward resuming construction of nuclear power plants. But it can't. American media have reported nothing about the entire Sellafield disaster. Can anybody guess why not?

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