Blog Archives

How many nuclear installations will be vulnerable to floods and rising seas?

Lesley Docksey sends news that Marianne Birkby has written to Cumbria County Council asking them not to approve the plan to extend the life and capacity of the Drigg nuclear waste site (below) on the West Coast of Cumbria.

nuclear 2 drigg repository

Three years ago DEFRA reported on the nuclear sites which are at risk of flooding and coastal erosion – see Rob Edwards in the Guardian.

Are politicians acting on this information?

Last year, the Guardian reported that an internal Environment Agency document suggests that it was a mistake to position the Drigg radioactive waste site close to the Cumbrian coast because of the risk of flooding. Ian Parker, the Environment Agency’s group manager in Cumbria said, after detailed technical examinations: ‘It’s highly probable the coast will erode and the waste (at Drigg) will be disrupted.’

Are contents confined to low level waste?

The University of Reading has pointed out in its radiological risk assessment that compacted waste is currently placed in steel ISO-freight containers, with void space filled with highly fluid cement based grout. Radionuclides with highest activities in the inventory – include 3H, 241Pu, 137Cs, 234U and 90Sr, 238U and 232Th.

Have defective radioactive waste containers been replaced?

drigg llw 3

In 2013 the Low Level Repository Ltd’s management wrote: “in containers at the tops of stacks, the external capping grout has undergone extensive physical degradation and settlement; the lids are not full of grout, and the grout is generally heavily cracked. The state of the capping grout in underlying layers is better; most containers only show sparse cracking and typical settlement in the lid is approximately 15 mm. Standing water, sometimes contaminated with low levels of radioactivity, is present in approximately half of the containers at the tops of stacks. In containers at the tops of stacks, organic matter (principally leaf mould) has accumulated beneath many open grout ports, with vegetation growing from some grout ports. Corrosion, sometimes fully penetrating, is present in some container lids at the tops of stacks…”

nuclear marianne kirkbyOn this site, earlier this month, there was a report by Marianne Birkby who lives in the area and is spokesperson for Radiation Free Lakeland, a voluntary organisation of local activists giving their own time and expertise freely. She highlighted the fact that the BBC helicopter relaying images of the devastation avoided showing areas in which nuclear installations are located: Sellafield, Drigg, Lillyhall and the proposed new nuclear plant on the river Ehen floodplain, Moorside.

There is a petition: LOCK THE GATE ON DRIGG and Marianne says that a letter to Cumbria County Council would also be fantastic.

“We need to tell our elected representatives at local and national level that there is no “away” for radioactive wastes. In a finite world there is no infinite *dilution* of radioactive wastes”.

She invites readers to write to the Leader of Cumbria County Council, Stuart Young: – and if you have time to the Cabinet members via Democratic Services:

Sellafield plan: government guaranteed construction debt and only 5000 cubic metres of radioactive waste

Tom Samson, the chief executive of NuGen, a company planning a plant in Cumbria, has referred to a ‘fog’ which should lift in order for him to see the path ahead.

Andrew Bounds (FT), in an article on the subject, failed to mention the more sensitive reasons for the four year delay in EDF’s construction of a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset. His colleague, Jim Pickard, was not so reticent. Though not mentioning the Finnish problems, he wrote about the reasons for escalating costs at its flagship Flamanville project in Normandy:

“The £7bn French scheme — designed to showcase new atomic technology — is based on an “EPR” European pressurised reactor, the same model that will be used in Hinkley. Further concerns mounted last week when a leaked report from France’s nuclear safety watchdog highlighted faults in Flamanville’s cooling system. That followed a warning in April by the French Nuclear Safety Regulator that there was an excessive amount of carbon in the steel of the reactor vessel”.

moorside sellafield

NuGen’s proposed £15bn plant at Moorside, to the north and west of Sellafield (above) in Cumbria, could be generating by the mid-2020s, as the UK government can guarantee construction debt, which is “crucial”, Mr Samson said. The government is expected to seek a lower ‘strike price’ with NuGen than at Hinkley Point, which has been guaranteed a revenue of £92.50 per megawatt hour, linked to inflation, for 35 years.

