Sellafield’s lethal gas

BRITISH NUCLEAR Fuels Ltd (BNFL) has been constantly releasing the radioactive gas krypton 85 from its THORP reprocessing facility at Sellafield in Cumbria, since its opening in 1994.

Alistair McConnell

They were ordered to capture rather than release the gas as far back as 1977 by the original enquiry into the then proposed plant. BNFL, however, always openly defied this ruling. They released the gas, a by-product of nuclear fission, by venting it through chimneys.

The National Radiological Protection Board says the level of radioactivity of the gas emissions is sufficient to cause over 100 human cancers per year, including two fatal skin cancers.

Yet BNFL claim that the £50 million cost of capturing and storing the gas is unjustifiable. No doubt West Cumbrians, who also recently found out that over 1,000 depleted uranium shells were fired at Eskmeals, will be reassured to know the value which BNFL and successive governments – Tory and New Labour – place on their lives.

After all, the miserable farce of the Millennium Dome only cost 17 times as much as it would to prevent this criminal environmental calamity.

Amazingly, BNFL prevented Japanese Nuclear Fuels Ltd from fitting equipment to capture krypton 85 to a plant currently under construction in Japan, which will instead release similar levels of krypton 85 into the environment as THORP.

BNFL was desperate to prevent the Japanese from recapturing krypton 85 as this would show up BNFL’s own scandalous activity. They believe that they can, literally, get away with murder in West Cumbria because of the area’s total economic dependence on Sellafield, which directly employs one in seven of the area’s working population.

The area was devastated by the total closure of the steel and coal industries in the early 1980s, and has recently been hit hard again by the closure of the Corus rail-producing plant at Workington.

Closure of Sellafield would be the final nail in the coffin of West Cumbria, but the health and environmental impacts of the plant, and the risk of another serious nuclear accident on the scale of the 1957 Windscale fire or even worse, are totally unacceptable.

Socialists advocate an end to the unsafe and lethal nuclear industry and the retraining of workers at Sellafield and other nuclear plants to use their extensive technical skills to produce socially useful products.

However, capitalism won’t close nuclear plants on this basis. It thinks nothing about destroying an area economically or environmentally. A socialist society would be the only society capable of preventing both economic and environmental ruin.