BNFL Editorial

Press copywriter

ITEM: National Press Advertising

CLIENT: BNFL - British Nuclear Fuels plc

OVERVIEW: National press 'advertorial' awareness campaign to reassure public about safety of measures used to deal with nuclear waste


These days, it seems British Nuclear Fuels' Sellafield reprocessing plant is hardly ever out of the news.

People are expressing particular concern about the handling of radioactive waste, and are understandably alarmed at the environmental lobby's allegations of excessive radiation levels in the surrounding areas.

It's high time that the facts about Sellafield came to the surface, and some popular and important questions were answered.

'All that radioactive waste. Where on earth are they going to put it?'

In truth, the actual volume of waste generated by the nuclear power industry is relatively small. 96% of spent fuel is recycled, and the remaining waste contributes about 1.1% of the total toxic waste produced by British industry.

Of this figure, just 0.1% can be termed highly active waste, or waste which will remain radioactive for thousands of years. In 30 years of nuclear power operation, the entire amount produced could fit into two semi-detached houses.

This will be converted into glass blocks for storage at Sellafield or transportation. A very expensive method yet one which experience in France has proved to be safe and reliable.

In a similar way, the 11% intermediate level waste, which is far less radioactive and will become relatively harmless in 200 to 300 years will be encapsulated in concrete for safe storage at Sellafield.

Concrete is a material which provides complete resistance to radiation and, as glass does for high level waste, enables intermediate waste to be stored and at a future date placed in a permanent repository underground or under the sea.

Low level waste, nearly 90% of the total waste produced, consists mainly of protective clothing and laboratory refuse, and emits comparatively little radiation - it can be handled quite safely just by wearing gloves.

This is now put in steel containers for disposal in concrete lined vaults at Drigg, Cumbria, again the most expensive yet safest method available.

A look at the rare species of wildlife which inhabit this site is proof of that.

'Yes, but any radiation must be dangerous. It's just not natural, is it?'

On the contrary. Some four fifths of the radiation we receive is from natural sources such as rock and soil and naturally occurring gases. Man-made contributors include hospital X-rays (11.5%) and air travel (0.5%).

The total of radiation in the atmosphere attributable to waste discharges from the nuclear industry is 0.1% - one thousandth.

In fact, you would get more radiation from a 3 hour flight on Concorde than the nuclear industry can give you in a year.

'What about Sellafield and cancer? There must be some truth in the rumours you hear.'

This issue has probably caused more apprehension than anything else.

The total emissions from Sellafield, both into the atmosphere and the Irish Sea, amount to roughly 200 Curies a year. The safety level set by one of the nuclear industry's many watchdogs, the international Commission on Radiological Protection, is 6,000 Curies.

Even at the maximum level, it's been estimated that you would have less risk of contracting a terminal cancer than you have from smoking a single cigarette a year.

Radiation levels in the area surrounding the Sellafield plant, and people most exposed to radioactivity at Sellafield, are constantly monitored. There has never been any evidence of a link between the plant and cancer in over 30 years of operation.

'Looks to me like they want to turn Britain into a nuclear dustbin.'

Not true. No nuclear waste is imported into Britain, nor will it be.

Spent fuel is taken to Sellafield for reprocessing, where 96% is converted into useable fuel again. Of the waste that is produced, all contracts with overseas organisations have an option for its return to the country of origin. £209 million has been invested in a plant which converts high level waste into a form so that it can be easily transported overseas.

Just part of a total £3.8 billion investment in spent fuel management technology which shows a commitment to the environment rarely found in industry.

'If BNFL had nothing to hide, they wouldn't be so secretive.'

Quite simply, they aren't. The lengths BNFL go to to let the public know about their operations are probably unique in industry.

Details of all accidents, no matter how minor, are published. The Government has recommended that information should be disclosed to any person requesting it, as long as national security is not affected. The Sellafield Visitors Centre is the fastest growing tourist attraction in the country, while the public can go on guided tours of every BNFL site in the North West. There is also a talks service available to community groups, schools and organisations.

For more straight answers about what's going on at Sellafield, and throughout BNFL, contact us on Seascale (0940) 28333 or come to the Sellafield Visitors Centre and see for yourself.