Sellafield: The fight continues

Publish date: February 13, 2004

Written by: Hanne Bakke

At a conference held in London Friday, The Bellona Foundation presented a new and revealing report about Britain’s notorious Sellafield plant. The report concludes that a new treatment process based on a chemical called tetraphenylphosphonium bromide, or TPP, could be the start of a new, Tc-99 discharge free era.

New Bellona Report:

The extensive report was published in Norwegian in September 2003, and was presented to the British public in English translation at a round table conference on Sellafield Tc-99 discharges in London, organized by The Bellona Foundation and Lofoten mot Sellafield, another Norwegian NGO.

Discharges could stop in March
The report is being presented at the right place at the right time, said Bellona’s Erik Martiniussen, author of the report. The TPP experiments have been carried out for the past four months, and if the results show that the Tc-99 discharges are effectively cleansed, it will mean a stop to the radioactive discharges in the North Sea, he said.

Enough plutonium for 4000 nukes
The new report documents how Sellafield has polluted the Irish Sea with nuclear discharges for fifty years. As a result, the Irish Sea is the world’s most radioactively polluted ocean. The report expounds extensively on how this radioactive waste has affected the marine environment.

The report also maps out the new challenges the Sellafield plant is faces for the future: Even if the Tc-99 discharges end as a result of the new cleansing method, there remains the massive job of cleaning up the plant site. Sellafield has always been a central part of the British nuclear programme, and as of today there are over 80 tonnes of pure plutonium stored on the facilities grounds. This amount is enough to produce 4000 atomic bombs, and is one of the largest plutonium storage facilities in the world.

Plutonium unsafely stored
Bellona considers the plutonium storage not to be adequately secured. In the report, Bellona urges that the plutonium be transferred to a lasting and stable form that is not suited for making weapons. One option is to immobilize the plutonium, meaning to mix it with other highly-radioactive material and mold it in ceramic structures for decades of storage in an appropriate facility.

The report also focuses on other legacies the last decades of the British nuclear program has left behind.

Promising results
Bellona and Lofoten mot Sellafield, hope to put further pressure on British authorities with the London conference.

Norwegian minister of the environment, Børge Brende, who has promoted the TPP cleansing method to his British counterpart is attended friday’s conference. He presented the Norwegian government’s view on the Tc-99 discharges. Others in attendance were Members of Parliament from Norway and Ireland, members of the Nordic Council, and representatives from the Norwegian Radiation Protection Agency. Andrew Mayall, Sellafield Team Coordinator at the British Environmental Agency, spoke on the Environmental Agency’s regulation of Tc-99 at Sellafield and presented an update on the TPP trial. Mayall has previously described the TPP tests as "promising."