[1981:] [About] the near disaster at Harrisburgh, it could be at any of the nuclear power plants around the world. (Notes 'Folk Friends II')
[1984:] At one time the 'rolling hills of the border' [in Scotland] looked as if they were going to be the place where nuclear waste was disposed of. That didn't happen - thank God. However, I'm afraid that there is still a lot of - a missing element in the safety factors of this industry. (Iain MacKintosh, intro 'Home For A While')
[1988:] Last week I've been listening to the summit talks, listening to Reagan and Gorbachev and what they said and what they've agreed. Being a cynical man, I am aware of the fact that it only took one year from Chernobyl to get them to put these treaties together. (Intro Iain MacKintosh)
[1997:] [Long ago] I was energy editor of the 'Guardian' and visited nuclear power stations. I remember two things most vividly. At Sellafield, the local fishmonger advertised his wares by declaring proudly 'None of our fish is locally caught'. At another, surveying the big arrows pointing the way to the emergency exits, officially called the 'Criticality Run', I was told that the alarm was not a sudden noise going off over the loudspeakers, but a permanent noise over the loudspeakers that would suddenly stop if there was disaster. They could not afford a disaster if the alarm didn't work so false alarms were preferable.
I thought of both these things watching 'Home Ground: A Nuclear Dustbin' [...]. It's about a time when the noise stopped at the Dounreay nuclear establishment, and an awful silence descended. There was an explosion on 20 May, 1977, down an old pipe where nuclear waste was crudely dumped. It was a serious explosion, but the authorities said it was a minor, unimportant explosion that posed no danger at all. There's some film of the plant's then director lying blithely through his teeth as he assures everyone that it was just a run of the mill, common or garden explosion that could happen anywhere; this is matched by the establishment's present director confirming by his embarrassed silences and nervous pauses that in fact the explosion was dangerous and possibly still is. And the cover-up was even more dangerous, with scientific bodies that investigated a local increase in leukaemia being given false information. No wonder 'nuclear' is an obvious anagram for 'unclear'. (Peter Hillmore, Observer Life, 18 May)
[1995:] The 1979 disaster at Harrisburgh, when a generator caused a meltdown in the plant at Three Miles Island and brought about a national disaster, only added fuel to the fire [...]. (John O'Regan, Rock 'n' Reel 22, p 35)
[1999:] A little blue pamphlet is regularly delivered to homes surrounding Britain's secret atomic warhead factory at Aldermaston in Berkshire. Running to 11 pages, it lists the measures people living near by should take in the event of a nuclear accident, including stern warnings to stay in doors and listen to the radio.
Not that the locals have any real reason to fear: it reassures them there will be no 'immediate danger' to anyone. In any case, those running the bomb factory continually tell the public, the chance of an accident is so remote it is not worth worrying about.
Today The Observer provides proof that this confidence is indeed misplaced and all is not well inside Aldermaston. We reveal an appalling catalogue of more than 100 errors and safety breaches in the past 12 months, as well as details of an incident in 1993 that might have killed thousands of people. The blue pamphlet would have been of little use to anyone living within miles of Aldermaston if luck - and nothing else - had not prevented a nuclear disaster that could have wiped out large parts of Reading.
In September 1993, senior nuclear scientists at Aldermaston were struggling to contain a crisis. Shavings of highly enriched uranium - one of the most dangerous substances known to mankind - had been discovered in an oil tank placed beneath a lathe. [...] To their horror, the scientists quickly realised that one false move could trigger an atomic fission explosion leading to nuclear catastrophe. It only takes a few hundredths of a gramme of highly enriched uranium in a water-based oil for 'criticality' to be breached. Criticality occurs when too much fissile material collects together and triggers an explosion sending clouds of radioactive material into the air. This is exactly what happened at Japan's Tokaimura plant last month and such an event at Aldermaston would lead to a massive release of radioactive material over Reading, with devastating consequences for the town's population of 250,000. [...]
According to a letter passed to The Observer from a senior source working at Aldermaston, it was only by pure chance that the uranium was discovered after a small oil leak under the lathe was checked. The letter says: 'Nobody had a clue what the criticality safety limit was, how much highly enriched uranium there was or how long it had been there. A45 is not a containment building: it is a 1950s industrial shed with breeze-block walls and an asbestos roof, i.e. even flimsier than the one at Tokaimura ... More employees and public would have been exposed [than] in Japan. We were saved by pure luck.' [...]
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament's report into Aldermaston published this month found that the Atomic Weapons Establishment [AWE] was still guilty of concealing vital information about dangerous accidents and pollution from regulators and the public. It listed several serious incidents at Aldermaston between 1993 and 1998 about which the public had never been officially notified. [...] In 1994, Reading Borough Council decided to set up its own 'community' inquiry chaired by Helena Kennedy QC. [...] Kennedy concluded: 'It is my opinion that full public inquiry into the health, environmental and safety aspects of AWE Aldermaston and Burghfield is long overdue.' But the Conservative Government still refused to launch an inquiry. [...] In 1997, the Health and Safety Executive launched its first prosecution against AWE when two workers were contaminated with uranium. The prosecutor for the HSE concluded that there were 'widespread deficiencies in management, supervision and safety culture at the Establishment'. With today's revelations in The Observer, it is hard to escape the conclusion that what was true in 1997 is still true today. (Antony Barnett, Observer, 24 Oct)
[2000:] Three reports by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, the industry watchdog, into operations at BNFL's Sellafield plant in Cumbria were published in February. They could scarcely have been more damning.
One, written after a two-week inspection of Sellafield last September, found 'a lack of high-quality safety management systems across the site' and 'insufficient resources to implement even the existing safety management system'. During that inspection a major scandal broke at Sellafield. Staff at a demonstration facility for production of an experimental mixed plutonium and uranium fuel (MOX) were exposed as falsifying data. The NII began a second investigation. Its report damned Sellafield a second time. 'In a plant with the proper safety culture, the events discussed in this report could not have happened,' it said. But the NII was not alone. The Environment Agency pitched in. Its criticisms were not focused simply on Sellafield; they included its fuel manufacturing plant at Springfields as well as some of its ageing Magnox power stations. As if all this were not enough, the politicians had their penn'orth too. Martin O'Neill, chairman of the influential commons Trade and Industry Select Committee, criticised BNFL's accounts for being at best unclear. It also said the company treated the Government and the public with 'disdain'. (Oliver Morgan, Observer, 23 Apr)
German version: Helmut Debus Nimm dien Kinner un loop