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DEEP THOUGHT

February 1, 2013

Sellarfield

Try and imagine 100,000 years ago!

It’s hard, not only hard but about impossible. The problem is it involves a timescale far beyond anything we humans have as a comparative yardstick with which to measure.

A lifetime is say only a 100 years. British railways saw their great expansion in the 1850’s, a mere 170 years ago. The Battle of Trafalgar was in 1805. The American War of Independence began in 1775 and ended 1882, only 230 years ago.

These are puny timescales. Even the death of Jesus Christ is still tiny at 2000 years ago. Even the building of Stonehenge 3000 years ago still looks tiny.

10,000 years ago the ‘mini’ ice age ended forming the British coastline we would know today. Prior to that a thick ice sheet up to a mile thick had covered most of these islands. It was also when arguably the first of the ‘British’ arrived from what today we call Iraq.

20,000 years ago mammoths and sabre tooth tigers roamed the lands. It is also when the cave paintings of Lascaux in France first appeared. Beyond this era it becomes ever more conjecture. Language may have appeared 50 to 150,000 years ago. In Europe Neanderthal Man still dominated although was busy interbreeding with modern man who would eventually succeed him.

Now comes the answer as to why this short excursion into history.

It is connected with a decision made by the ten man Cumbria Council during the closing days of January 2013.

They were effectively vetoing plans the UK Government had for building a vast, long-term underground nuclear waste depository somewhere on the West Coast of Cumberland. It is an area of low population jutting out into the Irish Sea where the UK nuclear industry had already carved out for itself a big niche with its nuclear power stations, nuclear weapons making facilities, above ground high and low level radioactive waste containment, nuclear reprocessing, decontamination and a million other things too numerous to mention. Indeed the Council often proudly referred to it as being ‘The Energy Coast.’

Along the way the industry laid claims to be the site of the world’s first ever nuclear power station at Calder Hall, opened in 1956 and shutdown in 2003, and also site of Britain’s worst ever nuclear accident in 1957 at Windscale. Today these two sites are included in a larger facility known as Sellafield. Amongst other things it also includes a ‘vitrification plant’ where high level nuclear waste is turned into huge glass logs in a process not dissimilar to the two being built close to each other on the banks of the Columbia River as it flows through the old Indian reservation at Hanford in America’s Washington State (c.f. my novel SHADOW ON THE SUN, https://www.amazon.com/author/rjuliancox).

At the end of the day the Government could just go right ahead and do what it wants if ‘push’ has to come to ‘shove’. But as we speak the modus operandii is one of ‘co operation’ with the local inhabitants.

The reason why the 100,000 year question opening this blog is because this is the timescale the worthy men and women of Cumbria have had to consider when pondering their ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ votes concerning the planned underground depository. It is no small undertaking either. Although it will be 1,000 feet underground its interconnected labyrinth of tunnels will cover an area larger than the municipal seat of Carlisle (pop 110,000), is currently estimated to cost £10 billion and will employ up to 1000 people.

Cumbria is an area of outstanding natural beauty situated in the North West of Britain 200 miles from London, and hosts the picturesque ‘Lake District’ much treasured by the poet Wordsworth and today’s Art’s polymath Lord Bragg.

Cumbria Council leader Ed Martin underlined this in giving the Council’s decision: ‘Cumbria has a unique and world-renowned landscape that needs to be cherished and protected. While Sellafield and the Lake District have co-existed side by side successfully for decades, we fear that if the area becomes known in the national conscience as the place where nuclear waste is stored underground, the Lake District’s reputation may not be so resilient.’

Now as why Mr Martin should cite these concerns seems to some to be a little belated. For the nuclear industry already has an outsize boot print in his parish and which stretches back to the late nineteen forties when Britain decided to build it own nuclear weapons making facilities and chose the Cumbrian coast as the place to do it.

Mr Martin also commented that the industry could always maintain the burgeoning above ground nuclear storage site it currently has. This is true but hardly a safe alternative, at least not in the long term. He then cited the geological concerns that have been underlined by the authoritative UK Geological Survey. It is true too insofar that nowhere is ever tectonically stable. But this is usually over millions of years. Britain does have its earth tremors One could be tomorrow. Or in a million years.

But even for the 100,000 years we are talking about here the prospect is daunting. How can one ever be sure it will be ‘safe’ over such a long duration of unimaginable time? The Americans felt the same with their Yucca Flats depository in Nevada and now have to rely on their alternative site at Calsbad, New Mexico.

But maybe these last two examples show the true reality of the way things are when you ever associate yourself with things nuclear: later escape from its maw is difficult.

In the last blog I talked about the later problems of Colorado where even now the nuclear lobby wants to further desecrate the lives of people and the environment they live in. Look at Washington State too and the environmental legacy of Hanford. Or at Nevada where over 1000 nuclear weapons were ‘tested’ and who were then asked to play host to a the Yucca Mountain depository where they did say ‘no’ eventually.

Overall though, as Gaia Theory proponent James Lovelock has already conceded, when the lights start to go out there is only one energy source left and its name is ‘nuclear’ however much we dislike it. But we need to know that it is an option that leaves a terrible legacy and where it will be our children’s, children’s children ad infinitum that picks up the final bill.

ENDS

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