Sellafield/Windscale facility – photo by tim_d (source: Flickr Creative Commons)

On Wednesday the UK began repatriating nuclear waste by shipping 28 half-ton canisters to Japan. The canisters are the first shipment of a cache of 925 tons of foreign radioactive atomic waste that will be returned to various countries of origin from Sellafield nuclear processing site – formerly known as Windscale – in west Cumbria. Besides Japan – Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the Netherlands will also be receiving shipments of the stuff during the ten-year repatriation process, according to an article in the London Times.

A Greenpeace spokesperson pointed out the dilemma of the radioactive waste situation in the UK:

‘This shipment highlights the madness of trading in hazardous nuclear wastes. We are now forced to choose between keeping high-level radioactive waste here and making the UK a nuclear dumping ground, or pushing ahead with ten years of shipments which pose an environmental risk and could be terrorist targets.’

–London Times

Originally the radioactive waste came to Britain for reprocessing, where some of the material was recycled, while the remaining was stored, albeit temporarily. Neither Britain nor Japan has facilities for permanent storage and those in charge of the shipments insist that they are secure.

There is also money to be made from the shipments as part of a government decommissioning project, according to a BBC News report, which features details about the nature of the storage and shipment. But in the long term, revenue from nuclear waste processing will fall as the UK moves away from the practice of foreign radioactive waste storage.

The nuclear question

In a time when greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy are on so many minds, nuclear power is an appealing option for some. Yet for others, concerns of radiation from nuclear plants and the hazards of radioactive waste – what to speak of Chernobyl-style meltdowns – overshadow the benefits of nuclear power. The Guardian recently ran a few articles on the subject featuring different points of view. One piece by an Oxford professor downplays the fears of atomic power, maintaining that they are irrational. A rebuttal to that article – written by a former government scientist – counters that the risks are not exaggerated and may even be underestimated.

Lord Philip Hunt, the UK’s minister of state at the Department for Energy and Climate Change has come out pro nuclear power, stating that it ‘has the potential to supply us with substantial amounts of home-grown, low-carbon, reliable and relatively cheap energy.’ Lord Hunt participated in a live question and answer session on the issue for the Guardian on Thursday, which can be read here.

Additional resources:

London Times – Radioactive waste to be put in £18bn hole

About The Author: Graham Land

Greenfudge editor and London-based writer Graham Land grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, where he was part of the local hardcore punk scene, playing in several bands. Through this musical movement he became involved in grass roots interests such as anti-racist activism, animal rights and Ecology. In 2000 he relocated to Europe, eventually earning an MA from Malmö University in Sweden. He has also lived in Japan, Ireland, Portugal and Greece.


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