Hanford, Sellafield, La Hague, Gorleben, – the horrible nuclear legacy

The Legacy of Nuclear Power,This fascinating short article on four nuclear communities tellingly demonstrates why radioactive waste is a moral issue and explains what the priorities for its management should be.   Routledge, By Andy Blowers. 7 Oct 16 

1. Hanford, USA

Scattered across a vast site in Washington state in America’s North West is Hanford, one of the most contaminated places in the world. During the war Hanford was the scene of frenzied activity as the chosen location for the manufacture of the plutonium for the ‘Fat Man’ nuclear weapon that devastated Nagasaki on 9 August, 1945. In the subsequent Cold War, Hanford’s nuclear activities expanded comprising eight nuclear reactors along the banks of the Columbia River, the sinister looking reprocessing ‘canyons’ in the middle of the reservation and a variety of production and experimental facilities scattered around its fringes. Production at Hanford has ceased but a vast nuclear legacy remains especially in the tank farms containing high-level liquid waste and sludge, some leaking towards the Columbia, in the abandoned reactors and decommissioned reprocessing works and in waste management facilities and clean-up projects. Cleaning up the legacy is a long-term, costly ($2billion federal funding a year), intractable and complex task but it is an inescapable one.

2. Sellafield, UK

Sellafield, the heart of the UK’s plutonium economy, is in a stage of transition from production to clean-up. Like Hanford, Sellafield’s nuclear legacy stretches back to the early days of the military nuclear programme when little attention was paid to the wastes. Unlike Hanford, the Sellafield site is very compact, a mere 2 sq. km., but crammed on to it is around two-thirds of all the radioactivity from the UK’s nuclear programme. The legacy comprises all the country’s high level wastes, most of the spent fuel, a stockpile of around 140 tonnes of plutonium and complex streams of wastes. Hemmed in within a complex of buildings, many of them redundant, are large grey anonymous structures containing often unrecorded mixtures of fuel, skips and other highly radioactive debris tipped into the notorious ponds and silos which pose what has been called an ‘intolerable risk’ to the public and the environment. Cleaning up this legacy is a task that stretches decades ahead absorbing around £1.7 billion from the government a year.

3. La Hague, France 

In France, where three-quarters of the country’s electricity is produced by its 58 reactors, the nuclear industry is mainly focused around the reprocessing facilities at La Hague at the tip of the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy. At this remote location spent fuel is reprocessed for recycling in the form of mixed oxide fuel (MOX) or vitrified and stored pending disposal. After much searching, an underground laboratory has been developed in eastern France at Bure, a nuclear no-man’s land, stealthily and steadily becoming established as the country’s nuclear disposal site, but still a long way off. Meanwhile, the French nuclear legacy continues to accumulate at power stations soon to be decommissioned, at La Hague and other sites of reprocessing and experimental reactors.

4. Gorleben, Germany

In Germany there has been fierce resistance for more than three decades to the prospect of shipping casks of highly radioactive wastes across the country to Gorleben in the middle of the country. The casks are sent to an interim store for possible burial in a neighbouring excavated salt mine. Gorleben has played both a symbolic and political role in bringing down the German nuclear industry. The symbols of protest festoon the countryside. There are the ubiquitous wooden yellow crosses on farms and villages, the bright orange sun on a green background displayed on posters and flags proclaiming the ‘Free Republic of Wendland’ and the slogan ‘Stop CASTOR’ (the soubriquet for the flasks) daubed on walls and electricity sub-stations. These gave identity to this fiercely independent land of forest, heath and waterlands close by the River Elbe. Drawing on this real and invented cultural legacy, the Gorleben movement became an inspiration for the wider German anti-nuclear protest.

Places on the Periphery

These four places, Hanford, Sellafield, La Hague/Bure and Gorleben with their different histories exemplify and explain the physical imprint and social conditions that are the continuing legacy of nuclear power. They constitute what may be defined as peripheral communities, places where hazardous activities are located and which are, as it were, physically and socially set apart from the mainstream. They tend to be geographically remote. They may be located at the edge whether of a country, as at La Hague, in relatively inaccessible sub-regions as at Sellafield or in areas of sparse population as Hanford was before the war and as Bure is today. They may be areas with a distinctive (real or invented) cultural identity or isolation like Gorleben, in the self-declared Wendland once on the border with Eastern Germany. Peripheral communities tend also to be economically marginal, monocultural and dependent on government investment and subsidy or state owned companies………..https://www.routledge.com/posts/10360?utm_source=adestra&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=160701303

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