British-Irish council discusses Sellafield

One of the issues discussed by the British-Irish Council yesterday, was Sellafield. Appropriately enough, as the venue was the Isle of Man, just opposite Cumbria on the Irish Sea.

There is now some doubt about the future of Sellafield’s THORP reprocessing plant because of a major incident last month, involving an internal leak of 20 tonnes of nuclear waste (which we are told is no danger to the public.)

Ironically this happened after the plant passed into the ownership of the Nuclear Decommisioning Authority, which was supposed to use the income from reprocessing to fund its nuclear clean-up operations. It looks now as if there will have to be more money from the taxpayer instead.

Nevertheless, there are signs that nuclear may be making a comeback, as an alternative to fossil fuels.

For more details on the Sellafield leak see the following statements:

Sellafield/British Nuclear Group:

Managing Director of British Nuclear Group, Sellafield, Barry Snelson said: Let me reassure people that the plant is in a safe and stable state. Safety monitoring has confirmed no abnormal activity in air and there has been no impact on our workforce or the environment. I have asked for the front end of the plant’s reprocessing operations, including shearing, to be closed down. The plant is in a safe, quiescent state.

Although when and how this failure occurred is currently being investigated, there has been no release of any material from the cell, which is specifically designed for such eventualities.

Further investigations have confirmed approximately 83m3 of liquor on the floor of the cell and engineers are putting plans together to recover the liquor.

Nuclear Decommissioning Authority:

“The NDA has not yet formed a position on the future of Thorp. The arguments surrounding Thorp have been well aired over recent years but we will need a comprehensive understanding of last month’s incident and time to consider all the implications before being able to take a formal view on its future. Any ultimate decision on Thorp will be for the Government.”


The accident looking like a financial disaster for the authority, and the taxpayer, since income from THORP, calculated to be more than £1m a day, is supposed to help pay for the cleanup of redundant nuclear facilities. It might now prove to be an even bigger drain on the public purse if the government has to fund the recovery and clean up operations.

Irish Environment Minister Dick Roche:

"The timely notification of this matter to Ireland by the UK is a matter of some satisfaction. It demonstrates the positive approach that the co-operation and co-ordination procedures have yielded since I announced the improved arrangements between Ireland and the UK on nuclear matters last December.  However, it does not inspire confidence in the processes at the Sellafield site. Indeed, it strengthens my resolve in pressing for the safe and orderly closure of Sellafield because of the potential threat it poses to Ireland."   







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