23. GREAT BRITAIN POLLUTES THE WORLD WITH RADIOACTIVITY
It's the largest commercial producer of plutonium in the world and
also the largest source of radioactive contamination in the world. It
releases plutonium, ruthenium, americium, cesium 137, radioactive iodine,
and other toxins as part of its daily functioning. It's the scourge
of Europe but little known in the United States. It's Sellafield - the
government owned plant of Great Britain located on the Irish Sea in
Cumbria. The plant has been operating for 35 years, during which time
it has poured radioactive wastes into the sea through a mile-and-one-half
long pipeline specially constructed for that purpose, creating an underwater
"lake" of wastes.
It also throws off one
quarter ton of plutonium which returns to shore in windborne spray and spume,
and in the tides, and in fish and seaweed and flotsam, and which concentrates
in inlets and estuaries.
Radioactive iodine is vented from its smokestacks
while cesium 137 flows into the sea, contaminating meat, mills, and fish. The
plant receives nuclear waste, including wastes generated in other countries, and
reprocesses plutonium for profit. What happens to the plutonium once it is extracted,
no one says, although there were reports that the U.S. received Sellafield plutonium
in exchange for nuclear materials produced in the U.S. However, despite the British
penchant for secrecy, it is known that Sellafield has had about 300 accidents
including a core fire in 1957 which was, before Chernobyl, the most serious accident
to occur in a nuclear reactor.
One human cost of this deadly venture is
seen in the instances of leukemia deaths in children living on the English and
Irish coasts -- one child in 60 dies of the disease in the village nearest the
plant. For comparative purposes, the release of radiation from Three Mile Island
(TMI) is usually estimated at between 15 and 25 curies of radioactive iodine.
Many hundreds of thousands of curies of radioactivity have entered the environment
each year through Sellafield's pipeline and its stacks, in the course of the plant's
routine functioning. In other words, TMI's accident was a modest event by the
standards of Sellafield's normal operation.
Plutonium from the plant carried
by the seas has been found in Ireland, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, and Belgium.
Denmark and Ireland, neither of which has a nuclear power plant, object vehemently
in the European Parliament to Sellafield's operation. And while other countries
object, they also pay Britain to take on their waste disposal problems. The source
book, MOTHER COUNTRY, by investigative author Marilynne Robinson, has been compared
to Rachel Carson's SILENT SPRING. Robinson questions the silence of the American
press on Sellafield. She notes that hundreds of reports about Sellafield, originally
called Windscale, in the British media yielded "slight, late, perfunctory
articles" in The New York Times and Washington Post which concluded "that
it was all a tempest in a teapot, more or less."
Sellafield is not
a small, radioactive waste problem restricted to the British coast in Cumbria.
Indeed, the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant has been cited as a perfect
metaphor for twentieth-century genocide. It is a lesson we should all know about.
CENSORED RESEARCHER: TANYA GUMP
SOURCE: MOTHER COUNTRY
PUBLISHER: FARRAR, STRAUS & GIROUX, 1989,
19 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003
AUTHOR: MARILYNNE ROBINSON
COMMENTS: Marilynne Robinson has written an extraordinary book
about Sellafield, the government-owned nuclear plant of Great Britain
located on the Irish Sea in Cumbria. Sellafield, the largest source
of radioactive contamination in the world, is well known in Europe but
little known in the U.S. The book has been favorably compared to Rachel
Carson's Silent Spring. Robinson points out that it is important for
all of us to know about Sellafield since its impact goes far beyond
the British shores; indeed it has been cited as a perfect metaphor for
20th century genocide. Robinson notes that America's nuclear industry
benefits from the lack of coverage given the Sellafield disaster since
"The nuclear industry in America owes whatever future it has to
the belief, very commonly expressed, that in Europe nuclear power has
been cheap and safe." The reality of Sellafield refutes that belief.
Ironically, Robinson's book is the target of two libel suits in England,
one by Greenpeace and the other by Walter Patterson, an environmental
writer. Robinson is being "sued for asking why these activist writers
and groups do not make Sellafield known to the American public, and
why Greenpeace would lower divers into the sea at the site of the most
grave and prolonged disgorging of radionuclides and other toxins in
the world." While neither suit would have any standing under American
law, British libel laws are far more restrictive; Robinson says they
have served to stall progress on a proposed television film based on