EDF builds the “EPR” European pressurised reactor and NuGen’s Moorside would use three AP1000 pressurised water reactors built by Westinghouse.The model is untried, but will enter service in China in two years’ time and others are being installed in the US. For concerns about the AP 1000’s design and materials, see

The UK government is said to be committed to nuclear power as a clean source of energy generation

Mr Samson said “We encourage the government and local community to find a [long-term storage] solution” as the waste for the 60-year life of the Moorside plant would fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools”.

Cleaner than solar, wind and hydro?

Arnie Gundersen: design of proposed nuclear reactors in Cumbria

Able Seaman William McNeilly released a lengthy dossier on the internet earlier this month in which he said Britain’s Trident nuclear defence system was vulnerable to its enemies and to potentially devastating accidents because of safety failures.

arne gundersen

But – in the mainstream – only the Independent and Japan Times covered news of another hazard, described by Arnie Gundersen, who was invited to speak at the House of Commons on March 11. He addressed the current status of Fukushima Daiichi four years after nuclear meltdown began in 2011, and presented his expert assessment of nuclear risk in regards to the proposed construction of three AP1000 reactors in Cumbria, England. He writes (abridged):

My week in the UK was exciting and full of surprises. I spoke to hundreds of people in London and Cumbria who are committed to a new energy future for Europe. They know that the dated model of big business centralized electricity production is ending, and they see a clean, disaster free viable alternative in locally distributed generation.

Still, it seems that the established British utilities are so fixated on nuclear power that they just offered to charge their customers twice the current market price for electricity for the next 35-years, so that a French nuclear company could build a fancy and untried new nuclear design at Hinkley Point. The United Kingdom is anything but united when it comes to how it will produce electricity in the 21st century!

windscale 1985The Windscale Piles in 1985: Chris Eaton

Britain has experienced the dangers of nuclear power first hand as the site of the world’s first major nuclear disaster at Windscale, receiving huge amounts of contamination from Chernobyl fallout in Wales, and contaminating the Irish Sea with plutonium at its waste reprocessing plant at Sellafield. With that background, I understand why the citizens of the UK embrace a nuclear free future.

When I spoke at the House of Commons, it was clear that only a minority of the MP’s (like US Representatives) could envision an energy future different than the past. Similar to the US, the financially influential electric power monopolies have convinced a majority of the MPs that there is no alternative to nuclear power. Thankfully, many people in the UK disagree and see a nuclear free future!

cockcroft follies

Surprisingly, it was in Cumbria that I saw the most poignant reminder of how dangerous nuclear power is. There in the fog and rain stood “Cockcroft’s Folly”, a ventilation stack on the old Windscale reactor. Filters on that stack, thankfully, captured most of the radiation released during the 1957 Windscale catastrophe.

When Windscale was under construction, Sir John Cockcroft, a great engineer and Nobel Prize winner, insisted that filters be added to the ventilation stack. The British nuclear establishment laughed at him, but he was unyielding and persisted in his cause until the filters were added to Windscale.

Naysayers nicknamed the filters “Cockcroft’s Folly”, and no one believed they were necessary. Then came the Windscale nuclear core fire and those “unnecessary” filters saved thousands of lives. Too contaminated even now to be removed, “Cockcroft’s Folly” stands in the middle of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant, part of a more than $60billion cleanup planned for the neighboring stretch of coastline along the contaminated the Irish Sea.

Three new AP1000 reactors are proposed to be built in Cumbria within sight of “Cockcroft’s Folly”. Since 2010, I have repeatedly said that the AP1000 design suffers the same design flaw as the old Windscale reactor.

Like Sir John, I believe that filters must be added to the top of the AP1000 shield building to prevent huge amounts of radiation from being released during a meltdown. I call this problem “the chimney effect” and wrote a paper about it entitled “ Nuclear Containment Failures- Ramifications for the AP1000 Containment Design”.

Sir John Cockcroft must be spinning in his grave, wondering “When will they ever learn?”

MP Austin Mitchell takes a nuclear management consortium to task

austin mitchellOral evidence presented to the Committee of Public Accounts, Draft Report (Nuclear Decommissioning Authority: Managing risk at Sellafield), Twenty-fourth Report of Session 2012–13, 26.11.12.


In 2008, the management of Sellafield Ltd was contracted to Nuclear Management Partners: US company URS, British company AMEC, and AREVA of France.

