Sellafield, the dumping ground for nuclear waste located near Cumbria on the Irish sea is "virtually certain" to be washed away by rising sea levels, a new report warns. The UK Environment Agency has admitted that constructing the Drigg Low-Level Waste Repository so near the coast was a mistake, and that one million cubic metres of nuclear waste will begin leaking into the ocean "a few hundred to a few thousand years from now."
Sounds bad? Pay no attention then, to current plans to increase the site's capacity by another 800,000 cubic meters over the next century, adding new waste that will include "radioactive debris from Britain's nuclear power stations, nuclear submarines, nuclear weapons, hospitals and universities," the Guardian reports.
It's interesting to note that, while the site officially contains only low-level waste, there is suspicion that higher-level wastes with correspondingly higher levels of radioactivity could have been dumped there in the past. Recall the incredible tale of Sellafield nuclear power station—the site from which much of the waste now stored at Drigg originates—where records of previous dumping had been thrown away or lost. This led to the terrifying need to advertise in the local newspaper, saying: "We need your help." Why? Because they had no idea what was buried there.
"Did you work at Sellafield in the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s?" the ad asked with false calm. "Were you by chance in the job of disposing of radioactive material? If so, the owners of Britain's nuclear waste dump would very much like to hear from you: they want you to tell them what you dumped—and where you put it."
In any case, the coastal tomb at Drigg is all but guaranteed to break apart in the waves and wash its mysterious and harmful contents into the sea. "A few hundred to a few thousand years from now" sounds like a long time, of course, but think of that as potentially little more than the time between us and Shakespeare's birth (450 years), and the terrifying urgency of this becomes more clear. [Guardian]
Lead image: Sellafield nuclear power station, where much of the nuclear waste at Drigg originates; photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images