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Thursday, 24 February, 2000, 12:35 GMT
Can nuclear power ever be safe?
A damning report into the safety record of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria has criticised owners British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) for allowing workers to cut corners and falsify safety test data.
BNFL has already admitted serious failings in the way Sellafield has been run but is now trying to defend its track record for and reassure customers that British fuel is safe.
Do you have confidence in nuclear power? Can it ever be completely safe? Should BNFL abandon nuclear reprocessing altogether?
The rot is spreading from Britain to Japan and now to Germany!
The ethics and judgement of the BNFL management are deeply flawed and they cannot be allowed to remain untouched by this sorry saga.
A few or even more becquerels here and there is a small harm in total compared to all fossil emissions. Also, if mankind wants to maintain the chosen industrial state there is no alternative on a long run but nuclear power.
Mikko Toivonen, Finland
It's a safe bet that many thousands more people will die as a result of global warming than from nuclear power generation. Burning vast quantities of coal, gas, and oil causes floods, hurricanes, and droughts. These are not symptoms of nuclear power plants¿
Albert Chan, Hong Kong
Of course it can be acceptably safe (nothing is ever perfect). However, cutting corners in order to present an attractive share flotation is obviously not compatible with safety nor would a company's anxiety to produce good returns for its share-holders.
Nuclear waste is clearly dangerous and hard to dispose, but anti-nuclear activists have blown the problem out of proportion.
Fossil fuels such as oil are an even bigger threat to the environment than nuclear energy will ever be. Air pollution from oil contaminates more land and water and suffocates more people than nuclear waste ever did.
Nuclear waste may actually help save vital wildlife habitat, though. Put some waste in a wildlife refuge, post the ground zeros signs, and people will not be inclined to develop the area and turn it into housing and shopping malls.
Fundamental changes in nuclear power production by means of fission based on hydrogen are to breakthrough in the coming two decades, so I don't see any reason to refrain from it for the future. The real challenge comes when we have to decide how to reorganise our massive investment in coal, oil and gas.
Ron Brandenburg, The Netherlands
I'd like to see the government and EU starting some really serious funding of alternative employment in the Sellafield area. The only reason that this toxic nightmare has continued so long at cost to its workers and local population is that there aren't many other local jobs. So give West Cumbrians a better chance and close down Sellafield - it's proved itself incapable of running safely and it has no long term plans for getting rid of waste.
I stand up and applaud Australia for its commitment to denying the Nuclear counties permission for dumping of its waste in their back yard and can only hope that their common sense will filter down to other governments before the planet is irrevocably ruined.
Will nuclear waste ever be reusable? What do we benefit by keeping the waste here on earth? Hey! Maybe some distant alien life form could benefit from the zing of plutonium ooze!
No, because of mankind's inept way of handling nuclear waste!
If we build the processing plants outside the politicians' houses I'm sure they will be safe...
J. Jensen, USA
There's a big difference between "Can it be safe?" and "Is it safe?" As for trusting the operators, I don't. We just had a radiation leak at a plant here, and no one even bothered to alert the people living near the plant. The Coast Guard was told to block river traffic, but no one told the local authorities anything. So boats were kept clear, but the schoolbuses continued to run. And we're supposed to trust these people?
Could I point out that simply 'closing-down' operations at Sellafield will not remove any perceived (or real) problem with Safety at Sellafield. These facilities would have to be fully decommissioned - a process that could take, in total, many tens of decades, cost the UK taxpayer billions of pounds and produce tens to hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of intermediate to high level waste.
All this would certainly not reduce the level of risk to the Public or workforce. Running the plants in the meantime, some of which have very recently been commissioned, until they reach the end of their economic lives would be the in the best interests of the Country, the taxpayer and of the local economy, where tens of thousands of people depend on Sellafield as the main employer and source of income. Closing Sellafield would devastate West Cumbria.
Current showstoppers of nuclear power are
political; what to do with the waste,
proliferation, personal management. We
tolerate many thousands of fatalities
a year by auto and industrial accidents
but none in the nuclear industry.
