“Ten years ago today (6/7/2015) I joined a group of nuclear security and terrorism experts…”

We have never been explicitly and clearly told why the risk at Sellafield is “intolerable” or, indeed, the nature of the “risk”.  What, then precisely is the “intolerable risk” to which the PAC (Public Accounts Committee) drew attention in its report and to which the NAO (National Audit Office) has referred? Why is it “intolerable”; what is the “risk”?  Fairly simple questions, I would have thought. Despite, however, our oft-repeated enquiries, no one at DECC or the NDA or CoRWM or even Sellafield has ever actually answered the questions. Obfuscation and opaqueness continue to obscure and camouflage the official answers.

Dr David Lowry’s missive below simply could not be more apposite and relevant.  It must surely be abundantly clear, given the enormous time-lags between reactors/legacy waste, cooling ponds, storage  and final permanent GDF disposal, that a near-surface (Swedish/Forsmark style) facility would go a considerable way towards the provision of a more terrorist-resistant and more secure facility than currently obtains at Sellafield. ~ Eddie Martin


Dr David Lowry

Dr David Lowry is an independent research policy consultant, specialising in nuclear issues and a member of the Nuclear Waste Advisory Associates.

Ten years ago today I joined a group of nuclear security  and terrorism experts for a meal in Central London, following a day of discussion of terrorist threats on nuclear waste stores.

The reason for the meeting was the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM-1) had convened a group of security specialists to advise CoRWM on security aspects of radioactive waste management and storage facilities.

Less than 10 hours after the dinner, a bomb destroyed a London bus barely two minutes around the  corner from the restaurant, one of four bombs to  be detonated by suicide bombers that rush hour morning on London Public Transport, killing 52 people, and injuring a further 700.

It was a black coincidence that this meeting of terrorist specialists should have met so close to a terrorist outrage

When the group met for the second time, in London on 13-14 December 2005, the specialists unanimously agreed on a statement, and conveyed to CoRWM their strong belief that the statement should appear at a prominent place in the final documentation of the CoRWM process then under way, which it did. The statement reads:

“The security Specialists appointed to the CoRWM Specialist Security Workshop recognize that CoRWM is not responsible for the priority that is being given to the conditioning and mode of storage of nuclear waste forms prior to their transportation to the selected storage/disposal facility that may not occur for some decades into the future. However, it is our unanimous opinion that greater attention should be given to the current management of radioactive waste held in the UK, in the context of its vulnerability to potential terrorist attacks. We are not aware of any UK Government programme that is addressing this issue with adequate detail or priority, and consider it unacceptable for some vulnerable waste forms, such as spent fuel, to remain in their current condition and mode of storage. We urge the Government to take the required action and to instruct the NDA, in cooperation with the regulators, to produce an implementation plan for categorising and reducing the vulnerability of the UK’s inventory of radioactive waste to potential acts of terrorism, through conditioning and placement in storage options with an engineered capability specifically designed to resist a major terrorist attack.”

“This report assumes that a security event is a deliberate, planned attack. The underlying motives for the attack are not important here, except to the extent that they affect the probability of the event. It is important, however, to understand the specific objectives that attackers might hope to achieve by attacking a radioactive-waste facility or transport operation. These objectives can be categorized within three general purposes: releasing radioactive material directly; misappropriating radioactive material for subsequent malicious use; and misappropriating fissile material, also for subsequent malicious use.”

Radioactive Waste Management Limited is currently consulting on its latest stage of planning for nuclear waste burial. It has yet to address  the terrorist threat in the decade.

Dr David Lowry (Research Consultant) – 6/7/2015