Select Committee on Defence Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by Mr Gordon Thompson (7 May 2002)


  Many people, including citizens of Ireland, have expressed concern about the hazard posed by nuclear facilities in the UK. Particular concern has been expressed about the facilities at Sellafield. However, the UK government does not share this concern. Prime Minister Tony Blair's position is that there is a lack of "sufficient evidence from the relevant bodies" that a problem exists at Sellafield.

  In this paper, the Prime Minister's position is contrasted with positions set forth by the Royal Society and the Institute for Resource and Security Studies (IRSS). The positions of the Royal Society and IRSS are not identical, but both stand in marked contrast with the position of the Prime Minister. In illustration, the Royal Society says: "With the events of 11 September 2001 in mind, we advocate an urgent safety review which should take into account the possibility of extreme terrorist intervention." IRSS says: "The UK government and the nuclear industry have been warned on numerous occasions that civilian nuclear facilities are tempting targets for enemy action ....... The consistent response of government and industry to these warnings has been to ignore or rebuff them."

  It is important to determine whose position is correct. IRSS has set forth a process that can help to make this determination. Specifically, we have recommended that the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology be tasked to conduct a thorough, independent analysis, to be performed by an expert group with members from inside and outside the UK.

  Section 2 of this paper contains a quote from Hansard, wherein the Prime Minister states his position. Other statements by the Prime Minister have been consistent with the statement that is quoted. Sections 3 and 4 of this paper quote documents published by the Royal Society and IRSS, respectively.


  (Source: UK House of Commons Official Report (Hansard), 1 May 2002: Column 941)

  Mr John Hume (Foyle):  "Will the Prime Minister confirm that he has received the largest amount of correspondence from individuals on one subject that any Prime Minister has ever received, given that more than one million cards have been received from citizens across Ireland expressing their deep concern about the safety of the Sellafield nuclear plant? Is he prepared to take the necessary steps to remove those concerns?"

  The Prime Minister:  "I am aware of the concern that has been expressed. However, the Sellafield plant and any other plants in this country are subject to the strictest national and international standards. Those standards are regularly reviewed. The plants are regularly inspected and none of those inspections has ever found a problem, such as the problem alleged in the press and by other political parties. Of course we take the concerns seriously, but there is a proper procedure and it would be wrong to close down nuclear facilities or start putting large numbers of people out of work without sufficient evidence from the relevant bodies to back it up."


  (Royal Society Source #1: The Royal Society, Developing UK policy for the management of radioactive waste, April 2002)

  Excerpt from paragraph 2.2:  "Reprocessing recovers fissile uranium and plutonium together with highly radioactive and very hazardous liquids, which are energetic and mobile and have a very high natural tendency to disperse. Although tanks at Windscale have been in operation without leakage for around 50 years, the need for further consideration of long-term management of waste cannot be ignored."

  Paragraph 4.2:  "The accumulated HLW and ILW from earlier phases of both civil and military nuclear activities should be conditioned to forms that are passively safe and robustly stored. This means a requirement for the minimum of active management in order to protect the biosphere from harmful dispersal by either natural processes or rogue human intervention. With the events of 11 September 2001 in mind, an urgent safety review should take into account the possibility of extreme terrorist intervention."

  Excerpt from Summary:  "International involvement, especially through the European Union, should be an essential element of future research on the problems of radioactive waste. Although this response concerns the UK, we recommend that European and other international collaborations (including the USA) should be explored in parallel with the present consultations. With the events of 11 September 2001 in mind, we advocate an urgent safety review which should take into account the possibility of extreme terrorist intervention."

  (Royal Society Source #2: The Royal Society, Management of Separated Plutonium, February 1998)

  Recommendation No 1:  "The current stock of civil separated plutonium in the UK is about 54 t and is forecast to rise to over 100 t by 2010. There is a growing international consensus that a large stockpile of separated plutonium may pose a significant environmental and security (proliferation) risk. We recommend that the Government reviews the strategy and options for stabilising and then reducing the stockpile."


  (IRSS Source #1: Institute for Resource and Security Studies, High Level Radioactive Liquid Waste at Sellafield: Risks, Alternative Options and Lessons for Policy, June 1998)


  "C1.  Sellafield's stock of liquid HLW represents one of the world's most dangerous concentrations of long-lived radioactive material.

  C2.  The danger posed by the liquid HLW tanks has not received proper attention from the responsible authorities, because of systemic weaknesses in nuclear safety regulation in the UK.

  C3.  The danger posed by the liquid HLW tanks could have been avoided decades ago if the plant had been designed differently, and persists now only because plutonium separation continues at Sellafield.

  C4.  Plutonium separation is uneconomic, a threat to international security and a source of environmental pollution.

  C5.  A suspension of reprocessing at Sellafield would allow the site inventory of liquid HLW to be converted comparatively quickly to vitrified waste containers, a safer storage mode. Moreover, a suspension of reprocessing would eliminate a potential, proven by experience at reprocessing plants, for a destructive chemical explosion at Sellafield.

  C6.  A suspension of reprocessing would yield a net economic benefit to citizens and taxpayers of affected countries. Realisation and equitable distribution of this benefit would require the renegotiation of reprocessing contracts."

  (IRSS Source #2: Institute of Resource and Security Studies, Civilian Nuclear Facilities as Weapons for an Enemy: A submission to the House of Commons Defence Committee, 3 January 2002)

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