Health & Safety – What is at stake?

A member of Cumbria County Council, responsible for the county’s emergency plan has criticised the proposed nuclear cluster scheme.

Of the proposal for a power station on land next to Sellafield he said, “I don’t have much of a problem with that because we already have a well developed emergency plan and a well educated local population.

“What does concern me are the new reactors at Kirksanton and Braystones. What this does is it brings in an entirely new population being put at risk from these reactors.

“As an emergency planner it creates major new problems but it all sounds as if the land has been sold and the job has been done.”
(North West Evening Mail 19/03/2009.
Siting a Nuclear Facility – Health and Safety
In siting a nuclear facility, there are two main objectives:

  1. Protecting people and society from the hazards of the nuclear facility through minimising any potential adverse impacts
  2. Ensuring the technical and economic feasibility of the plant

Take a look at reality
The nuclear programme as a whole will, if all sites are developed, mean that of the 3 dozen or so reactors eventually constructed, over a third would be on a 46 mile stretch of the Lancashire/Cumbria Coastline.

HEALTH 

What is health?

The 1946 World Health Organisation (WHO) defined health as a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not just the absence of disease and infirmity.  This is a criticised but generally accepted view.

To determine the health impact of a nuclear facility at Kirksanton what should the government have done?

  • Screening to select the best policies or project for the community
  • Profiled the immediate community and interest groups most likely to be affected by the policy or project
  • Obtained data from stakeholders to identify health impact
  • Evaluated the importance, scale and likelihood of potential impacts
  • Completed an option appraisal and listed recommendations for action

Key principles of any Health Impact Assessment must include an explicit focus on: social and environmental justice; a multidisciplinary, participatory approach; both qualitative and quantitative assessment methods; explicit values and politics; and openness to public scrutiny.

So how would a nuclear cluster affect our health and safety?

The Department of Health has asked the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) to conduct a review of recent publications on the incidence of childhood leukaemia in the vicinity of nuclear power stations. COMARE has set up a subgroup of committee members and external experts to conduct a review.
(Safe Energy E Journal No 47, 1.4, October 2009)

Nuclear cancer risk ‘doubled’
By Julian Rush
Channel 4 News Online exclusive 10th January 2008

Just as Britain decides to build new nuclear power stations, new research, commissioned by the German government, reveals that children under five who live within 5 km of a nuclear power plant, have twice the risk of suffering from the blood cancer leukaemia.

In Germany it has re-opened the hugely controversial issue of the health risks of nuclear power – which Germany is phasing out.

In Britain, discussion of the health risks has largely been absent from the debate over new nuclear power stations, though it raged post-Chernobyl and in the late 1980s and early 1990s when cancer clusters were found around the village of Seascale in Cumbria, close to the Sellafield nuclear plant, and around the nuclear site at Dounreay in Scotland.

“What is very important about this study is its depth and rigour,” says Dr Paul Dorfman of Warwick University who was co-secretary of CERRIE, the independent committee established by the British government in 2001 to examine the risks of internal radiation.

Scientists from the University of Mainz, who are responsible for the German Register of Child Cancers, were asked by the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) to carry out the work after earlier, inconclusive research had indicated there might be a higher risk. It was published online last month by two well-respected scientific journals: the International Journal of Cancer and the European Journal of Cancer.

“We must take the correlation between distance of residence and high risk of leukaemia very seriously” – Wolfram Koenig, Director of the German Federal Office for Radiation.

The German work was carefully conducted. To rule out local clustering effects, the scientists looked at children living around 16 nuclear plants in West Germany, slightly biasing their study areas to the east of each plant – downwind, as the prevailing winds are westerly. They carried out what’s called a case-control study – comparing children with cancer with those who did not have the disease.

They looked at data over 23 years, from 1980 to 2003, which gave them a large sample, some 6300 children. For the first time they carefully measured the distance each child lived from the plant, to the nearest 25m.

If there was no link to the plants, they calculated there should have been 17 leukaemia cases in children under five-years-old within 5 km of a nuclear power station. They found 37 – double the risk.

The German team are at pains to point out they cannot say whether radiation from the nuclear plants is the cause…

“The finding cannot be dismissed”, says Professor Anthony Thomas of the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Toronto in Canada, who reviewed the study for the International Journal of Cancer.

