Nestled on the edge of the Irish Sea, in the Anglo-Saxon countryside, the Sellafiled nuclear site seems to be dozing. In reality, it is at the center of all attention since it could have dramatic consequences as far as Northern Europe. According to a Guardian investigation published this Tuesday, a “radioactive waste” silo has a leak which “could present a risk to the public” and to “groundwater”.
Problem is, this 6 km2 nuclear site is considered one of the most dangerous in Europe with the largest stock of plutonium in the world. In 1947, during the Cold War, the United Kingdom manufactured radioactive metal for its nuclear weapons there. For years, Sellafield therefore accumulated waste from nuclear weapons and atomic energy production. This 6 km2 site contains silos but also artificial basins, which contain nuclear sludge. One of them would have cracks in its layer of concrete and asphalt and could thus leak radioactive waste into nature.
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In its investigation, the Guardian also reveals that in November 2022, a document sent to members of the Sellafiled board of directors already raised concerns about a deterioration in the security of the entire site. He pointed out in particular a “cumulative risk” linked to failures ranging from nuclear safety to asbestos, including fire standards. But according to a scientific adviser to the British government, the risks posed by the leak and other chemical leaks have been “placed firmly under the carpet”.
For other countries, these risks should not be taken lightly. American officials have notably warned of cracking infrastructure and a lack of transparency from British authorities. Tensions also persist with the Irish and Norwegian governments. The latter fear that an accident could result in a plume of radioactive particles carried by prevailing southwest winds across the North Sea. This would have consequences for food production and even Norwegian wildlife.
And as if that were not enough, the Guardian also specifies that the Sellafiled site has been the target of malicious acts by groups linked to China and Russia. They are said to have hacked into certain activities such as “monitoring leaks of dangerous materials”, “moving radioactive waste” or even “detecting fires”. For the moment, there is no guarantee that the software has been cleaned of these attacks. In a press release cited by our English colleagues, Sellafield refused to comment on its inability to inform regulators of this situation and prefers to focus on the improvements made in recent years.