Cumbria Trust was concerned to hear of the collapse of a tunnel holding radioactive waste at Hanford, some 200 miles south east of Seattle. No radiological leak has so far been reported, but this could still occur and we know from the accidents at WIPP that there is a tendency to suppress bad news. Hanford has many similarities with Sellafield. They were both sites developed in the rush to create plutonium for nuclear weapons, and both of them contain large quantities of highly radioactive waste for which no credible long term plan yet exists. Both of the sites have many poorly maintained facilities with a history of accidents and leakage.
Both countries intend to build a geological disposal facility to dispose of the waste, but have yet to find a suitable site. The approach in America is likely to focus on a site in Nevada called Yucca Mountain, a dormant volcano in the desert. While politically difficult to deliver, it does at least appear to have the right geological properties for permanent disposal. The UK on the other hand has continued to concentrate its search on Cumbria, despite a £400m investigation by Nirex declaring the area to be completely unsuitable.
The UK’s approach to this Nirex investigation is to remove much of the data from the public domain, thereby airbrushing its problems from history. The latest Radioactive Waste Management national geological survey (which is long overdue) has even sought to exclude this inconvenient data from its own survey, which strongly suggests a return to Cumbria.
The American approach of proceeding in Nevada without local acceptance is democratically flawed, but at least it looks to be technically viable. The UK approach of seeking local acceptance in a geologically unsuitable area is substantially more dangerous, and Cumbria Trust will continue to challenge this at every stage.
Read some of the UK media reports: