FOLLOWING Monday’s article ‘Greens hit back at nuclear need claims’, I have to challenge Greg Hands, the British Energy Secretary. He said Ukraine had given Scotland a pretext to support nuclear energy and its development, and said the UK “has a very strong security regime”.
Scotland has been involved in nuclear development since the 1950s. Dounreay near Thurso, with its fast reactor from 1955 to 1994, was the UK establishment for it. So let’s look at some security issues.
In 1963, thousands and thousands of radioactive fuel particles escaped from the plant, and it happened again in 1984. This caused a fishing ban without fishing of one nautical mile (1.18 statute mile). These particles had escaped during the emptying of the cooling basins. By 2011, 2,300 radioactive particles had been recovered from the seabed and shore. There was also a “no seafood picking” order in place until 2019.
In May 1997, a 213-foot-deep shaft that stored radioactive waste and potassium sodium exploded, shattering steel and concrete covers. The cause was seawater entering the well.
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In May 1998, a mechanical digger tore through a major power cable, causing the power supply to the site to be cut off for 16 hours and triggering a safety audit by the UK Health and Safety Executive and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). A damning report was released with 143 recommendations, which highlighted overreliance on contractors, lack of a comprehensive waste disposal strategy, lack of decommissioning, poor physical condition of the plant and no – compliance with the standards required in a modern nuclear installation. All 89 short-term recommendations have been implemented. The UK Atomic Energy Authority has also shortened the decommissioning period from 100 years to 60 years.
In 1998, there were 25 tonnes of radioactive reactor fuel to be disposed of at the site. This was by and large transferred to Sellafield and completed in 2018/19, with Sellafield closing in 2021. There was also Britain’s worst nuclear disaster at Windscale in 1957 when 11 tonnes of uranium were burned for three days, affecting cattle, sheep and chickens. and milk.
There have been several leaks of radioactive material in the Gareloch at Faslane, where nuclear submarines are stored, over the years.
Britain has also been hit by nuclear disasters abroad. Chernobyl in April 1986, near the city of Pripyat in northern Ukraine, was called the greatest nuclear disaster of all, caused by human error and design failure. The fallout from this lasted for years. The Independent in 1996 reported a sharp rise in cancers which had tripled in 18 months on Benbecula. Local doctors demanded an investigation into the rise and believed that locally sourced seafood, mutton, venison and vegetables were contaminated or linked to Chernobyl. It also took until 2010 before 9,700 affected UK farmers could sell their livestock, and even then the Food Standards Agency had to test the animals three days before the sale.
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The world then suffered the effects of the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, which was caused by an earthquake and a tsunami. It wasn’t as bad as Chernobyl, but bad enough for those affected. In 2020, the Japanese government lifted bans on seafood from Fukushima, saying it met stricter safety standards than in America for cesium. It now appears that radiation levels in Fukushima’s shores and waters have decreased over the years, but some reactors continue to discharge.
Ukraine’s Zaponrizhia nuclear power plant – the largest in Europe – was targeted and attacked by Putin’s Russian forces. Ukraine has 15 such facilities and if Russia blows one up, it could lead to a disaster worse than Chernobyl in terms of lost lives, lingering deaths and long-term cancers.
Having tried to explain why we don’t need the risks of these facilities, one has to ask why do we need them when the future is now going to be wind and tidal and in Scotland hydro.
Scotland does not need nuclear energy or weapons of mass destruction. What we need are hospitals, education, elderly care, public transport and construction. And we have enough oil and gas to last until we make the transition.