Windscale / Sellafield

Northern Ireland Assembly, Monday 25 October 2007

Mr B Wilson: I welcome the motion. I have no problem in supporting it, given that opposition to nuclear power and the risks that it poses to human life and our environment is one reason that the Green Party came into power — I am sorry; I mean existence. [Laughter.] We are in power.

We have always been concerned about the activities of Windscale at the Sellafield nuclear plant, owing to its proximity to the Irish coast and to the secrecy with which those activities have been carried out. We are particularly concerned about the activities of the BNFL ship the Atlantic Osprey and the reason that it spends a great deal of time around Beaufort’s Dyke. That raises serious safety issues: a ship that is carrying nuclear fuel is spending so much time in an area in which large quantities of munitions have been dumped.

The Green Party was not surprised to learn that the initial estimates of the radioactive contamination that spewed into the atmosphere from Windscale were grossly underestimated. The Windscale/Sellafield site has been shrouded in a mist of lies, misinformation and outright fraud from the day of its inception. For example, after the Windscale fire in 1957, the men who risked their lives to prevent that fire spreading were made scapegoats by the Government’s inquiry into the cause of the accident.

The name of the site may have been changed to Sellafield, but the Windscale legacy of deception has persisted. In 2000, a damning Nuclear Installations Inspectorate report painted an alarming picture of management incompetence and a culture of complacency at the Sellafield site. The scandal concerned safety procedures in a factory that produced batches of uranium and plutonium. One batch that was bound forJapanwas found to have had false records, and that prompted the investigation. Indeed, British Nuclear Fuels later admitted that the records had been deliberately falsified.

We are particularly concerned that earlier this year the nuclear safety authorities inBritaindecided to reopen the facility for reprocessing at THORP in Sellafield. That plant is considered to be a nuclear dustbin, taking in nuclear waste from all parts of the world. Even if one supports nuclear power, the waste from the rest of the world should certainly not be taken in at that plant, which is what currently happens.

THORP has been out of operation since April 2005, when a major leak of radioactive material was discovered. My Green Party colleagues and I have spoken to representatives of the Nordic Council, and they share our grave concerns about the prospect of THORP reopening.

I ask the Assembly to support the Nordic Council’s call to the Government to permit a full, independent and international investigation into the safety culture at THORP at Sellafield.

Despite years of campaigning for the closure of the nuclear facilities at Sellafield, the prospect of its closure is distant. Indeed, a new master plan that was drawn up by the west Cumbrian authorities sets out proposals for the further development of nuclear power. Those proposals include the construction of two third-generation, 1·6 gigawatt nuclear reactors and the development of fourth-generation reactors at Sellafield.

Discussions have also taken place between Cumbria County Council and the Government about the future storage of highly active radioactive waste, even though, at present, Sellafield already holds 70% of the country’s most dangerous nuclear waste.

The Green Party is opposed to any expansion of nuclear activity. When the joint agreement between the Scottish Green Party and the SNP was drawn up, the first point that was agreed with the new Scottish Administration was that there would be no support for new nuclear power in Scotland.

Nuclear power is not the answer to the energy crisis. It will restrict investment in alternative technologies, and it does not make economic sense. It produces radioactive waste that will create problems for generations for thousands of years to come. Despite improvements in technology, it is not totally safe.

Accidents can happen, and if one does, it will be a disaster.

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