What happens in France is worse. As part of my job, I reported alarming inadequacies: in one case high-grade equipment (ASME III, class 1) was operated in nuclear power reactors with no accepted safety file, regardless of a previous accident and a half-dozen failures in achieving acceptable design results. In another case, to satisfy my employer I should have prepared, as a Senior expert, a complacent report on nuclear safety, based on fictitious data, in order to benefit from European Commission funding. For both cases, instead of taking into account my detailed reports, the state-owned employer dismissed me, on charges of disregarding the company's interests. Settling problems by dismissing the personnel who reports them is a violation of nuclear safety code 50 CQA of IAEA (International Agency for Atomic Energy) but who cares? The chairman of the state-owned company rejected my claims declaring that the dismissal was well thought-out. I really lost my time in attempting to alert the Safety Authority, the minister of Industry, the Prime Minster, the European Commissioner... In fact, the only choice left was to keep silent or to debate nuclear safety issues in a law court. I have decided to go to the law court; the hearings are scheduled on 22 February - for 20 minutes, but I shall not be liable for professional secret and shall be allowed to speak publicly. This just a matter of principle, because I have had no chance to make myself heard and such a legal action I will never find a job as a graduate engineer. I am afraid that this will demonstrate how foolish and useless is to oppose offences of a state-supported nuclear industry.
In 1998, the Dounreay plant in Scotland was the first European reactor to ever be decommissioned. Cleanup and shutdown will take until 2095 and cost an estimated $740m (U.S.)
The decisions we make today with regard to issues of radioactivity will affect, in some cases, 12,000 human generations. The best scientific minds today can only address the safe containment of radioactive waste, not its true disposal. BNFL has the opportunity to be a global leader in decommissioning and cleanup. Why, then, do they persist in espousing that the continued production of nuclear waste is warranted? It seems clear from accidents world-wide the issue of human error cannot be ignored. Let us then only take risks in the pursuit of containment and stability.
I live in a small community which is near a proposed nuclear incinerator site to be run by BNFL. The news about their irresponsibility frightens even the most conservative members of our town.
If we can't trust these people not to falsify records how can we trust them to keep the power plant operating safely? These people are using a dangerous substance and they don't even have the decency to consider what would happen in an accident to others. If they wish to jeopardise their existence then fine, just don't do it with nuclear fuel, near me.
Wasn't Japan's nuclear accident caused by complacency and what about Chernobyl? Do we really want to see a nuclear accident happening in our country?
Isn't it about time we left this outdated and dangerous method of energy production in the 20th Century. So, we've proved we can split the atom. Lets now prove we can do something more sustainable instead.
Is this a case of whistle blowing? If so what happened to the whistle blower?
Edward Moore, Greece
If the UK's safety is so bad one wonders what the rest of the worlds nuclear industries are like!
As an ex employee of BNFL I would certainly back up the claim of complacency, however, there is also a certain level of desperation due to the fact that the industry is slowly dying. Why else would BNFL build a Gas fired power station (just outside the perimeter fence) to supply Sellafield's needs rather than redevelop the ageing Calder Hall reactors. Due to safety implications the closing of this industry must be a very slow process, but if the attitude and actions of senior staff do not change this process may begin sooner than expected.
Alan Knutson, USA
Anything less than the resignation of the top management responsible is totally unacceptable. They were presumably paid "big bucks" for their services and the stakeholders have the right to expect top performance in return. The sooner Sellafield is privatised the better. Private enterprise fully realises that customers cannot be ridden roughshod like this.
How long are they going to get away with this, how long is the vast majority of the public going to be ignored when calling for the closure of Sellafield. Why aren't managers being dismissed, when quite obviously they can't even MANAGE to hide their own mistakes. Either someone is pulling the governments strings or something even more sinister is going on.
I visited BNFL and attending an interview for a job within the MOX group in early September of 1999. I was so appalled by the arrogance of the staff and management, lack of concern over ethical issues and lack of concern over safety issues that I withdrew from the recruitment process. There needs to be an investigation into safety at the plant and a thorough re-examination of 'best practice' within the MOX group.
John B, London
Alpha particles are the most highly ionising particles. When ingested or in direct contact with the skin, an Alpha emitter is far more dangerous than a Gamma or Beta.
I say prosecute the management teams for negligence, pollution, breach of trust and anything else that the lawyers can think of.
The management structure at Sellafield appears to need major improvements. All involved in falsifying test results should be prosecuted, a garage mechanic falsifying MOT certificates would be! By the way, I undertook some research a few years ago that had as it's cornerstone data from BNFL on discharge levels into the Irish Sea, I suppose that work will have to be re-assessed if their data cannot be trusted.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK
People should not wait for another Chernobyl to prove how dangerous nuclear fuel is, if no precautions or there are real safety records
I thought the falsification was over quality assurance rather than safety data. Anyway using energy causes pollution, it just depends whether you prefer radioactive, green house gas/acid rain or visual pollution. Take your pick.
John Smith, UK
If atomic energy is
safe, the nuclear powers
will not be looking for
"Nuclear Waste Buyers". They
would have preferred to dump
them at their own backyards.
