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Sellafield as radioactively contaminated as Chernobyl

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(November 2, 1998) The area around the Sellafield reprocessing plant (UK) is as heavily contaminated with radioactivity as the zone around the stricken Chernobyl reactor in Ukraine. This is the conclusion emerging from the analyses of soil samples from both areas commissioned by Greenpeace to the University of Bremen, Germany.

(501.4938) Greenpeace - In September the University of Bremen analyzed the samples taken by Greenpeace in the area around Chernobyl. A comparison with radioactive pollution in the area around the UK reprocessing plant at Sellafield has led to the alarming conclusion that some of the figures for radioactivity at Sellafield are even higher than those for the Chernobyl area. Pollution with the americium-241 radioactive isotope in a soil sample 800 meters from the reactor in the Chernobyl disaster, for example, is around 1,300 becquerels per kilogram. In soil sampled 11 km away from the Sellafield plant, pollution from this isotope is as much as 30,000 becquerels per kilogram. The analyses also found cobalt-60 values of up to 40 becquerels per kilogram, and pollution from cesium-137 in concentrations of up to 9,400 becquerels per kilogram, 11 km from the UK reprocessing plant. At the same distance from the Chernobyl reactor, on the other hand, fewer than 10 becquerels of cobalt-60, and approximately 7,400 becquerels of cesium-137, were measured per kilogram. "Sellafield is a slow-motion Chernobyl, an accident played out over the last four decades," said Mike Townsley of Greenpeace International. "While an area of 30-km radius around Chernobyl is prohibited access for people and any agricultural activity, there are no such restrictions around Sellafield."

People living by the reprocessing plant in Sellafield are today filing a suit against the Federal Export Office in Eschborn, which authorizes nuclear exports abroad in the name of the federal government. The accusation made by the complainants says reprocessing German nuclear waste at Sellafield impairs their right to life and freedom from bodily injury.

On October 20, the English and Welsh Environment Agency met to consider new authorizations for radioactive discharges from Sellafield. It decided that a new license would not be granted until vital questions about radioactive discharges are answered by the UK government.
Greenpeace believes that this latest revelation, combined with the commitments made by the UK government at the OSPAR meeting last July to substantially reduce discharges from reprocessing at Sellafield (see WISE NC495.4888: OSPAR Convention: European reprocessing industry given deadline of year 2000), should serve as a warning that levels of contamination around the Sellafield plant are already so severe that any further contamination presents an unacceptable risk to both current and future generations.

Source: Greenpeace press release, 9 October 1998
Contact: Greenpeace UK
Canonbury Villas
London N1 2PN
Tel: +44-171-865 8100; Fax: +44-171-865 8200