Cumbria wants clean-up of Sellafield’s old and dangerous nuclear spent fuel pools

Sellafield Ltd’s announcement of two ‘unusual finds’ on West Cumbrian beaches in May and June 2014 (the discovery attributed to the new Groundhog Synergy 2 monitoring system introduced in May) should be ringing public health alarms in the corridors of those tasked to protect beach users from the radioactive materials routinely washed up on local beaches from Sellafield’s historic discharges to the Irish Sea.
 Whilst the discovery of a radioactive stone in May – bearing the highest level of Caesium 137 yet discovered in over a
decade of local beach monitoring – is of grave concern, the subsequent discovery in June of a radioactive particle discovered on the more publicly accessible beach at Seascale requires immediate action to be taken by the Authorities to protect the general public.
Sellafield Catch Up 2015  nuClear News Jan 15  Eddie Martin of the Cumbria Trust wrote to Stephen Henwood chair of the NDA in November about the spent fuel ponds. He said, given that the Sellafield “Legacy Ponds” are over 60 yearsold, contain significant amounts of spent Magnox nuclear fuel and other radioactively
contaminated nuclear waste items, are covered with water for cooling purposes, were originally
pronounced, in the mid 1970’s as for “short term storage until it can be reprocessed”, are open to
the elements, known to be leaking into the ground and, in the case of B30, are located within
150m of the River Calder, we would be obliged if the NDA would state what action it is taking
to:-
Prevent transfer of radioactive contamination, by birds or other creatures that may have
access to the open contents of such ponds, to members of the public and/or property,
outside the boundary of the nuclear licensed site.
 Prevent leakage, through the ground surrounding these old and known -to-have-leaked,
ponds, to areas outside the nuclear licensed site and, specifically, into the River Calder.
 Recover the contents of these ponds for assay and assessment of their nuclear and
radioactive status.
 Commence reprocessing of appropriate items of the recovered Magnox fuel
 Compact, encapsulate or vitrify, as appropriate, and the safe storage, of the contents of
these ponds.
 Decommission, demolish and safely dispose of the existing outdated and insecure pond
buildings, structures and equipment. (15)
In response Stephen Henwood said “we categorically refute the suggestion … that insufficient
attention or resources are being put into addressing this national priority which we inherited in
2005. Whilst we cannot turn the clock back to decisions that were made or not made in the past
and which have left us with the challenges we now face, we are determined to be the people that
resolve those challenges.” (16)
Cumbria Trust welcomed the NDA’s response which it said included some reassurance that it is
aware of the poor condition of these ponds, and is now working to reduce the significant risks
posed by their appalling state of disrepair. However, the response also included a startling
revelation: “The pond’s overhead crane, which had been out of action since the 1990s, has been
fixed and is now being used again.”
“The admission that a key tool required for the maintenance of this most hazardous facility has
been unusable for two decades is remarkable. These ponds are so dangerous that they are
currently the NDA’s top priority, yet they have been left to decay and degrade without the most
fundamental mechanical equipment. To put that time frame in context, it took just over 8 years
from President Kennedy’s speech to congress in 1961, declaring the ambition of man walking on
the moon, to realising that feat of engineering.” (17)
Subsequently Eddie Martin wrote to Stephen Henwood again to ask why there is no clearoutline of the remediation plans. “It remains difficult to obtain clear, comprehensive and unexpurgated accounts of the “intolerable” risks which we, here in Cumbria, apparently face and, what is of equal importance, the time-frame in which those risks will be significantly reduced”.
Martin says the inability to place these legacy wastes in a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF)
until at least 2075, even if it were built tomorrow, emphasises the urgent need to focus on longterm
Secure Interim Storage at Sellafield. The argument around a GDF must not be allowed to
distract from this primary requirement. The former Conservative leader of Cumbria County
Council asks Henwood for some idea of when the NDA’s actions will bear fruit, and the risk will
be significantly reduced. (18)
It is worth noting that in 2002 The Observer, reporting on a document from Nirex, declared that
“almost 90 per cent of Britain’s hazardous nuclear waste stockpile is so badly stored it could
explode or leak with devastating results at any time” (19). A decade later the National Audit
Office (NAO) declared that:
“Some of the older facilities at Sellafield containing highly hazardous radioactive waste have
deteriorated so much that their contents pose significant risks to people and the environment. The
highest risks are posed by the ponds and silos built during the 1950s and 1960s to store fuel for
early reprocessing operations and radioactive waste … the exact quantity and type of hazardous
material on the site had yet to be fully investigated.” (20)
NAO goes on to say that limited progress has been made on starting some key waste retrieval
projects, and completing waste retrieval from legacy ponds and silos has been postponed by
seven years until 2036.
Meanwhile CORE says Sellafield Ltd’s announcement of two ‘unusual finds’ on West Cumbrian
beaches in May and June 2014 (the discovery attributed to the new Groundhog Synergy 2
monitoring system introduced in May) should be ringing public health alarms in the corridors of
those tasked to protect beach users from the radioactive materials routinely washed up on local
beaches from Sellafield’s historic discharges to the Irish Sea. Whilst the discovery of a
radioactive stone in May – bearing the highest level of Caesium 137 yet discovered in over a
decade of local beach monitoring – is of grave concern, the subsequent discovery in June of a
radioactive particle discovered on the more publicly accessible beach at Seascale requires
immediate action to be taken by the Authorities to protect the general public. (21)
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