Community against Fuel Element Debris dissolution – Tollesbury May 2014
Varrie Blowers, Secretary of BANNG, considers what is meant by ‘community’ as used in the Bradwell B Community Newsletter.
The latest edition of the Bradwell B Community Newsletter landed on doormats in June. This newsletter from CGN (the Chinese state-owned company hoping to build a new nuclear power station at Bradwell) gives an update on what the company is doing. It is aimed at the ‘Bradwell B Community’. But what is this ‘community’?
We only know that it is local and appears to comprise 30 – 40,000 addresses/people. If you are the recipient of a ‘community’ newsletter, you normally know the community and may share similar beliefs. Do CGN really believe that all the recipients of the newsletter support Bradwell B just because they describe them as the ‘Bradwell B community’? The assumption behind this is the Government’s belief that communities that had to host nuclear power stations in the past are quite content to do so in the future. Hence the siting process for new stations at former and unsuitable sites such as Bradwell and Sizewell.
The use of the word ‘community’ conveys the idea of something warm and cosy (certainly not a nuclear power station!). This idea is reinforced by reading in the newsletter that CGN have ‘begun to reflect on the history of nuclear power generation in Essex and now invite you to share your memories with us’ of the former nuclear power station for an online archive. What we are told is that Bradwell A ‘generated 60 terawatts of electricity’ during its 40 year operating lifetime, ‘enough to power 15 million homes for an entire year’ (i.e. 375,000 per annum). The impression given is that it all happened seamlessly and happily without a hitch.
……..not without a hitch
What we are not told are details of the incidents that occurred during and after Bradwell A’s operations and it is debatable whether CGN will include these in its archive. But these constitute memories of Bradwell A. The operators of the Magnox station generally did a good job in running it but the following examples show that things still went wrong.
In 1966 it was reported that twenty uranium fuel rods were stolen by a worker from the site. Fortunately, the theft was not regarded as being ‘sinister’.
Around September, 1985 an emergency shutdown occurred with a release of steam and dark smoke and a noise like thunder. This was not explained.
Although it started in 1976, a leak of Tritium into the ground was not revealed until 2004. This was despite it being acknowledged as an embarrassment during the ‘70s when Bradwell was often known as the ‘Tritium Teabag’. In 2009 Magnox was fined £400,000 for causing the leak. The company had also been fined £100,000 eight years earlier for a similar offence.
Since closure in 2002, decommissioning has not run entirely smoothly. For example in January, 2011 a fire started at the station as a result of hot cutting, instead of cold cutting, titanium rods. In June, 2016 the Office for Nuclear Regulation identified the asbestos management arrangements were inadequate and did not satisfy the regulations. Both of these incidents were failures of working practices.
Then there was the ill-fated and expensive fuel element debris (FED) dissolution experiment. The public was informed that all the nuclear waste left at Bradwell was 100% Intermediate-Level Waste (ILW) and that the dissolution process would shrink the volume of this making it easier to store, as well as save the taxpayer money. There would be residual discharges into the Blackwater estuary from the process but these would be ‘benign’, ‘an aqueous discharge of a clean salt solution’. After the dissolution experiment experienced severe difficulties, it was discovered that two-thirds of the ILW was, in fact, Low-Level Waste (LLW) that could be transported to Drigg and that only one-third was ILW. The ‘clean salt solution’ turned out to be composed of radionuclides and heavy metals. It appears the whole, sorry mess cost the taxpayer at least £100M.
[Insert photograph here. Caption: Community against FED dissolution.]
To top it all off, the hulk of Bradwell A will be a constant memory for around the next 100 years. The site is now a nuclear waste dump with its ILW store and the radioactive graphite cores held in passive storage inside the recently clad reactor buildings.
What does the future really hold?
The communities that have had to, and will continue to, endure Bradwell A are those that will also have to live with Bradwell B, if it is built. Live daily with its potentially dangerous operations……live daily with the knowledge that highly radioactive spent fuel and other toxic nuclear wastes will be stored on-site until the latter part of the 22nd century. Nobody can know what will be happening by then in the world, never mind at the Bradwell site. Nowhere in the Bradwell B Community Newsletter is there any reference to this. Are CGN explaining this at the events they are attending in Essex or are only what are perceived as the benefits of the project being emphasised?
In its newsletter, CGN attempts to manufacture a community and community feeling in making the advent of a new nuclear power station appear like a friendly neighbourhood event worthy of celebration. BANNG supporters and many others would beg to disagree.
The truth is that if Bradwell B goes ahead, all that the ‘Bradwell B community’ can look forward to is a long and disruptive period of construction, the potential dangers arising from a nuclear power station, the impacts of radioactivity on environments and health and the long-term, on-site storage of highly radioactive wastes. The fragile and tranquil environment of the Blackwater estuary will, sadly, be changed forever.
First published in the BANNG column for Regional Life – August, 2019