The price tag of "Nuclear
waste" destined for another
country is staggering!
To the people that would call for the abandonment of nuclear power stations. The fact of the matter is we need them. The Nuclear Power industry, if well regulated, can provide us with a huge source of CLEAN safe energy. I know that I would rather live within miles of a nuclear power plant than a coal one.
More people die per unit of power produced from coal than from nuclear. Let's keep a sense of proportion.
BNFL's reactions to the problems in Japan were crass. I cannot understand why they didn't immediately return the dodgy batch regardless of the cost. If they loose Japan as a customer, the reprocessing plant is dead anyway.
The deception behind the Japanese shipment was solely one of quality control for which BNFL's customers have every right to be aggrieved. However this particular deception has no bearing on the category of safety deficiencies that result in nuclear accidents. Consequently associating this incident with Three Mile Island and Chernobyl is a hysterical reaction based upon ignorance of the facts behind nuclear power or a desire to denigrate the debate with dishonesty.
Can it ever be completely safe? Err... no... That's all that needs to be said. It's insanity but it's all driven by the fact that nuclear power makes the raw material for nuclear weapons. Strangely I think it's nuclear power that's the more dangerous of the two, there's just no way you can guarantee the safety of these plants for thousands of years, it's short-termism gone mad. Close them all down.
Surely its time for a full scale investigation into the safety of all nuclear power stations around the country. I grew up living very close to a nuclear power station and have had long running concerns about their safety. It is time to seriously consider the alternatives to nuclear power so that unsafe nuclear power plants can if necessary be closed down, cleaned up and replaced by an alternative energy resource effectively.
The question might read, can nuclear power ever be economically viable? BNFL boasted on its own website that it recently spent £750,000,000 on reducing toxic emissions. Meanwhile, renewable energy projects are left woefully under funded, even though they represent a potentially vast and profitable export market over the coming decades.
Nuclear power in the form
of nuclear fission can never
be safe simply because it
produces dangerous waste products.
What the government should do is
start leaning towards renewable
energy sources, until nuclear fusion
becomes possible. This type of nuclear power
is much safer than fission, and doesn't produce
Then we can stop using renewable sources too, since
even these aren't perfect.
Of course Nuclear power can be safe. But unfortunately not in this country. British work habits, as well as British management techniques, make sure that safety will never be a top priority. The middle managers and the head of BNFL should be sacked. This is unfortunately what happens in a private company when more and more staff are sacked for profit reasons to keep shareholders happy. But again this is British management technique, if we can't make profit, let's sack a few thousand workers so we can have some dividends paid out. It's already clear that BNFL have no regard for the safety of their staff or the public and not only that they have sullied Britains international reputation by ripping off a trading partner. Maybe if this country loses a few billion in export sales due to this, the government might get the message to renationalise BNFL or do something to force the company to make safety top priority and not shareholders dividends.
To address the question of nuclear
safety, was any harm caused by these
admittedly idiotic people? The power station
didn't blow up, and nobody would
even have noticed if the falsification
hadn't been found out. As long as people
are sensible and automatic systems
are maintained, Nuclear Power is perfectly safe,
whether or not the paperwork is done
I don't believe that nuclear fuels and nuclear power are excessively dangerous form of energy, if they are handled correctly. What makes nuclear power dangerous is leaving it in the hands of private companies who hold their profits in higher regard than employees and the general public. BNFL must be made more accountable for their actions, not just to their shareholders. A 50 page report into their failings is not a suitable way to punish BNFL, its about time the government stopped pussyfooting around large companies and told them unequivocally to get their house in order or stop trading in that particular sector. If this doesn't happen the country will be robbed of what will become a vital income and power source.
Do you really think that you British would stay quiet if we Irish had a Nuclear plant 60 miles from your territory, with leaks, fake records and no accountability?
Don't just sack the people involved.
These news are very distressing. I assume that this scandal covers the whole activity of the plant and we here in the north are concerned about marine pollution. Are these people to be trusted?
What incompetence - and although details are not yet clear the report is likely to damage most of the little remaining support for the commercial operations that support the facilities and production of our own nuclear deterrent.
Scott Hill, UK
This is crazy. In a world that has seen Chernobyl, how can this happen. 'Falsifying safety records' on a NUCLEAR power station. This government is stark raving mad if it thinks the public will see this as a good target for privatisation. The entire top management of BNFL should be sacked and also prosecuted without delay for this. It throws up serious doubt about the viability and safety of nuclear power. The government should try investing serious money in renewable green energy such as solar/wind energy like many other countries do already.
