Irish Republican News · March 26, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]

Five tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium and thousands of gallons of contaminated sludge have been discovered at the bottom of a pond at Sellafield, Britain's nuclear waste treatment facility.

The area in which the pond is situated is so contaminated, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) workers are allowed just one hour per day exposure to the radiation.

The discovery was made by the European Commission's nuclear inspectorate at the highly secretive plant on Britain's west coast, which environmentalists have blamed for unusual cancer outbreaks in Ireland.

BNFL have been unable to quantify the extent of the environmental threat posed by the waste.

Dublin's Environment Minister Martin Cullen is now attempting to have Irish nuclear inspectors visit the Sellafield site, less than 100 miles from County Louth.

The pond, which was constructed in the 1960s, was designed as a holding facility for weapons grade plutonium. BNFL has been unable to produce documentation showing the exact quantity of plutonium in the pond, said to be in a serious state of decay.

EU inspectors, operating under the terms of the Euratom Treaty, believe the pond contains at least 1.3 tonnes of plutonium, the primary ingredient of nuclear weapons.

But the pond could contained anything up to five tonnes of plutonium, accroding to an analysis of BNFL statistics.

Mr Cullen told Irish television last night the inspectors' report was "very worrying". Sellafield could no longer be allowed to operate under a veil of secrecy, he said.

The Sellafield complex in Cumbria includes three old experimental nuclear reactors, four shut-down nuclear power plants and many thousands of tonnes of radioactive fuel and high-level wastes.

There is also the infamous Windscale Pile One experimental reactor that caught fire in October 1957 and caused the world's first major nuclear accident.

Windscale One and Two, two of Britain's earliest reactors, built in the 1940s to produce weapons grade plutonium are now being dismantled, along with the experimental Windscale advanced gas-cooled reactor.

This will mean an additional huge volume of radioactive waste will have to be stored at Sellafield.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News