Mike, our resident antinuclear Scotsman spotted an interesting bit of news today. Mike is a part of the Rainbow Warrior's Middle East Peace tour:
"In the gulf we have the discretion to build what we want" so says Lady Barbara Thomas Judge, head of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. Lady Judge believes the absence of pesky environmentalists, a lack of political opposition and lots of money makes the Gulf the perfect place for nuclear power.
"The genie is out of the bottle, if they want to build it, this would be the place,' opined Lady Judge. Now I thought the genie lived in a lamp, oh well.
So lets just take a look at her Ladyship and the company she heads, and then ask if its really a good idea to let her come and play in the Middle East? Is it really a good idea to let the nuclear industry do whatever it wants, away from the spotlight of public oversight or political plurality?
The UK Atomic Energy Authority runs the notorious Dounreay nuclear complex in the far north of my homeland, Scotland. Build in the 1950s, before public concern and environmental awareness caught own to the boys own nuclear dream that was to become an environmental and economic nightmare. It was the shiny technological cathedral of the new nuclear Barons, spurned on by vision of Atoms for Peace, and ever since pieces of atoms have been washing up on local beaches. The have been dumped almost at random around the site. They have been blown tens of meters into the sky and locked inside the carcass of an aging fast reactor which no one really knows how to take apart, or decommission as they call it in the industry. With the nuclear industry it is not simply a question of the last one to leave turn out the lights, the light of radioactive contamination burns for thousands of years.
Earlier this month Lady Isotope's company was fined GBP140,000 for breaches of the UK's Radioactive Substance Act for between 1963 and 1984.
Since 1954 Dounreay was the centre for the UK's research into fast breeder reactors, they built two, they closed two, there are no plans by the British Government to build any more, the clean up bill for the site is estimated to be some GBP2.9 billion. Check it out at www.ukaea.org. There are many legendary lapses of sanity from the sites six decades of incompetent dabbling with the atom, but perhaps the highlight is the 'radioactive waste shaft'.
Originally excavated to allow for the laying of the sites radioactive waste discharge pipeline to take routine radioactive discharges out to sea, over an extend period the plant's highly qualified nuclear engineers tipped a cocktail of explosive chemicals and radioactive waste into the shaft. For shaft read hole.
The shaft was sealed more than 20 years ago but is still leaking radioactivity. It was reluctantly confirmed by the UKAEA that the shaft contains about 1,000 cubic metres of intermediate-level waste, and some 4kg of plutonium and 100kg of uranium. But also paper wrapped sodium (used in the reactors cooling system) and of course it extends below the water table, so it also contains water.
Stay with me, the punch line is coming. When I was at secondary school one of the best experiments we did in chemistry was when the teacher made us all put on safety goggles and stand back, she then dropped a tiny piece of sodium into a sink full of water. There was a blinding flash of light and a rather fine explosion.
In 1977 the shaft finally succumbed to the laws of high school chemistry. Bang. The blast blew a 12.5 tonne concrete plug high into the sky and four metres to one side. Shattered concrete was thrown some 60 metres beyond the perimeter fence and scaffolding poles were propelled like javelins up to 75 metres onto the beach. Luckily being in the far north of Scotland nobody was sunbathing so no one was skewered.
Highly radioactive contamination was found around the waste shaft, some of it well outside the boundary fence of the nuclear plant. During routine monitoring of the site in the weeks following the blast, contamination of the roads was around 100 times higher than normal, the programme reported. To absurd to believe, then don't believe me, believe the BBC.
Discretion may be the better part of valour, but in this case it is best to call the Radioactive Lady to account, and to warn people in the Middle East to beware of Britons bearing radioactive presents.