Sunday, 23 August 2020

Danger threat of Sellafield going bang!

I offered this article to Channel Four News, The Sun, The Guardian and Observer, the "i", The Morning Star and The Ecologist, none of which responded; and to the defence and securituy editor at The Daily Mirror, who, after showing initial interest, failed to respond to emails. I have worked with the media on nuclear issues for over 40 years, and have never come across such resistance to a story as this. Has the Government issued a "D Notice" ( or its modern day equivalent) to censor the problem? >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Is the biggest nuclear site in Europe containing the world’s biggest stockpile of nuclear explosives at risk of blowing up? 23 August 2020 On 13 August, Sellafield’s chief propagandist, Jamie Reed - formerly MP for the Copeland parliamentary seat that contains Sellafield (and before that a press officer for the then nuclear waste disposal company, NIREX, now defunct) - issued a Panglossian press briefing that he entitled “Cleaning up our nuclear past: faster, safer and sooner” ( One section was headlined “Beyond Sellafield: Investing in the next generation” – and started with the very positive assertion: “In recent weeks we’ve announced and revisited projects that will have an almost immediate impact in our communities…” adding “ We know that in the future we’re going to need higher-level skills to progress our clean-up mission at Sellafield.” He could say that again! The very next day, Sellafield Ltd issued another press release, under the anodyne headline “Chemical disposal at Sellafield” It opened, revealing that “chemicals have been identified as requiring specialist disposal on the Sellafield site,” and added “During a routine inspection of chemical substances stored on the Sellafield site, a small amount of chemicals (organic peroxide) were identified as requiring specialist disposal. This chemical is used for a variety of purposes across many industries. In line with established procedures, support has been requested from Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD). The EOD team is now in attendance at the Sellafield site and will dispose of the chemical safely. Chemical monitoring is undertaken across the site to understand changing chemical states and to inform when and how industrial chemicals should be stored or disposed of. This chemical substance was stored in the site’s Magnox Reprocessing Plant. The storage area is safely segregated from the nuclear operations of the plant and the risk has been identified as a conventional safety issue rather than a nuclear safety risk. As a precautionary measure, a controlled evacuation of the Magnox Reprocessing Plant was carried out yesterday in order to investigate the chemical and devise the appropriate course of action. The plant was non-operational at the time. The plant will remain non-operational while the chemical is disposed of. As ever, our priority remains the protection of our workforce, community and the environment.” It sounded transparent and seemed un-alarming. But this was not the first time Sellafield had failed to control safely dangerously chemicals with potential to cause an explosion Local Sellafield monitoring group, CORE (Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment) were so alarmed they circulated a comprehensive press release first issued on 4 July 2018, under the appropriate headline: “Chemical Chaos and Confusion at Sellafield – yet another intolerable risk?” CORE properly noted one of several alarming conclusions of the internal Sellafield Ltd Board of Inquiry into this incident read: ‘As a site, the full appreciation of chemical legislation, including The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations DSEAR, has been inadequate’ CORE recorded that of Sellafield’s 1400 buildings (operational and legacy), some are considered by the independent financial watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO) to fall short of modern standards and, through deterioration, ‘pose a significant risk to people and the environment’. Identified as amongst Sellafield’s top 10 highest hazards is the site’s plutonium stock and associated management facilities, the NAO report warns specifically of decaying plutonium canisters – a leak from which would add to the growing list of ’intolerable risks’ posed by Sellafield as identified by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and the acknowledged risks posed by the volumes of hazardous wastes and materials stored in run-down buildings. The owner of Sellafield – Europe’s largest nuclear site- on behalf of the taxpayer is the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). In a 164-page draft strategy document released on 17 August, the NDA revealed this alarming situation on its plutonium stored on site. (Sellafield has 140,000 kilogrammes of explosive plutonium in store: for context of the hazard, the atomic bomb that obliterated the centre of the Japanese city of Nagasaki on 9 August 75 years ago, killing 70,00 people instantly, contained just 6.4 kilogrames of plutonium!) In the report’s section on plutonium storage – at page 60 - it admits alarmingly: “The NDA considers some of the older plutonium packages and facilities used in early production to be amongst the highest hazards on the Sellafield site. A major programme of asset care has and continues to be undertaken at these facilities to support safe operation until they can be taken out of service and decommissioned. Some older packages are to be repacked in existing plants to ensure their safe management in the short to medium term.” ( Rickety labs are waiting for accidents to happen Sellafield’s Analytical Services Laboratory (ASL) is one of the oldest facilities on site (built in 1951) and located in the tight and highly controlled confines of Sellafield’s so called ‘Separation Area’ alongside old reprocessing plant ( where nuclear explosives plutonium and uranium are recovered from nuclear waste) and the high hazard legacy radioactive waste ponds and silos. Around 50 of ASL’s original 150 laboratories are currently operational They were . described by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) in June 2017 as a “relatively high risk’ facility whose laboratories hold a ‘considerable radiological inventory” that “has potentially high off-site consequences in the event of a major accident.” So, when the ‘Bomb Squad’ arrived in late October 2017 to deal with these unstable chemicals with their potential to ignite or explode, they demanded the immediate evacuation of workers and a 100-metre cordon thrown up around ASL should have triggered major alarm bells locally and further afield. Sellafield’s website quietly published an update of this first alarming incident, and concluded on 1 November 2017 that “our chemical disposal work has concluded and the Analytical Laboratory is preparing to restart’” suggesting that all was well with ASL. But this was fake news, as was later made clear by the findings of Sellafield’s subsequent Board of Inquiry report, finally published on 1st February two years ago . Sellafield censored the full contents- in a ‘blacked out’ procedure called redaction. They have never released the full unaltered report. The Sellafield safety campaigners CORE – led by giant former policeman, Martin Forwood, who died nearly a year ag o- finally obtained a fuller version of the report after demanding its release from Sellafield in the public interest. [Martin Forwood] It alarmingly highlighted the current day and past chaos and confusion that has underpinned Sellafield’s management of the hazardous chemical inventory contained within ASL in which radioactive materials are also stored. The Board of Inquiry report into the event highlights a catalogue of incompetence of which the legendary Homer Simpson himself would have been proud!
