December 3, 2001
Terrorists deliberately flying an aircraft into the Sellafield nuclear repocessing plant could “wipe out the north of England”, a pressure group has told MPs.
Campaigners from Friends of the Earth (FoE) told the Commons’ environment committee’s inquiry into radioactive waste policy an 11 September-type atrocity could kill 2 million people.
The US terror attacks has led the group to rethink its long-standing insistence that waste must be stored above ground at the Cumbrian plant so it can be constantly monitored.
Both FoE and Greenpeace argue the UK’s nuclear power programme must halt to prevent production of more waste while no safe and permanent method of disposing of it is available.
Charles Secrett, FoE’s executive director, told MPs bunkers may have to be built to keep the waste safe from terrorists.
Waste at Sellafield is held in a liquid solution, which campaigners warn could be widely dispersed in the case of a deliberate or accidental plane crash.
Dr Rachel Western, FoE’s nuclear research officer, told MPs: “If somebody was to make the decision to drop a plane on Sellafield, it would be disastrous – it would wipe out the north of England.”
Mr Secrett stressed that the new threat did not lead FoE to accept the solution preferred by many in the nuclear industry, of sealing the waste in deep burial sites far beneath the surface of the earth.
Sellafield has been the target of protesters
Studies had shown it would be impossible to rule out leaks of radioactive material into the environment from such sites, he said.
Environment minister Michael Meacher launched a consultation process on 12 September – the day after the US tragedy.
He was seeking opinion on the options for long-term handling of nuclear waste, including deep burial.
Greenpeace UK executive director Stephen Tindale told the MPs: “We don’t believe there is any way of disposing of nuclear waste.
“You can bury it – out of sight and out of mind – but the radioactivity will come back to haunt you. We are opposed on principle to deep burial.”
Similar terrorist warnings have been made since 11 September by the Green Party and the Irish Government.
The Commons committee hearing came on the day a United Nations maritime tribunal rejected a bid by Ireland to block plans to expand operations at Britain’s Sellafield nuclear plant.
The Irish Government had tried to challenge the decision to allow the controversial plant to start producing mixed plutonium and uranium oxide (Mox) fuel.
It argued that theA3470m development, on the Cumbrian coast opposite Ireland, broke international laws on sea pollution and posed safety and security concerns.
Dublin wanted Britain to be ordered to suspend Mox operations until an international arbitration tribunal was established to resolve the dispute.
But judges at the UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg rejected the legal challenge on Monday.