1. The Issue
Sellafield Nuclear Plant is located on the Northwest Coast of England on the Irish Sea. It is a government owned facility that produces about one-fourth of the United Kingdom’s energy. Nuclear waste from this facility had turned the Irish sea into one of the most radioactive bodies of water in the world. This pollution threatens the health of the British people as well as inhabitants of Ireland across the Irish Sea. This is a controversial issue because of the environmental degradation of the Irish Sea. This case raises the question of how a country can try to protect it self against invading polution from a neighboring state.
The Sellafield nuclear installation in north-west England produces vital energy to the people of the United Kingdom. It also produces weapons grade material needed for the production of nuclear weapons. For these reasons, Sellafield is an important facility for the U.K. in terms of domestic and security needs. Although Sellafield provides important services for the people and government of the United Kingdom, it has had a detrimental effect on the environment.
Since 1952, Sellafield has been dumping radioactive waste into the Irish Sea. This sea is now considered one of the most radioactive bodies of water in the world. Fish, shellfish, and sea plants in the Irish Sea contain substantial amounts of radiation. This is an environmental problem as well as a trade problem. Irish fishermen often catch mutated fish that can not be sold. Also, nuclear waste clean-up facilities that are being developed at Sellafield cost a great deal to finance and are part of growing industry in Great Britain.
The dumping of nuclear waste may put human lives at risk as well. Spray from the Irish Sea turns into radioactive dust, and can be found on beaches and in people’s homes.(1) Increased rates of cancer have been reported on the east coast of Ireland and west coast of England. In the village of Seascale, near Sellafield, there has been a disproportionate amount of cancer reported among the population. Some of the residents of this town are convinced that Sellafield is the cause of an unusually high amount of leukemia cases among the children.(2) However, government scientists in the United Kingdom ruled out any such link between cancer and radiation from the Sellafield plant in March 1996.(3) Opponents to Sellafield claim that the report was inconclusive, and continue to pursue further investigation.(4)
Sellafield has eleven silos full of radioactive nuclear waste. Each silo contains an amount of waste eight times the amount that was released by Chernobyl in 1986.(5) If vapor happened to be released from one of these silos it could result in a disaster much worse than Chernobyl. Leaks of radioactive waste are dangerous due to its half life of 24,000 years.(6) This means that this waste will always be present in the Irish Sea. Due to the dangerous characteristics of radioactive waste, and its half-life, a certain tension over the issue has arisen in Ireland. This is especially true now that NIREX, a British state-owned company, is building a ‘rock characterization facility’ named Thorpe at the Sellafield site. The Irish Government feels that this facility might be used for dumping highly radioactive nuclear waste once it is completed.(7) NIREX claims that the facility will be used to test “conditions for a potential underground rock repository for low and intermediate level radioactive waste”.(8) Environmentalists and the Irish believe that due to the large amounts of money being spent on the project, some sort of waste storage plant is actually being built.
The problems and potential dangers of current radioactive waste in the Irish Sea is a particularly sore subject for the Irish Government because its citizens do not receive benefits of the Sellafield Nuclear Plant but they do incur environmental costs. Another concern that haunts the Irish is the possibility of a failure or meltdown at Sellafield. The results of such an event would be catastrophic for the British and Irish. In Dublin, Ireland’s most populous city, over 300,000 people (almost 10% of Ireland’s population) would have to be evacuated over 40,000 square kilometers if such a disaster were to happen.(9) Since the effects of Chernobyl are still being felt and just now analyzed, the Irish Government is starting to become aware that a meltdown at Sellafield could cause long term problems for the environment and people of Ireland and England. Land would have to be left and food production would suffer for many years. Such a disaster would hurt the economy as well as the environment.
The worry of a major accident comes from smaller accidents that have occurred at Sellafield in the past. The first of these was in 1957, when a large fire at the reactor core forced the operators to flood the core with water, and then entomb the fuel piles with concrete.(10) As a result of the fire, a highly radioactive cloud traveled south-east over England and Europe.(11) More recently in 1983, it was discovered that on three separate occasions, a mixture of radioactive waste, solvent, and water was directly discharged into the Irish Sea. The level of radioactive contamination in the water around Sellafield was reported as being 100 to 1000 times the normal level which led government officials to close 40 km stretch of beach north and south of Sellafield.(12)
Because of past incidents, the Irish Government feels that “Sellafield poses a serious and continuing threat to the health and safety of Irish people.”(13) Ireland will seek to put political pressure on the U.K. and to “harness support from our European neighbors”.(14) Because the United Kingdom is so dependent on the Sellafield plant it will be hard for the Irish government to persuade the English to shut it down. However, Ireland has set an agenda, outlining actions to take with regard to Sellafield. One of the actions proposes:
We will seek an amendment and updating of the EURATOM Treaties to take account non-nuclear jurisdictions sharing land or maritime borders with countries operating nuclear power and reprocessing plants, to include stringent regulation for the decommissioning of nuclear facilities; and a prohibition on underground nuclear dumps such as the one currently being proposed by NIREX in Cumbria, taking into account the potential contamination of ground water and marine resources(15)
Other measures include the creation of an inter-Governmental Conference of the Irish Sea whose purpose would be to make rules governing, among other things, the amount of radioactive discharges put in the Irish Sea.(16) The Irish Government plans to persuade other European Union members to participate in the conference.(17) The Irish Government is also looking into taking legal action if a case can be presented. Finally, the Irish plan to use diplomatic pressure to dissuade other European countries from signing reprocessing agreements with the Sellafield facility.(18) The Irish government knows the importance of Sellafield to English energy production, and expects this campaign to take a long time.