It revealed that the initial discovery of the suspect chemicals – a part filled 500ml bottle of potentially unstable Tetrahydrofuran (THF)- unbelievably stored in a flammable vault within ASL , had actually been made on 3rd October, almost three weeks earlier. Only then did Sellafield declare an Operational Alert and the Army’s Bomb Squad was belatedly called in to detonate the chemicals via a series of controlled explosions made on 21st and 22nd October. Then, following further inventory check of the laboratories which discovered more suspect THF and vials and bottles of Quickszint, the Bomb Squad had to be recalled and continued to make further disposals until the 1st November 2017. Last week it happened all over again,with apparently no lessons learned by a dopy Sellafield management! Highlighting the many failings of Sellafield’s chemicals management, the Board of Investigation’s critical report arrives at the following alarming conclusions: BOX Over 14 years prior to the October 2017 event, there had been a number of both weak and strong clues indicating problems with the management of chemical hazards. • • There had been no deliberate involvement of people, teams and departments with the right capability on chemical hazard and management of the chemical inventory in ASL. • • In the context of a highly complex and time-pressured environment, ASL employees had inadvertently reduced the vast and complex array of chemicals and samples into four broad categories – chemicals in use, samples, redundant chemicals and orphan wastes. • • the redundant chemicals category does not form part of the Analytical Services daily analysis and as a result has remained in the unconscious ie out of sight, out of mind. This has meant that chemicals within this category have held very low visibility and, in general, are not considered or thought about. • • There was a lack of priority given to the disposal of redundant chemicals due to them not being visible and out of conscious awareness to a majority of people within ASL. • • The legislative instrument for identifying the flammable and explosive risk posed by the chemicals THF and Quickszint which form part of the redundant chemicals category is The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR.) Yet both chemicals had routinely been missed from DSEAR assessments. • • Quickszint has peroxide generation potential and the bottles found to have degraded with evidence of crystallisation identified • • The knowledge that THF can degrade over time to form potentially explosive compounds is not widely held either within the organisation or externally. • • The poor understanding of the DSEAR regulations within ASL lead to the failure to recognise the potential risk associated with the long term storage of THF and Quicksint. • • As a site, the full appreciation of chemical legislation, including The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations DSEAR, has been inadequate. • • Across the site there are 18 safety advisors with basic competency in DSEAR – none of these allocated to ASL. The two safety advisors available to ASL are safety generalists rather than specialists in chemicals and chemical legislation requirements. • • A review of the DSEAR process highlighted that the presence of the same root and contributory causes were also evident in the THORP (thermal oxide, after the nuclear fuel type) reprocessing facility where 44 redundant chemicals listed within the facility were described as not visible and their potential degradation risk not understood. Now, nearly three years on, we could have another massive explosion on our hands in the north of England. But this could make the Beirut blast that destroyed their port -killing over 100 people - look like a vicar’s tea party. Because we would not have a grain storage silos spewing out its contents, but the biggest store of nuclear explosives on the planet- bigger than America’s or Russia’s- releasing its deadly toxic contents. If even extremely small quantities (micro-particles) of this radioactive material – named after Pluto, the God of Hell - were blown into the atmosphere by a chemical explosion, it would threaten the entire north of England. In particulate form it can cause cancer with just one speck, if the so-called alpha radiation particles from the plutonium got into human lungs. It could even render Britain’s countryside jewel of the Lake District – located just inland from Sellafield on Cumbria’s coast - out of bounds for many years. So, the outstanding question remains: What are our safety and nuclear regulators doing about this terrifying - and utterly unacceptable - threat other lives of millions of British residents? They need to top of their game to face down this home made threat! *Dr David Lowry, senior international research fellow, Institute for Resource and security Studies, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA He has been a member of the UK Chief Nuclear Inspector’s Independent Advisory Panel for the past two years

1 comment:

  1. The House of Commons Library have just released CBP 8176 New Nuclear Power, which is version 9 of that report with earlier versions all removed off the website. The emphasis in CBP 8176 is on SMRs as the solution to everything
    There are changes to the whole report structure, sections, and chapters, but no indication of changes. Yet every revision is more determined to show a wonderful nuclear / carbon-free future,
    This revision now shows that Labour support nuclear, after their 2019 manifesto said “We will build…..New nuclear power needed for energy security”…..
    With a General Election 100 seat Tory majority, the nuclear industry sees a chance to re-write its history, and offer a new vision to parliament, the country, and the Committee for Climate Change.
    Nuclear knows it has to quickly compete with renewables, and promote some false green arguments. New Nuclear will be of course be green, baseload, always-on, net zero, carbon-free, job-creating, and stimulate research etc.
    The nuclear lobby fails always to mention nuclear proliferation, accidents or waste management, escalating costs, and the need for mostly foreign investment.
    Or we should say waste mis-management