It is unbelievable that the management responsible for checking safety and ensuring that procedures are followed have not been dismissed. The image of the British nuclear industry is bad enough without blatant disregard for safety or basic training.
As an old electrical engineer said to me about nuclear power - it isn't the production electricity that is the problem, it's what you do with the leftovers. How true!
They would be best advised to close the whole plant. The lake-district is considered a polluted area to visit by many this side of the channel
Well it seems after a change of "Names" that nothing has really altered! Do BNFL never learn. We can not wait for them to have a REAL accident, because of their lying ways. The management must be made to face up to their stupid actions.
Steve Foley, England
Why on earth are we still talking about the safety or otherwise of nuclear power when it has been shown, time and time again to be dangerous? The life span of uranium is many thousands of years and it causes cancer. The higher numbers of birth defects and cancers in areas around nuclear plants is not an accident. When are we going to look at alternate renewable forms of energy and resign nuclear power to the 20th century where it belongs?
YES, it can be safe, as has been proved time and time again, by
Euratom, the European Union's atomic energy research council
(the world's leading authority on nuclear fusion). BUT,
as ever, it is the selfish money-hungry politicians who are slowing the
movement down, and cheating the system, so that this safe technology
cannot be brought into use.
To Jason and John Smith, I was told in School Physics lessons that the Alpha Particle was the least dangerous as it could be stopped by a simple sheet of paper and saw this demonstrated with an Alpha Source and a Geiger Counter. So I would think that clothing would stop one in most cases. Is this correct, or has science changed that much in 30 years in this respect? I wonder what other businesses falsify QA documents, given the bureaucracy of ISO 9002 etc and with what risks?
This affair gives a whole new meaning to the term "The British Disease".
Magnox reprocessing in this country must continue, otherwise several nuclear power stations would have to close immediately otherwise. However, the plutonium recycling business at Sellafield has been jeopardised by lazy workers and slack management practices. This will cost BNFL dearly in foreign MOX contracts. Indeed, Kansai were the major customers, and if they
cannot be persuaded to use MOX, the Mox Demonstration Facility is dead in the water.
This then begs the question about the plutonium accumulating at Sellafield.
The waste from foreign reprocessing MUST be sent back to the originating country, but would we feel comfortable shipping pure plutonium back to the Japanese ?
Further, what is BNFL going to do about the hundred or so tonnes of plutonium separated from civilian reprocessing that has been accumulating at Sellafield ? After the closure of Dounreay Breeder reactor in 1994 and no plans for MOX use in Sizewell B, (the only reactor that can use MOX) there is no use for plutonium.
In my opinion it should be declared waste for incorporation into Vitirified High Level Waste.
I cannot believe the ignorance of someof the people who have made clear their
opinions that all nuclear power stations should be closed down. Nuclear power has
safely powered our homes for decades and if people bothered to check their facts
(or better still do a degree in electrical engineering) they would realise that if safety procedures
are followed (as applies to most industries) nuclear power is a safe and necessary
form of electrical energy. Chernobyl was caused by forcing one of the 4 reactors into
an emergency situation for testing purposes, and then human error led to tragedy - it was
not a problem with the reactor itself. The bottom line is that until nuclear fusion is
developed beyond the research we need nuclear fission reactors - although since this form of energy production also has the word "nuclear" in it the ignorant public
will probably oppose this.
Is anywhere safe nowadays? I live in a cave in the mountains where all of this fallout tends to collect and I am scared witless. At least all of the aliens have been scared off and I am no longer being probed on a regular basis.
I drink Shandy and am a tax advisor. Therefore I believe that the future is in nuclear power not fossil fuels. Working in a tax department all day you tend to get allergies that are exacerbated by fossil fuels. We need more nuclear power not less.
Working at a nuclear power plant made me sterile. The safety there makes Homer Simpson's Springfield power plant look efficient. Mind you, a lot of the problems were down to me so I can't really complain.
You 'poms' don't know how safe your power plants are. In Australia, nuclear waste is just dumped in the outback, but at least the glow provides free lighting at night and you should see the size of the kangeroos I can catch around there. I once caught a 30 foot tall kangeroo 2 miles from the Wollonger nuclear dump. It fed the family for five weeks. Now that's hunting.
While there is doubtless a good case for a drastic review within the management of Sellafield, the case has been blown out of proportion. Inevitably, the various minority pressure groups think it's Christmas. Nuclear energy has the best safety record of any industrial process, and in terms of economic renewable resources, it must have a future. The appalling spill of toxic chemicals into the Danube is a much more serious issue, so please let's stop trying to destroy UK plc in the world market, and adopt a more positive attittude towards our unique selling points.