Irish efforts at halting development or even shutting down the Sellafield facility will indeed be an enormous task. Although there may be significant environmental costs for the Irish Sea, Ireland, and England, it seems the economic benefit of operating Sellafield for the U.K. may be too much to overcome. In October 1995, British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNLF), opened a 600 million pound complex of five ‘clean-up’ sites at Sellafield.(19) This complex is part of BNFL’s ongoing 2 billion pound waste management program at Sellafield.(20) The complex is designed to remove radioactivity from the nuclear waste. BNFL claims that it is committed to protecting the environment, and making progress in waste management. This may be true but the storage and reprocessing of nuclear waste is also big business, and “more than 1500 hundred jobs were created on the site during the peak of construction.”(21) BNFL exports reprocessing technology to other countries, and is one of the United Kingdom’s fastest growing export earners.(22)
The Sellafield nuclear plant involves a conflict between the economic and security needs of the United Kingdom, and the condition of the surrounding environment, including the Irish Sea. Although BNFL is making efforts to ‘clean’ nuclear waste produced at Sellafield, Ireland will still oppose the plant and any further development. As one Irish official stated, “further expansion of Sellafield’s nuclear facilities would represent ‘an inexorable and increasing threat to Ireland’s environment as well as fishing, agriculture, and tourism’.”(23) Unfortunately, it seems that there are no existing procedures that Ireland can take that will likely prevent nuclear waste from adversely affecting their environment or remove the risk that a major accident poses to their country. The Irish Government faces an uphill battle, that is made harder when further development produces large economic benefits.
Chris sent this in today.
Remember this report in 2005, what has changed? Nothing! I bet if there was a proper independent survey done today we will have even worse figures .Why haven’t the Irish government done anything about this ?
By Fiona Magennis
DROGHEDA has been identified as the cancer blackspot of Ireland as shocking new figures reveal that rates of cancer in the town are almost 40% higher amongst women and 36% higher for men than the national rate.
The statistics have provoked alarm from local representatives who have called for funding to be provided so that more detailed research can be carried out and strategies developed to help those most at risk.
The report from the National Cancer Registry, Ireland (NCRI) reveals that Drogheda has cancer rates ‘significantly above’ what would be expected.
The report makes a clear link between deprivation, population density and cancer incidence, showing that areas with the highest population density and the greatest deprivation have rates well above the average.
However, the suggestion that higher levels of cancer in Louth could be linked to the Sellafield nuclear plant have been dismissed.
The director of the NCRI, Harry Comber said their research showed there was nothing to suggest that Sellafield could be a likely explanation for higher levels of cancer in Louth.
‘It was very difficult to see how there could be any connection between the discharges from Sellafield and influences on people’s health,’ said Dr Comber.
‘We didn’t find any evidence to suggest it was a likely explanation,’ he said adding radiation levels in the Irish Sea were very low compared to naturally occurring background radiation levels.
The report shows that Drogheda has particularly high levels of lung, skin and stomach cancer.
The research into cancer cases in the county between 1994 and 2000 also shows that the number of people smoking in the HSE north east area is second only to north County Dublin, according to the Office of Tobacco Control, 2004.
Dr Comber said there was no doubt that the high levels of lung cancer was related to smoking and one of the areas the research did highlight was the high level of lung cancer among young women, in particular.
He went on to say that further research would be carried out later next year looking at data from County Louth and concentrating on specific smaller areas in the area.
Dr Comber described the higher than average levels of skin cancer as ‘intriguing’ and said that since Louth is an urban area which does not have a particularly high level of outdoor workers, one explanation could be that there are more dermatologists or GPs in Louth who are simply identifying cases that in other areas would go undetected.
Questioned on whether or not there could be a link to the large number of industries in the town and their use of asbestos materials up to the 1980s, he said it would be ‘very difficult to tell’.
He said that because there was no measurement of what was emitted or of the atmospheric pollution at this time it would be virtually impossible to quantify any link between the two.
Local TD Fergus O’Dowd said he was ‘deeply concerned’ at the findings and the pattern of cancer among young people, in particular, in Drogheda.
He said more research needs to be done into the high levels of cancer in Drogheda and called on the Health Service Executive of the North East area to convene a public meeting to discuss the issue. Mr O’Dowd said he would also be raising the issue with the Minister for Health.
Cllr Frank Maher has also called for further research into the high cancer risk in Drogheda, claiming the report clearly indicates the need for further investigation.
‘The Government has a responsibility to the people of this area to find out why rates of certain types of cancer are much higher than elsewhere,’ he said.
If you live near the east coast here in Ireland I have a few questions for you, can you tell me what is the background radiation level supposed to be for our area? What is the actual radiation level and how do you know what you are been told is true? Since 1952, Sellafield has been dumping radioactive waste into the Irish Sea. This sea is now considered one of the most radioactive bodies of water in the world .Don’t you think that you should at least support an independent monitoring of our coastline. ,fish brought ashore and all data should be available to the public? Get involved!
We cannot afford even one Fukushima nuclear type accident!