After a tour of the site, Austin Mitchell said:

Q40 – (Sellafield) is something that seems to me like a cross between science fiction and a nuclear slum—perhaps the biggest nuclear slum in Europe.

There is a huge problem in clearing that up and what worries me is that you have a very difficult job in controlling the costs. The three members of the consortium, the troika, whatever you call them, are all capitalist organisations. They have to make a bob or two. How do we know and how does the taxpayer know that they are not overcharging us for their services?

I noticed in paragraph 2.7 it says, “The Authority’s assurance was extensive”, but “it did not have clear evidence on how Sellafield Limited estimated costs and schedules. The Authority also had no benchmarks to judge proposed levels of performance.” “It made minimal comparisons with nuclear projects elsewhere in the UK or internationally to check the validity of the estimates.”

It also says, in paragraph 2.8, “The exact nature of some of the materials has not been fully characterised” and a further point in that paragraph, “there is not yet sufficient supporting data to provide reliable estimates”. And then finally in that paragraph, “The Authority could not determine whether critical paths for completing programmes and projects were correctly identified”.

Now, how are we to stop the taxpayer being ripped off in that situation where the Authority is not in a position to fully control the costs of the consortium?

Q44  . . . Paragraph 1.7 says, “The Authority’s ultimate objective is to complete the cleanup of the site and release it for alternative uses by 2120”, which is a very long time away. I am worried about the gap between 2034 when you finish the cleanup operation and the Government’s estimate that it will have found a geological storage facility by 2040. What happens in that gap to all the material that is at Sellafield? . . .

Q45  – Can you tell us is the active search for a geological storage facility going on? Are you likely to find one or is it just a pious hope?

I remember the efforts of Nirex in the 1980s, when they came to Grimsby and tried to persuade us that a nuclear dump would be for the good of our health and people tended to disbelieve this for some reason. It is going to be a very difficult one to persuade anywhere to take a geological dumping site, is it not? Have you found one?

Q118 – One final question for the Decommissioning Authority: you do not report externally on the performance of your major projects.

Why not?

Why is it all internally reported?

Surely all this needs to be reported externally so that we and the public can have some idea of what is going on, how successful you are, where the weaknesses are and what the problems are.

Why do you not report externally more?


Read the full account:

Bad decisions by government 30: support for polluting industries – GM crops, nuclear power and waste-burning

Today the BBC reports that ‘executive members’ representing three Lake District councils will vote on whether to search for a site for an underground repository in which to store high level nuclear waste. Cumbria is the only area still considering such a facility. Construction is not expected to begin before 2025.

Radiation Free Lakeland, opposing the building of a repository, say that any intended facility would be as large as the city as Carlisle and as deep as Scafell is high.

The Unite union representing Sellafield Workers said that 12,000 jobs at Sellafield depended on the industry, with thousands more in the local supply chain.

In February a Chinese delegation of nuclear decision-makers from the commercial and policy sectors will visit Britain for a week of meetings with UK decommissioning and waste management ‘supremos’.

Young minds train for a nuclear future

Nuclear future young mindsHitachi has signed a £700m deal to buy Horizon Nuclear Power from its German owners and is planning to build reactors at Wylfa on Anglesey, north Wales, and Oldbury in Gloucestershire, a county also threatened with the imposition of a large incinerator.

The paragraph headline was seen in the Stroud News and Journal. Can we find no better engineering alternatives for these young people who have entered apprenticeships? The words of their MP, Neil Carmichael, an ardent proponent of the nuclear industry, were reported in Hansard: “Locally in Gloucestershire, as well as through the national training academy for nuclear, we are working hard to ensure that we have sufficient skills—and retain those skills—ready for nuclear new build”.

Hold to the Precautionary Principle

The European Environment Agency Report No 1/2013, Late lessons from early warnings, from a broad range of external authors and peer reviewers, contains case studies covering a range of chemical and technological innovations and highlighting a number of systemic problems. The second volume investigates specific cases where danger signals have gone unheeded, in some cases leading to death, illness and environmental destruction.

The ‘Late Lessons Project’ illustrates how damaging and costly the misuse or neglect of the precautionary principle can be; the government should take its message to heart and rethink their support for GM crops, nuclear power and waste-burning industries.