Marianne Birkby is one of the volunteers from Radiation Free Lakeland. We talked to her on the morning of their demonstration at St Bees Beach on Saturday the 27th April 2013. Marianne and three volunteers had traveled up on the train from Arnside to raise awareness of Radioactive Particles being found on Cumbrian Beaches. You can read Mariannes blog here
MB: It's the twenty seventh anniversary of Chernobyl. To mark that anniversary we have come to St Bees. We have chosen St Bees because there was radioactive particles found last year on this bit of coastline and it seems to be going up every year, the amount that's being found. It started off there was a few particles found first of all. I don't think it was at Seascale either, it was somewhere else they found them. Then it was the Environment Agency told Sellafield to do the monitoring of the coastline and have chosen a few select beaches, and all of those beaches have been found to contain (radioactive) particles.
They've got this Argo Cat that goes up and down the beach. I think its over a thousand radioactive particles that's been found over the last year. We are not just talking about naturally occurring radioactive elements, we're talking about stuff that's coming from reprocessing elements like plutonium, cesium and americium.
ET: Things that you normally wouldn't expect to find in the Sea?
MB: Things that shouldn't be in the Sea. There is an international Convention called the OSPAR Convention our government signed up to. This convention says that radioactive waste should not be dumped at Sea. I think it's because they don't class it as radioactive waste, they class it as something else and so that means that those emissions are continually being pumped out to sea from the reprocessing operations at Sellafield.
The thing is with reprocessing it is just a way of separating the plutonium and other elements out of the spent fuel, supposedly so that the fuel that's made, the Moxx Fuel, that's burnt in these high burn reactors. Nobody wants the Moxx fuel though because its so dangerous. The Japanese has to be bribed to actually take it. They were bribed so they were the only customer and yet still Sellafield is reprocessing and is on a crash program now of reprocessing which is why there are more and more radioactive particles being found on the beaches.
The particles come in, this Argo Cat goes out with the specialist equipment and picks up the particles, the next day there's more particles on the beach. So it's a case of them coming in with every tide and unless they stop reprocessing at Sellafield that's going to continue to accumulate and it's really dangerous to your health. You can inhale these particles and on the skin it can cause ulcerations.
The health protection agency is actually giving out advice to a beach in Scotland where there's been RADIUM found which is from luminous diodes from the 1950's. Radium you can't actually measure as a health effect with people, it can't be measured. But the stuff we are talking about on our beaches in Cumbria can be measured. It's measurable as an impact on human health. The health protection agency in Scotland has actually advised people not to take things off the beach and warned people about the radioactive particles. Not to spend too much time on the beach, not to dig on the beach... Whereas in Cumbria we have people like the Wildlife trust encouraging people to come to St Bees and do sand sculptures. And yet nothing is being said! It's almost like a conspiracy of silence.
ET: So say nothing?
What would you like to see happen?
MB: For reprocessing to be stopped immediately, and for Sellafield and our Government to put all its effort and expertise into looking after the waste safely on site. When people see that Sellafield is being decommissioned they think that sounds fantastic, Sellafield is being decommissioned, what that means is all the waste is going out. It's being decommissioned into the Environment, so it's all going out everywhere else. It's absolute madness. It's like one big experiment we are all taking part in.
ET: So then it's a global phenomenon not just local.
MB: Yes. There's stuff from Sellafield's reprocessing been found in India and the Norweigans are up in arms about it because obviously they are a nation that relies on its fishing!
ET: So really its going through our food chain as food we are all putting on our tables, eating and purchasing!
MB: I mean the Sea would never be given the chance to recover if this continues and the worst case scenario is that it becomes a tipping point, when there is no chance of recovery at all.
ET: What can people do?
MB: Well, people can object to their local Mp's. They can say that this reprocessing program at Sellafield should be stopped, and no way should there be any more new Moxx plants built at Sellafield. There shouldn't be any new builds.
They should just say this is an experiment that has failed. The whole thing should be kept onsite you know. Thats what's happening at Chernobyl, they are having to rebuild the sarcophagus just to make it safer! Thats what we should do at Sellafield. We should build a huge sarcophagus around it and actually contain the whole lot onsite. then put all the effort and expertise into looking after it and making sure that everything is contained as safely as possible, rather than just producing more and more of the stuff.
We just traveled up the railway from Arnside and that's the route that radioactive waste takes up all along the coast to Sellafield. Passing Schools, houses, hospitals, and more is arriving. It can't contain the waste it's already got! And part of this reprocessing actually disperses waste into the environment. Reprocessing reduces the volume but it mwans that what you're left with is concentrated, being reduced in volume by pushing it out to Sea.
ET: What do you think about the decision to take responsibility of waste from other places, and what do you think the motives are behind that?
MB: Well the whole reason we have the world's waste here in the first place is because we said that they would be having the waste back again once it had been reprocessed. All these countries would have theirs back. But obviously no one wants the waste. I suspect it in the billions to have the waste here from other countries but however many billions it is not worth sacrificiing the health of future generations. Not just in Cumbria but in Ireland and Norway, the Isle of Man. Its a huge area that's being affected. There's lots of people have stopped and talked to us today and have said they are completely in favour of what we are doing. We have found that everywhere along the coast. There's people obviously who work at Sellafield that maybe talk about the jobs issue but its a complete red herring because the jobs are going to be there to look after it.