19 Sep 2014

Nuclear waste is a huge issue for us on Severnside

Taken from STAND's newsletter. www.standagainstoldbury.org     

Angela Paine and Nimue Brown of Stroud Greens discovered at the Oldbury Community stakeholder meeting that, although Oldbury has not yet started sending waste to Berkeley, there are already 5 Nuclear Power Stations sending their Intermediate Level Waste to Berkeley by rail for storage.

This waste comes via Gloucester and then on to the Sharpness line, going off on a siding to Berkeley.

As well as this, High Level Radioactive waste is transported weekly by rail from Hinkley to Sellafield via Gloucester.

The new station at Oldbury will add to this.

So we will hold an action at Gloucester railway station to make the  population of Gloucestershire aware that this is one of prices they have to pay in order to have Nuclear Power.

We will meet outside Gloucester railway station at 12.00 noon on Friday 26th. September.

There we will disperse onto different platforms to peacefully give out  leaflets.
We will have our “Nuclear Waste Bin” (that we had at Lydney docks) to help draw attention to our action.

It would be helpful if you could let me know if you are likely to be there, as the press always ask “How many people will there be?”

Some information on Nuclear Trains: 

“Nuclear trains" are trains carrying used, but extremely radioactive, nuclear fuel rods from nuclear power stations to Sellafield in Cumbria for reprocessing.

There are over 1,000 nuclear transports through the UK every year. The trains carry spent nuclear fuel on the UK’s rail network – often at peak times and within three meters of ordinary passenger trains.

The trains from each operating Nuclear Power Station typically travel once or twice a week, but this depends on several factors: the number of fuel rods in the cooling ponds, the length of time they have been there, and the current state of the relevant reprocessing plant at Sellafield. For example, at the time of this writing there is a problem with the reprocessing at Sellafield, and some stations (eg. Sizewell have been told they may have to hold their fuel rods 2 or 3 years).

An unnecessary risk.

The fuel rods are taken to Sellafield for reprocessing to separate out the plutonium. The main use of plutonium is in nuclear weapons and there is apparently a world glut of this extremely dangerous substance.

The reprocessing does not reduce the total radioactivity but produces a much greater volume of somewhat lower level radioactivity, which still has to be dealt with as a highly toxic waste - as well as releasing some radioactive waste into the environment. The highly toxic waste will be radioactive for thousands of years.

Highly dangerous cargo

There are two main types of reactors in UK power stations, which use somewhat different fuel. The types are known as Magnox (Magnesium alloy is used to clad the fuel rods) and AGR (Advanced Gas cooled Reactor). There is also one PWR (Pressurized Water Reactor), at Sizewell. After nuclear fuel has been used it is far more radioactive and requires heavy shielding. So although new fuel rods are usually transported by road, used rods are transported by rail. "Nuclear trains" is a short way to refer to the trains which carry used fuel rods from nuclear power stations.

The used rods contain uranium and plutonium and are extremely radioactive. When taken from the reactor they are stored in cooling ponds at the power station for up to 18 months (thus contaminating the water). The rods are then loaded into water-filled lead-lined steel containers called 'flasks', onto which a lid is bolted. Each 50-ton flask is then washed down to remove radioactive surface contamination, loaded onto a lorry which carries it to the nearest railhead, then transferred onto a flat-bed railway wagon (which weighs about 100 tons). A metal cover or 'cabin' is placed over each flask.

Each flask contains about 2 tons of rods, and about 1 million Curies of radioactivity, or 37 thousand million million Bequerels (one Bequerel is equivalent to one click on a geiger counter; the Hiroshima bomb released about 3 million Curies). The outside surface of these flasks emit radiation well above background levels: even the 14-inch thick walls are inadequate shielding against the highly radioactive rods. If the water coolant was lost, the fuel rods would overheat then combust, dispersing a massive dose of radioactivity into the atmosphere. They are a highly dangerous cargo, which the industry insist on calling "spent fuel", thus implying that it is neither waste nor especially hazardous.

Risk of terrorism

The transport of nuclear material is recognised by the International Atomic Energy Agency to be the nuclear operation most vulnerable to terrorist attack or sabotage and tests have shown the flasks to be highly vulnerable to attack from armour piercing rounds. Nuclear transports are unescorted other than by a driver and a guardsman. Their movements tend to be regular and along a single route.

Accidents DO happen

In October 2005, due to simple human error, a cargo of radioactive nuclear waste sat unprotected at Bridgewater station for hours, less than 100  metres from a school.

Nuclear waste trains on the Dungeness to Wilesdan  route have twice been  involved in collisions with vehicles on an unmanned level crossing.

In January of this year a car on a level crossing collided with a Spent fuel rod train going to Sellafield at Silverdale Lancashire. Most fortunately the accident happened on the trains return journey so it was empty. But ………….

“Movement of nuclear materials is inherently risky both in terms of severe accident and terrorist attack. Not all accident scenarios and accident severities can be foreseen; it is only possible to maintain a limited security cordon around the flask and its consignment; the transportation route will invariably pass through or nearby centres of population; terrorists are able to seek out and exploit vulnerabilities in the transport arrangements and localities on the route; and emergency planning is difficult to maintain over the entire route.”

Independent nuclear expert John Large, 2006

So please join us if you are able,

on Friday, 26th September,

at 12.00noon, Gloucester railway station.

And please let me know if you can come.

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