When Will They Ever Learn - The Lesson from Sir John Cockcroft
By Arnie Gundersen
My week in the UK was exciting and full of surprises. I spoke to hundreds of people in London and Cumbria who are committed to a new energy future for Europe. They know that the dated model of big business centralized electricity production is ending, and they see a clean, disaster free viable alternative in locally distributed generation. Still, it seems that the established British utilities are so fixated on nuclear power that they just offered to charge their customers twice the current market price for electricity for the next 35-years, so that a French nuclear company could build a fancy and untried new nuclear design at Hinkley Point. The United Kingdom is anything but united when it comes to how it will produce electricity in the 21st century!
Britain has experienced the dangers of nuclear power first hand as the site of the world’s first major nuclear disaster at Windscale, receiving huge amounts of contamination from Chernobyl fallout in Wales, and contaminating the Irish Sea with Plutonium at its waste reprocessing plant at Sellafield. With that background, I understand why the citizens of the UK embrace a nuclear free future. When I spoke at the House of Commons, it was clear that only a minority of the MP’s (like US Representatives) could envision an energy future different than the past. Similar to the US, the financially influential electric power monopolies have convinced a majority of the MPs that there is no alternative to nuclear power. Thankfully, many people in the UK disagree and see a nuclear free future!
Surprisingly, it was in Cumbria that I saw the most poignant reminder of how dangerous nuclear power is. There in the fog and rain stood “Cockcroft’s Folly”, a ventilation stack on the old Windscale reactor. Filters on that stack, thankfully, captured most of the radiation released during the 1957 Windscale catastrophe.
When Windscale was under construction, Sir John Cockcroft, a great engineer and Nobel Prize winner, insisted that filters be added to the ventilation stack. The British nuclear establishment laughed at him, but he was unyielding and persisted in his cause until the filters were added to Windscale. Naysayers nicknamed the filters “Cockcroft’s Folly”, and no one believed they were necessary. Then came the Windscale nuclear core fire and those “unnecessary” filters saved thousands of lives. Too contaminated even now to be removed, “Cockcroft’s Folly” stands in the middle of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant, part of a more than $60 Billion cleanup planned for the neighboring stretch of coastline along the contaminated the Irish Sea.
Three new AP1000 reactors are proposed to be built in Cumbria within sight of “Cockcroft’s Folly”. Since 2010, I have repeatedly said that the AP1000 design suffers the same design flaw as the old Windscale reactor. Like Sir John, I believe that filters must be added to the top of the AP1000 shield building to prevent huge amounts of radiation from being released during a meltdown. I call this problem “the chimney effect” and wrote a paper about it entitled “Nuclear Containment Failures- Ramifications for the AP1000 Containment Design”. The Independent, a major newspaper in the UK, courageously wrote about my concerns with the headline: Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen warns of 'Chernobyl on steroids' risk in UK from proposed Cumbria plant .
Fairewinds received hundreds of tweets praising that story, and as can be expected, some of the 20th century paradigm pro-nukes pushed back, attacking my credibility. Sir John Cockcroft must be spinning in his grave, wondering “When will they ever learn?”
Related Video and Links:
Arnie’s Photo Journal – U.K. and Back!
Arrival at Heathrow Airport
Burlington, VT -> London, England
American ads – feels like home
The streets of London = Double Decker Buses and Telephone Booths
How-To Fight Jet Lag:
Sticky Toffee Pudding and a Pint
Some light reading before bed…
Hopped on the ‘Tube’ to make my way to the House of Commons for my presentation.
Inside the House of Commons
Excited for my presentation- the Ongoing Meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi, 4-Years Later
Train to Cumbria
Not as high-speed as Japan, but sure has the United States beat
Castle Ruins at Penrith Train Station
Cumbria Host Marianne Birkby of Radiation Free Lakeland drove me around on the right side of the road – the left! Beautiful countryside with hopeful traces of renewable energy.
Keswick School refused to allow our public meeting which, “in the governor’s view, would disturb the ‘principles of community cohesion “
After a change of location to the Skiddaw Hotel, we got our meeting and the community turn out proved cohesive on our side.
Remembering the victims of Fukushima Daiichi’s triple meltdown at an ancient church, complete with Pagan ruins… and being questioned by local police.
Let’s call this police encounter #1
It’s ok, we made it inside.
No, that tree is not being lazy or toppling over. The winds from the Irish Sea blow so hard that the landscape adopts this laid-back posture.
It seems to me that Cumbria is ideal for alternative energy – wind turbines.
This picture was taken from the church, in the distance you can see Sellafield the nuclear waste reprocessing site. The land in between is the land proposed for the AP1000 nuclear reactors.
“X” Marks the Spot
The Road to Sellafield
Welcome to Sellafield…
…or maybe not.
There is a bike path that edges the Sellafield property, we were taking a misty stroll when approached by these armed “bobbies”.
Let’s call this police encounter #2
I didn’t let the police stop my walk, and I certainly wasn’t going to let the mud stop it either.
Police + Nuclear Waste + Mud = a Pint
Make that 2 Pints!
The Pigeon House
This house was owned by 2 ladies who loved feeding the local pigeons. The neighboring B&B did not love this bird feeding frenzy and the subsequent pigeon poop that accompanied it, so they complained to local authorities. When not hanging out on the lawn between the ladies’ pink house and the B&B, these pigeons would frequent the local nuclear waste reprocessing site at Sellafield. Scientists conducted tests on these notorious’ birds fecal traces and found their poop to be highly radioactive!
Martin and his Barn
My trip was blessed with the best hospitality
Real-Deal Shepherd’s Pie and Broccoli *my favorite!
Martin and his wife Janine provide a cozy, post-pie place for repose.
Back to London
Back to Big Ben
Back to the books
Then home again.
London, England -> Burlington, VT