New report on hypothetical Sellafield accident

The Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority has just published a report on a hypothetical accident at Sellafield in England, which concludes that if only 1% of the liquid radioactive waste stored at the plant is released to air, the radioactive fallout in Western Norway could be five times higher than in the areas of Norway that were worst affected by the Chernobyl accident.

Photo of Sellafield from gyrocopter, Photo by Simon Ledingham, www.nwgyro.co.uk.

Photo of Sellafield from gyrocopter, Photo by Simon Ledingham, www.nwgyro.co.uk.

On 23 March, the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority published a report on the possible consequences for Norway of an atmospheric release of radioactivity from the storage tanks for highly active liquid waste at Sellafield. The report shows that an accident could entail considerable fallout over Norway. The release of just 1% of the tanks’ contents could result in levels of radioactive fallout in Western Norway that are five times higher than those measured in the worst affected areas of Norway after the Chernobyl accident.

If an accident caused the release of 10% of the tanks’ contents, it is calculated that the fallout would be 50 times the maximum level experienced in Norway after Chernobyl. A major accident is of course considered to be less likely than more limited releases. However, the British authorities have not provided Norway with any specific information indicating that such an incident can be ruled out.

On the publication of the report, Norway’s Minister of the Environment and International Development Erik Solheim commented: “There has been concern about Sellafield for a number of years in Norway, and this is why I asked the Radiation Protection Authority to draw up a report on scenarios for the release of radioactivity from the plant. I believe we need to know what the worst-case consequences of a major accident at Sellafield could be.”

Norway would be vulnerable in the event of a large release of radioactivity from Sellafield, both because of its geographical position and because of the prevailing weather conditions. The impacts of a major atmospheric release could be particularly severe.

The report considers an accident involving the storage tanks for highly active liquid waste. These currently contain about 1000 m3 of radioactive waste from several decades of reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

The Norwegian authorities consider that in the worst case, an accident at Sellafield could have significant impacts on agriculture, the environment and society for decades to come. The Radiation Protection Authority is to follow up the report with further assessment of these impacts. The report states that the Norwegian emergency response system is designed to cope with an accident of this kind.

The Norwegian authorities have repeatedly expressed their serious concern about security and safety at Sellafield and the large quantities of liquid radioactive waste stored there. This report shows that their concern is justified, and that it is important to strengthen the dialogue with the British authorities to ensure that the risk level is reduced as rapidly as possible.

Source: Regjeringen. To read the report from the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, click here.

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