The German team are at pains to point out they can’t say whether radiation from the nuclear plants is the cause because there is no measurement of how much radiation each child was exposed to. But Wolfram Koenig, director of the BfS, told a press conference last month “Given the particularly high risk of nuclear radiation for children, and the inadequacy of data on the emissions of nuclear power plants, we must take the correlation between distance of residence and high risk of leukaemia very seriously.”

The British government’s radiation advisors – the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) – have consistently said there is no link, though they admit there is a “non-random” distribution to childhood leukaemias in Britain and the known cancer clusters around nuclear sites cannot be explained. A similar cancer cluster has been found around the French nuclear site at La Hague.

SAFETY

Evacuation –  During the constructional phases should a major site accident occur just how fast could our local emergency services react? There would be at least a 40 minute delay for any sufficient amount of emergency services to tackle an incident at Kirksanton from the point of the first emergency call, not the actual incident.  This would result in total gridlock for the A595/A5093.

In the operational phase the risk of an accident at any one reactor is the same regardless of its location.  So siting so many reactors on the Cumbrian west coast would result in around 25 times the apparent average risk to the UK coastal zone as a whole.

This means that the actual proportional risk to Cumbria from a nuclear accident is about 40 times as high as for the rest of the country!

Communication is vital for any emergency procedure and the total evacuation of all local residents would include elderly, disabled, critically ill, non mobile persons along with our children, which would cause considerable strain on all the services.  Where would residents go?

The nearest so called “safe zone” would be Broughton in Furness where there are no facilities for 9,000+ people.  The one road out via Duddon Bridge would be chaotic with evacuees going out and specialised emergency services trying to come in!

Perhaps North?  Over Muncaster Bridge to where?  Sellafield?

Nuclear Safety

“If there is a burst of new reactor building around the world, the reactors built are likely to be so-called “Advanced Reactors,” or Generation III. What is most worrying about these reactors is that many of the new designs use so-called ‘passive’ safety systems which rely on a completely different safety philosophy. Some experts question whether this makes the reactors safer. Reliance on passive safety systems could result in an uncontrollable situation during an accident with the plant workers left with no means to do anything about it.

“New reactors start with a higher risk as they are broken in, and then the risk reduces, but increases again towards the end of a reactor’s life as age-related failures begin to occur.

“Most of the world’s reactors are more than 20 years old and therefore more prone to accidents.

“The Nuclear Safety Advisory Committee (NuSAC) has been quietly scrapped after it warned the future safety of Britain’s ageing nuclear plants was being put at risk by poor performance, delays and budget cuts. Former members of NuSAC are now worried about the lack of independent safety advice at a time when the government is embarking on a major expansion and clean-up of nuclear power.”
(Safe Energy E Journal No 47, 3.0, October 2009)

Waste from nuclear rectors

The Government called for volunteer communities to step forward and host the waste services. Both Cumbria County Council and Copeland Borough Council have stepped forward.  We now add long term waste to the Nuclear Programme for Cumbria.

“The Government says a repository dealing with legacy wastes could readily accommodate the smaller volumes of waste from new reactors. But the reactors most likely to be built in the UK will be more powerful, use about 15% less uranium and produce 30% less waste. However, this waste will be more radioactive by a factor of seven because more uranium is burned up. Neither government nor its regulators have assessed the “disposability” of spent nuclear fuel from new reactors, and there are some serious doubts about its suitability for placing, along with existing waste, in a deep geological dump. The NDA is keeping its assessments of this new waste secret.

October Update: Radioactive waste from a new generation of nuclear power stations will have to be stored above ground for 100 years. Hugh Richards, of the Welsh Anti Nuclear Alliance (Wana), told officials at the Department of Energy and Climate Change: “Both the promoters of new reactors and the Government have largely ignored the implications of those reactors discharging high burn-up spent fuel. New-build spent fuel, already acknowledged as twice as hot and twice as radioactive as legacy-spent fuel, will have to cool down for 100 years on each site before it can go for deep underground disposal”.
(Safe Energy E Journal No 47, 14.0, October 2009)

Conclusion

Within the draft National Policy Statement documents for Health and Safety we do not see any estimation of probability of occurrence nor categorisation, ranking or option appraisal, merely the Government thinking of upskilling, a handful of jobs, a new access road and a visitor centre.  We already have one of those at Sellafield!  Most amazing of all is the idea that a reduction of fuel poverty is all that is required to ensure good health and welfare of the Cumbrian population.