Thursday, April 27, 2006

Nuclear Waste Sites Vulnerable to Attack

group of senior nuclear security experts have warned about the danger of a massive release of radiation form Britain’s nuclear waste sites, saying that they are vulnerable to attack and the storage arrangements are unacceptable.

The warning is in a report presented to the government appointed Committee on Radioactive Waste Management which is due to make recommendations about the future of Britain’s nuclear waste in July.

According to the BBC, signatories to the report include:
  • Dr Gordon Thompson of US Institute for Resource and Security Studies
  • OFNS Office for Civil Nuclear Security, linked to the UK intelligence services
  • BNFL British Nuclear Fuels
  • Nuclear physicist Professor Frank Barnaby
One such vulnerable site is Facility B215 at Sellafield in Cumbria, with 21 tanks of high level radioactive waste, containing 88x the amount of Caesium 137 released in the Chernobyl disaster.

In an interview for the World at One programme, Dr Gordon Thompson of US Institute for Resource and Security Studies said, “The amounts of radioactive material that we’re talking about are at a magnitude where they represent a strategic threat to the UK and to surrounding countries. By releasing large amounts of radioactive material attackers could render large land areas uninhabitable for periods of decades or longer and could wreak great economic and psychological damage."

Regarding the probability of a 9/11 style attack he added, “It is more likely that an attacker would use a smaller aircraft equipped with explosives, because that can be precision targeted and will produce a more focused form of damage. An attack of that nature could with high probability penetrate the tanks and damage the cooling systems associated with them.”

Signatory nuclear physicist Frank Barnaby, consultant to Oxford Research Group, said, “These are obvious targets for a terrorist group. They are unacceptably vulnerable. A successful terrorist attack on the high level waste tanks could result worldwide in about 210 000 fatal cancers per tank.”

There was no comment from BNFL or OFNS.

Bob Jones, head of operations at Sellafield tried to reassure us with a description of the precautions curently in place: “We have a number of different layers of security… which involve people and also involve planned design.”

To this, Patrick Mercer (Shadow Security minister for Homeland Security) added: “In my visits to Sellafield I have been very impressed by their forethought and their way that they’ve tried to design, as far as they can, the siting of the tanks to make it difficult to attack. It would be impossible of course to make it completely proof. But, as we’ve heard in the report, there is no government programme which is designed to deal with this.”

Vitrification, converting to a form of glass, is the main route to stabilising the liquid waste, but this is not due to be completed until 2020.

Feeling reassured?

Technorati Tags: ; ; ; ;

No comments: