Nuclear Meltdown

Feature story - 9 September, 2002
The lid has finally been blown off the nuclear industry’s chamber of secrets. Coverups, bankruptcies and insolvencies, safety lapses and failures in plant security have been on the roll call in the last week alone. And all this as the most potent symbols of the industry's failure, two nuclear freighters, near the Irish Sea.

72% of the British public say no to nuclear power and yes to wind. Greenpeace projects poll result onto Sizewell nuclear plant in Suffolk, UK

As the highly dangerous and unnecessary shipment of reject plutonium from Japan to the UK enters European waters, nearing its eventual destination of Sellafield, the British and Japanese nuclear industries must be wishing they had never signed the contract for it to proceed.

Last week British Nuclear Fuel's (BNFL) largest single reprocessing client, British Energy, declared itself on the verge of insolvency. Then, news broke that Japan's largest utility, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), has been embroiled in a scandal around falsification of safety inspections at their reactors.

Oh for clean, safe energy which many could have had access to by now. If the huge subsidies gratefully received by the nuclear and fossil fuel industries had been spent with the health and security of the planet and its people in mind, the story would be so different today.

In a recent poll, 72 percent of the British public said 'No' to nuclear and 'Yes' to wind power. The City Assembly of Kashiwazaki in Japan has just voted against approval for plutonium loading at the Kashiwazaki-kariwa reactor, it is hoped that other cities and prefectures follow suit.

En-route, the plutonium shipment has already moved the governments of 80 nations to register strong protests. Some seafarers have felt so strongly that they have put their lives on the line by forming a flotilla to protest the shipment's passage through the Tasman Sea. Many thousands more concerned landlubbing citizens have joined Greenpeace's virtual flotilla and have emailed protest letters to the Japanese and British foreign ministers as well as to South Africa's President Mbeki.

To add to the nuclear industry's woes, in the next week or so the reject plutonium shipment will sail into the Irish Sea into possibly the largest peaceful protest that it has encountered. A flotilla of sailboats from Ireland and Wales, and Greenpeace's flagship, Rainbow Warrior II, will be there to ensure that the plutonium shipment will get the world's attention.

Ireland is the country most affected by the UK's nuclear industry. Sellafield is only 60 miles away from the Irish coast and has been pumping 2 million gallons of liquid radioactive waste into the Irish Sea every day, making the Irish Sea the most radioactive sea in the world. If an accident happens at the plant or with the shipment, or if there is a terrorist attack, depending on which way the wind blows, Dublin, Dundalk, Drogheda, Belfast, and vast parts of Ireland, would be uninhabitable. No wonder the Irish government is sending a navy patrol boat and a spotter plane to closely monitor the shipment.

There is a huge global groundswell of anger against this shipment as it is a potent symbol of the unreliable, uneconomic and dangerous industry which it services. Let us hope that the people who so easily risk our lives to turn a profit finally see the light, cancel further shipments and recognise that only clean, safe energy will do.