Terrorist targets on wheels

Posted by bex — 24 April 2006 at 8:00am - Comments
Nuclear waste train at Kensington Olympia station in London

Nuclear waste train at Kensington Olympia station in London

A terrorist attack on a train carrying waste nuclear materials across Britain could spread lethal radioactivity across an area of 100 sq kilometres, and result in the deaths of up to 8000 people.

Spent nuclear fuel is routinely transported by train from nine nuclear power stations around the country for reprocessing or storage at Sellafield in Cumbria. Typically these journeys take place once a week from each reactor - at the same time and on the same lines as regular passenger and freight trains.

There is no local authority emergency plan in place to deal with an emergency for an incident involving a nuclear waste train.

There are no police or security personnel on board the trains, just the driver and train guard. The flasks containing the nuclear waste are not designed to withstand a terrorist attack and the consequences of a radioactive release could be devastating in a built-up area - requiring the evacuation of large areas and thousands of people could be exposed to cancer-causing radiation. With nuclear power firmly back on the political agenda here, and in light of the heightened terrorist threat in the UK, we think you have a right to know this information.

People who live along the affected routes have a small window of opportunity right now to stop the possibility of spent fuel trains trundling past the end of their back gardens for the next 150 years by stopping Tony Blair from giving the green light to another generation of nuclear power plants.

The government isn't taking people's safety seriously so we feel that it's our duty to highlight this irresponsible and dangerous practice. It has been reported that terrorist groups already have their sights set on our nuclear installations and the technology and resources needed to mount a successful attack are well within the capabilities of determined terrorists:

  • the rail network along which the spent fuel flasks travel is virtually impossible to defend with absolute certainty;
  • nuclear trains carry no apparent extra security, and they travel regular, timetabled routes;
  • the transportation flasks could easily be punctured by an armoured piercing explosive round. This kind of attack, especially if followed by a fierce fire within the confines of a tunnel, would cause a very significant radioactive release to the environment;
  • numerous portable anti-tank weapons, capable of being handled by one or two individuals, are capable of breaching flask walls.

What to do with the waste?

The waste spent fuel is transported to Sellafield for 'reprocessing', an exercise that recovers the plutonium in the spent fuel for supposed re-use in nuclear reactors. In actual fact none of this plutonium, which is also weapons-usable, is re-used for electricity generation. So, we currently have a stockpile of 102 tonnes of plutonium and have absolutely no plans for what to do with it.

Reprocessing is a particularly pointless activity, which creates 160 times the volume of nuclear waste that you began with and results in massive discharges of radioactive substances into the sea and air. Reprocessing has made the Irish sea the most radioactively contaminated sea in the world.

First we need to stop making any more. Existing British nuclear power stations will leave a legacy of half a million tonnes of nuclear waste that the government has no idea how to dispose of safely. Tony Blair's plans to build 10 new nuclear power stations would increase the UK's spent fuel stockpile by an additional 400% - and obviously lead to many more transports around the country.

The waste spent fuel that we do have should not be transported around the country, but should be stored at the power stations where it's produced and kept in stores where it can be continually monitored.

A safe alternative already exists

Nuclear power is a dangerous and expensive distraction from the real solutions to climate change. The most effective and cheapest solution to secure our energy supply and reduce emissions is by investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy and stopping the massive waste we have today by switching to a decentralised energy system.

We need to generate power closer to where it is needed, allowing us to use both the heat and electricity locally. This is known as a decentralised energy system. The result is cleaner, cheaper, more efficient energy than nuclear power - better for the environment and for all of us.

Find out more

Download the report published by nuclear engineers John Large & Associates, which investigates the potential threat that a terrorist attack or serious accident might pose.


The map of the train routes in the ad has been compiled from information from various sources: trainspotters' manuals, maps that Greenpeace and other groups have previously published and from our own observations.


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