From Academic Kids

Sellafield is a village near the coast of the Irish Sea in Cumbria, England, close to the village and railway station of Seascale.

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The Sellafield facility on the Cumbrian coast, United Kingdom

Sellafield is also the name of a nearby site, owned by British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), which houses the THORP nuclear fuel re-processing plant, the inactive Calder Hall Magnox nuclear power station, and other nuclear reactors.



The Sellafield site is built on land that was formerly part of the Windscale nuclear site, which is named after a nearby village. Windscale was owned by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, but when part of it was transferred to BNFL, the transferred part was renamed as "Sellafield". The remainder of the site remains in the hands of the UKAEA and is still called Windscale.

The air-cooled, graphite-moderated Windscale reactors constituted the first British weapons grade plutonium 239 production facility, built for the British nuclear weapons program in the late 40s and the 50s.

Windscale was also the site of the prototype British Advanced gas-cooled reactor. This reactor was shut down in 1981, and is now part of a pilot project to demonstrate techniques for safely decommissioning a nuclear reactor.

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Looking over the facility out to sea.

The Windscale fire

Main article: Windscale fire

In 1957, a fire at one of the twin Windscale reactors caused the world's worst nuclear accident until the Chernobyl accident. An estimated 750 terabecquerels (TBq) (20,000 curies) of radioactive Iodine-131 were released, and milk and other produce from the surrounding farming areas had to be destroyed. For comparison, 250,000 terabecquerels or 250 petabecquerels (7 million curies) of Iodine-131 were released by Chernobyl, and only 0.55 terabecquerels (15 curies) of Iodine-131 by Three Mile Island.

Plutonium discrepancy

On February 17, 2005, the UK Atomic Energy Authority reported that 29.6 kg (65.3 lb) of plutonium, enough to make seven nuclear bombs, was unaccounted for in auditing records at the Sellafield nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. The operating company, the British Nuclear Group, describes this as nothing more than a discrepancy in paper records, rather than any physical loss of material. They point out that this is an error of about 0.5%; the IAEA regulations permit a discrepancy as large as 1%. The inventories in question have been accepted as satisfactory by Euratom, the relevant regulatory agency. (ITV) ( (BBC) ( (BNFL's response) (

Nuclear waste leaks

Template:Wikinews Enough highly radioactive nuclear waste "to half fill an Olympic-size swimming pool" was discovered to have leaked from a cracked pipe into a "huge stainless steel chamber," on April 19 2005 at Sellafield's THORP reprocessing plant. The chamber is designed to contain such leaks. It was reported by the BBC on April 23, and The Guardian on May 9. According to the Guardian's story the powerplant workers noticed a discrepancy in the amount of fuel going into pipes conducting the waste to a set of centrifuges and the amount of fuel arriving at the centrifuges on April 19. Subsequently it was learned that the leak may have begun as early as August 2004 but "lay undetected" because of a faulty gauge and human error. An estimated 20 tonnes of uranium and 160 kg of plutonium await cleanup. (BBC) (


The site has been the subject of much controversy because of discharges of radioactive material, mainly accidental but some alleged to have been deliberate.

One concern is discharges into the Irish Sea. In the hasty effort to build the 'British Bomb' in the 1940s and 50s radioactive waste was originally simply discharged by pipeline into the Irish Sea, which some claim remains one of the most heavily contaminated seas in the world. In his 1986 book The Worst accident in the world: Chernobyl, the end of the nuclear dream, Nigel Hawkes estimates that about 250 kg of plutonium have been deposited in the marine sediments surrounding the site during its lifetime. In addition, it has been shown that cattle and fish are contaminated with plutonium-239 and caesium-137, originating from the contaminated sediments. The plant at Sellafield is currently the most significant source of the long-lived radioactive element technetium in the environment; it is released during the reprocessing of nuclear fuel.Template:Inote

Some studies have claimed an increased leukaemia incidence in the surrounding villages, though all independent studies have failed to substantiate these claims.

The installation to process spent fuel, which also processes material originating from other countries, is also controversial, as some fear that disposal is not being carried out safely, and the area will simply end up as a "dumping ground" for unwanted nuclear material from nuclear programs all over the world. This is of particular concern as the UK currently has no long term high level waste storage facilities.

Irish objections

Sellafield has been a matter of some consternation across the Irish Sea, with the Irish Government and many members of the public angry at the danger that such a facility, of no benefit to Ireland, may pose to the country. The Irish government has indeed made formal complaints about the facility, and recently came to a friendly agreement with the British Government about the issue, as part of which the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, and the Irish police force (An Garda Síochána) are now allowed access to the site. However, Irish government policy remains that of seeking the closure of the facility.

Norwegian objections

Similar sentiments are shared by the Norwegian government and population, because the prevailing sea currents transport radioactive materials leaked into the sea along the entire coast of Norway. Water samples show increases of up to ten times of such materials as Tc-99. This is of great concern to the fishing industry, beacause they fear for the reputation of Norwegian fish, even though the radiation levels have not been conclusively proved as dangerous for the fish. The Norwegian government is also seeking closure of the facility.


See also

External links

nl:Sellafield (opwerkingsfabriek) sv:Sellafield (kärnkraftsanläggning)


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