Whilst I was checking up on C.O.R.E. (Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment) this weekend, I read of latest plans to ship plutonium MOX fuel assemblies from Sellafield to the small German port of Nordenham near Bremerhaven on the NDA’s (Nuclear Decommissioning Authority) ageing ship Atlantic Osprey.
The Atlantic Osprey, built in 1986, is a roll-on roll-off ferry purchased third hand by British Nuclear Fuels plc (BNFL) in 2001 and converted to carry radioactive materials. It is the only ship not to be custom-built of the UK’s designated nuclear cargo ships, and so is not double-hulled, and has only a single engine, among other short-comings.
According to CORE it has a chequered history as a nuclear carrier that includes an engine-room fire and breakdowns at sea, and equivalent sister ships have historically been retired at or before a standard 25 years of service. Whilst the ship is soon to finally brought to the scrapyard, it is due to be replaced by a 25-year old ship Oceanic Pintail recently saved from the scrap yard itself — and one would get the impression that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority are cutting corners on safety to save on expenditure.
CORE spokesman Martin Forwood has pointed out that INS (International Nuclear Services — a subsidiary of the NDA) appears hell-bent on shipping this MOX fuel to Germany on a third-hand ship with second class safety and kept afloat on first class INS PR alone” and on learning about the current state of affairs, one would be inclined to agree.
“The shipment of such highly dangerous nuclear material should never be entrusted to a ship not only past its sell-by date but also described recently in the press as a rust-bucket. Given its known safety and security weaknesses which now include the apparent lack of the vital sonardyne sunken vessel location system, using the Atlantic Osprey for the German MOX is a prime example of the nuclear industry putting business before safety. Common sense dictates that these plans should be abandoned immediately”.
Although the CORE concern is quite specific in this case, it raises the broader question — on what are acceptable safety standards for the nuclear industry as a whole — and to what extent such businesses cut corners for financial reasons — at the expense of public safety.
Learn about C.O.R.E: http://corecumbria.co.uk/