It's not dangerous and I know that for a fact. It doesn't run out whereas everything else will in a few decades time. Plus its FAB
Clearly unacceptable behaviour. Can a safety analogy be drawn between flying/driving and nuclear/fossil fuels?
Any views expressed are my own.
There will always be a Sellafield problem as long as we keep digging uranium out of holes like Jabbaluka right in the middle of our so called heritage protected reserve in Northern Australia. Ask any mining magnate to stop and the answer will be "GET STUFFED MATE, IT"S GOOD FOR THE NATIONAL ECONOMY" Atomic Power is big money, and governments like BIG money! Sorry guys but your outcries are too late, it's in the national interest now, you'll just have to bear with it and countless white papers until the next time somebody drops a spent fuel rod on the PM's lap
Nuclear power has, arguably, had less negative impact on the environment (per unit of energy produced) than any type of carbon-fuel power generation, which is destroying the planet at a fast clip [keyword: Ozone layer]. "Renewable" resources like hydroelectric power flood massive regions and wreak their own quiet disasters [keyword: Aswan Dam or Three Gorges Dam]. That a 'for profit' company has cut corners should surprise no one. Despite BNFL's bungling nuclear power is about as good and as safe as we are ever going to get.
Were the safety rules written by Homer Simpson or just applied by him?
To generate electricity we require a source of fuel.
Coal and Gas are in limited quantities so water, solar,
wind, gas, thermo, and nuclear are left to fall back on.
And we are going to need all of them to supply our power needs of the future.
Many people are calling for the closure of nuclear power stations and
reprocessing plants but are not willing to tackle the problem of radioactive waste.
low level waste can de disposed of easily.
High level waste is going to have to be re-processed and then placed
in long-term storage but has a suitable site been found?
Until this has been dealt with once and for all the problem is
not going to go away no matter how hard you try to ignore it!
What a shame that one of the most beautiful parts of England is also one of the most dangerous! How many have died of cancer since it's inception from leaks into the sea? How many more will it take for the government to do something about this insidious monster?
A least the nuclear industry regulators are taking action before safety is put at risk. If only the same scrutiny had been applied to Railtrack before Paddington!
An absolute disgrace
We cannot trust the safety records; are these too falsified?
Sellafield must close down and put Ireland and her people out of risk!
A group of liars running a nuclear plant; I'd have more faith in Homer Simpson or Monty Burns!!!
According to today's news, something like five thousand people die needlessly in
NHS hospitals each year due to unchecked infections. But that's OK, isn't
it. It's not nuclear. Just like being killed in a car is an accident whereas being killed
in a plane is a disaster.
First and foremost, the cultural behaviour of an organisation spreads from the top down not the bottom up (unless we are talking about a revolution, but not in this case). Therefore, the UK government and the NII , in particular, are right to castigate the senior management of BNFL. However, I wouldn't be focussing just on the management at Sellafield. These are managers who take policy and directives from the BNFL board and interpret and implement accordingly (with, one would presume, the endorsement of the board). Thus to bring some order out of this mess, there is no option but to demand that changes start at boardroom level, not just the functional levels. In fact the honourable course of action would be for those responsible for operations, quality, safety, engineering and HR to resign now, not wait for a ministerial edict.
BNFL are a bunch of crooks. The Japanese are fools for wanting to buy the stuff in the first place. New Zealanders are sick of both countries carting plutonium past our shores. Get a grip and stop producing the filthy stuff.
This is scary. It is the government who failed to detect this kind of practice.
Mr. Pete Roche of Greenpeace UK has it right - "the whole plutonium business is rotten to the core." Plutonium removed from nuclear fuel presents proliferation risks and safety concerns and should be handled as nuclear waste. BNFL and the UK government should immediately begin a program to classify the 70-tonne plutonium stockpile at Sellafield with existing high-level waste. Tom Clements, Nuclear Control Institute, Washington, DC
BNFL is leading a consortium to take over the management of the Atomic Weapons Establishments (AWE) Aldermaston & Burghfield on 1st April (no fooling).
AWE produces Trident nuclear warheads and there are already many problems with safety at AWE. but the response to concerns about safety from AWE is:
"Although AWE management Ltd is a consortium of BNFL, Lockheed and SERCO, the parent companies will not have management responsibilities.
Individuals from the parent companies will be on the AWE-ML management team. They have been carefully vetted by the MoD and must be approved by the regulator. Matters affecting parent companies are for the parent companies to comment upon and have no bearing on the management of AWE".
17 Feb 00 | Latest News
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18 Feb 00 | UK
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18 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan vents fury on BNFL
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