Beacon of Nuclear Truth?

Greeting visitors to The Sellafield Story, a Radiation Free Lakeland activist offers leaflets setting out a dramatically different narrative. Photo: RFL.
Greeting visitors to The Sellafield Story, a Radiation Free Lakeland activist offers leaflets setting out a dramatically different narrative. Photo: RFL.
The cash-strapped Cumbrian Museum is rebranded to tell 'The Sellafield Story'. The UK's favourite scientist Brian Cox and Government Minister Baroness Verma provide razzmatazz along with the Happy Robot. Lollypops anyone?
On opening The Beacon, Professor Cox gushed proudly that the nuclear industry has a 'track record second to none!' That at least we can agree with ...

When the UK's favourite celebrity scientist is roped in alongside a Government Minister to open a local museum you know something big is afoot.

The local museum is The Beacon, formerly run by Copeland Council. Copeland, like councils across the country, have had their funding cut by central government.

You might think that with Copeland being home to Sellafield, this area would be best placed to withstand the worst of the economic downturn. Instead it seems to be the very worst placed. All essential services have been mercilessly cut.

But one massive public expenditure refuses to die

From public toilets to Whitehaven's popular Civic Centre, nothing spared. was used by everyone from local theatre groups to Government led public meetings such as Managing Radioactive Wastes Safely.

The ironically titled Managing Radioactive Wastes Safely Partnership was dissolved following Cumbria County Council's momentous No vote on January 30th 2013.

Cumbrians thought that was the end of the nuclear dump plan. We thought that government would go back to the drawing board with their cunning plan to dump heat generating nuclear waste under Cumbria.'s complex geology.

But like Terminator it seems the "implementation of geological disposal" is unstoppable. Government ministers have certainly never tired of telling Cumbrians what a "huge opportunity" it would be.

No really does mean No!

When the "huge opportunity" line didn't seem to be working the carrot was changed to the perceived stick that "new build will not happen unless we have geological disposal."

Never mind that Cumbria, the most nuclear compliant community in the UK has said no several times. Never mind the complex geology and the fact that heat-generating wastes have never been successfully contained in a geological dump.ever...anywhere.

What a golden opportunity then to use The Beacon as a platform to repackage The Sellafield Story in order to make nuclear waste loveable! The Beacon is still funded out of the public purse, only now it is receiving government funds filtered through the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

On opening The Beacon, Professor Cox gushed proudly that the nuclear industry has a 'track record second to none!' That at least we can agree with ...

The Sellafield Story has some excellent photographs, archive footage, factoids and timelines. All this serves to give the impression of being open and transparent about Sellafield's history.

Nuclear war - at least they tell half the story

Visitors are greeted with a big picture of a mushroom cloud to illustrate the industry's origins as nuclear bomb manufacturer.

The text is however careful not to mention that the Ministry of Defence and the operators of Sellafield, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority are still wedded.

The Nuclear Academy, along with partners the NDA, the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA), West lakes Renaissance and British Nuclear group officially commenced construction of The Nuclear Academy just up the road from the Beacon on 9th March 2007.

The Nuclear Academy describes itself as a "world class centre of excellence for nuclear skills development" including ... defence! Meanwhile the last generation of 'defence' nuclear submarines look likely to be dumped, sorry, "decommissioned" at Sellafield.

These factoids are just some of the high level omissions from 'The Sellafield Story'.

Nuclear fly tipping - sorry, 'decommissioning'

Cumbrians are beginning to learn that "decommissioning" means dispersal to the environment. The exhibition has some snazzy computer games.

One of these is to test smashing up radioactively contaminated buildings with a bulldozer. Curiously The Sellafield Story does not follow up on where the smashed up rubble will be dumped.

Cumbrians were also surprised to learn that Sellafield is routinely dumping radioactive rubble in landfill, not just any old landfill but ironically the one right next door to the Nuclear Academy in Lillyhall, Workington.

Sellafield was fined over £700,000 for illegally dumping 3 bags of low level and one bag of intermediate level waste into the landfill instead of newly classified 'exempt' waste.

The landfill operators got off not only Scot-free but with a license to dump a further 1 million cubic metres or more of radioactive rubble into the landfill's spare capacity - not only from Sellafield but also from Scotland's Chapel Cross and elsewhere.

Both European and UK Laws have been changed to accommodate the nuclear industry's fly tipping.

Protest - well, it does get mention, just

There is just one column about protest and this rather ungraciously shows Bono smoking a cigarette on the beach at Sellafield in the 1990s during Greenpeace's Stop Sellafield campaign which aimed to prevent the Thorp reprocessing plant going ahead.

At least Bono had free choice to smoke the cigarette, or not.

As a result of reprocessing activity and previous discharges, Cumbrians are exposed and unprotected from radioactive particles washing up onto our beaches with every tide. These particles include cesium, plutonium and americium.

Young children and pregnant mothers are, as with all things nuclear at greatest risk of damage to health.

Despite the incidence of particle finds increasing dramatically over the last few years, monitoring and retrieval has been cut back.

The insanity of reprocessing

This is what Sellafield does in spades - it was the original purpose of the plant - to extract the bomb making material called plutonium from spent nuclear fuel.

In recent years the rationale was to reuse the plutonium in MOX fuel - this was a catastrophic failure described in an internal government report as "not fit for purpose" after racking up £2bn in debt and polluting the environment.

However, the Sellafield Story spins it: "a chemical operation called reprocessing, is used to separate the 3% of waste products. The 97% that is left is the uranium and plutonium which can be used again."

Truth is, reprocessing actually increases the volume of nuclear waste by as much as 189 times compared with the original spent fuel. Virtually all the radioactivity ends up as massive and hazardous waste streams spewing out of Sellafield.

As well as the increased waste streams everything involved in the process becomes contaminated with radioactivity. This includes huge quantities of solvents and acids, containers, filters, machinery and even the fabric of the reprocessing buildings.

The only reason trains and boats continue to bring spent fuel / nuclear waste to Sellafield is for the insanity of reprocessing.

'A track record second to none' - thanks Brian!

While Brian Cox's enthusiasm for the scientific dream of nuclear fusion is understandable, his endorsement of nuclear fission's 'business as usual but more of it' is dodgy. Who needs fusion or fission anyway when increasingly renewables are outstripping nuclear?

On opening The Beacon, Professor Cox gushed proudly that the nuclear industry has a "track record second to none!" That at least we can agree with ... but perhaps not quite as he meant it.



Marianne Birkby is spokesperson Radiation Free Lakeland (RFL).

She and other FFL members attended the opening of The Beacon (see photo), presenting their Alternative Sellafield Story from uranium mining to the plan for geological dumping.

RFL is a voluntary organisation of local activists giving their own time and expertise freely. Any donations go directly to campaigning for nuclear safety.


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