Part of Sellafield nuclear plant closes

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Part of the British nuclear energy plant Sellafield is to be closed down as a consequence of the after-effects of the Fukushima incident in Japan earlier this year. Although 600 British jobs were lost, many organizations in Norway have welcomed the move given concerns about the carriage of nuclear waste from the plant by ocean currents along the Norwegian coast.

The Sellafield nuclear facility in north-west England has long been opposed by Norwegians worried about the threat it presents to the country. PHOTO: Chris Eaton / Wikipedia Commons

British newspaper The Guardian reported that employees at the Mox nuclear fuel plant, which is located within the Sellafield complex, were told on Wednesday morning that the plant would close, with workers told that there would be “considerable scope” for reemployment elsewhere in the facility. The plant provided mixed-oxide fuel to other nuclear facilities, including the Fukushima station and others in Japan. The plant, which was built in 1996 and has been operating since 2001, will take months to close but the move has been seized upon by Norwegian opponents of Sellafield who want to see the entire plant dismantled.

‘No customers or funding’
The chief executive of the government-run Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), Tony Fountain, was quoted in The Guardian as telling workers that “as a consequence” of the events in Japan, the operation “no longer has a customer for this facility, or funding.” Fountain confirmed that the NDA will still store Japanese plutonium. The British government have also stressed that this closure has “no implications” for other planned nuclear facilities in the country.

The NDA itself has admitted that the Mox plant at Sellafield has been to expensive too run for years, relying on tax subsidies to survive. None of the new nuclear stations in Britain will use Mox, according to the British government, because of the high costs involved in the reprocessing of the nuclear material. Japan had been the only market for reprocessed fuels, leaving the future of other Mox plants doubtful.

Nevertheless, the local British parliamentarian for the area around Sellafield, Jamie Reed, has called on the government to build a new Mox plant on the site. “It is now absolutely essential that the new Mox plant is brought forward as quickly as possible,” Reed told The Guardian, claiming that “the market for Mox fuel exists and is growing, our plutonium disposition strategy relies upon such a facility and the industry requires it.”

‘Fiasco from day one’
In contrast, Norwegian environmental organizations welcomed the site’s closure. Nils Bøhmer of environmental foundation Bellona, which has long campaigned against the Sellafield facility, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that “the plant has been a fiasco from day one,” adding that the closure was no surprise. Bøhmer now believes “there is a bigger chance that the whole facility can close.”

The Norwegian government’s own official policy for the past 15 years has been to campaign for the plant’s closure. The Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority has previously suggested that an accident at Sellafield could cause 50 times more fallout to hit Norway than the amount that reached the country after Chernobyl. Although it is on the north-west coast of England, radioactive waste from the plant has been carried by ocean currents along the coast of Norway, where it has been found in local seaweed and lobster populations. A delegation from Norway criticized the plant owner’s for ignoring the country’s concerns during a visit in April. Norway’s Minister for the Environment and International Development, Erik Solheim, also expressed concerns about potential terrorist threats to Sellafield in May, when five men were arrested outside the facility for apparently planning an attack.

A number of environmental campaigners in the UK also welcomed the closure of the facility and pushed for the government to abandon nuclear energy in favour of renewables. Craig Bennett of Friends of the Earth UK told The Guardian, “yet again taxpayers are footing the bill for the Alice in Wonderland economics of the nuclear industry,” adding that he hopes the expertise of the now redundant employees “can be redeployed to help safeguard us all from the nuclear industry’s existing legacy of radioactive waste.”

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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