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Aerial view of the Sellafield facility
Aerial view of the Sellafield facility
Sellafield (England)
Coordinates 54 ° 25 '7 "  N , 3 ° 29' 51"  W Coordinates: 54 ° 25 '7 "  N , 3 ° 29' 51"  W.
Country: United Kingdom
Owner: United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority
Operator: United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority
Project start: 1958
Commercial operation: March 1, 1963
Shutdown: April 3, 1981

Decommissioned reactors (gross):

1 (41 MW)
Energy fed in since commissioning: 3,258 GWh
Was standing: August 1, 2007
The data source of the respective entries can be found in the documentation .

Sellafield (formerly Windscale ) is a British nuclear complex on the Irish Sea in Cumbria in north-west England . The River Ehen flows into the sea at the edge of the facility and the River Calder flows through the area of ​​the facility before it also flows into the sea there. The facility is located in the village of Seascale in the Allerdale district . The complex became famous for a catastrophic fire in 1957 and frequent nuclear accidents and was renamed Sellafield , among other things . The Calder Hall nuclear power plant is also located on the site of the complex and was the first western nuclear power plant to feed electricity into a commercial network.


The first system was built after the Second World War on the site of a munitions factory. Great Britain wanted to catch up technologically and militarily with the US nuclear weapon development (see Manhattan Project ). In the hasty efforts to build a British bomb , little environmental or health care was taken, and radioactive waste was dumped into the Irish Sea from the start . The USA and the Soviet Union dumped part of their nuclear waste in a similar way .

The air-cooled, graphite- moderated Windscale reactors , also known as Pile 1 and Pile 2, were the first British production facility for the production of weapons- grade plutonium- 239. It was built for the British nuclear weapons program in the late 1940s and 1950s. Between the two reactors (Pile 1 and 2) was the cooling pond for spent fuel and a first senior military reprocessing plant . In 1957 there was a fire in the reactor core in one of the reactors, which was classified as INES 5 ("serious accident").

In September 2004 the EU Commission sued the United Kingdom before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) (Case C-155/0) for violating the Euratom Treaty. According to this contract, controls by the European Community are required for reprocessing plants. The accounting for the radioactive materials is checked and compared with the results obtained during the on-site inspections. According to the EU Commission, controls in the plant are not possible in Sellafield due to the high level of radioactivity caused by the accident and poor visibility. The EU Commission won the trial and the verdict was announced on July 18, 2007.

In 2007 a robot was developed that is supposed to dismantle the reactor piece by piece .

The dismantling of the reprocessing plant is expected to take by 2120 and cost around £ 121 billion .

Nuclear facilities

There are numerous nuclear facilities on the site . The most important are:

The Sellafield nuclear power plant has one power plant block :

Reactor block Reactor type net
start of building Network
Commercial operation Shutdown
WINDSCALE AGR EGR 24 MW 36 MW November 1, 1958 1st February 1963 March 1, 1963 April 3, 1981


  • On October 10, 1957, there was a fire in the Windscale reactor, which was only used to produce plutonium for the construction of atomic bombs , the Windscale fire . It was one of the most serious nuclear accidents before the Chernobyl disaster . After several unsuccessful attempts, the fire was extinguished by water on October 11th. There was a significant release of radioactive substances ( INES 5 ). After the fire, the British government issued a temporary ban on the consumption of milk in the area, and for a long time did not mention the seriousness of the incident. After the accident, the reactor was shut down.
  • In April 2005 a leak was discovered in Sellafield, through which about 83,000 liters of radioactive liquid, consisting of nitric acid , uranium and plutonium , could escape unnoticed for months. However, the liquid was collected in the system. According to the operator, parts of the system are heavily contaminated ; the risk of environmental contamination never existed. This is the worst incident at a nuclear facility in Great Britain since 1992. It has been classified as a serious incident ( INES 3) by the International Atomic Energy Agency . The public was only informed weeks later, the first press reports appeared on May 9, 2005. Later the " Independent on Sunday " reported that the pipe had been leaking since August 2004, but that this was only discovered on April 19, 2005. For the incident, the British nuclear company BNG ( British Nuclear Group ), which is responsible for the decommissioning of the Sellafield reactors, was sentenced on October 16, 2006 for negligence to pay 500,000 pounds (around 750,000 euros). The cost of this event is estimated at $ 76 million.
  • Due to the increased radiation level, employees of the nuclear power plant were asked to stay at home in 2014. The plant continues to run normally, said the operator. The increased dose rate is higher than that which occurs naturally, but is far below that at which emergency measures would have to be initiated. Tests had shown that all systems were working correctly and normally. The UK Department of Energy said there was no reason to doubt this information from the operator.


View from the railway line
The former Sellafield Visitor Center

The reprocessing plants in particular are controversial because of their discharge of radioactive substances into the Irish Sea . The contamination of the immediate vicinity of Sellafield is compared in some sources with the restricted zone around Chernobyl, which is also reflected in state protests from Ireland and Norway, among others. The fish research institute Johann-Heinrich-von-Thünen-Institut (vTI) referred to the high discharges from the British reprocessing plant for the years 1965 to 1985 of up to 5000 TBq, i.e. 5000 trillion Becquerel per year dumped into the sea. In the past 15 years, a significant reduction in discharges has been implemented under pressure from the authorities. Among other things, the introduction of the isotope technetium -99 could be almost completely ended by a new separation process . The 2013 documentary "Nuclear Waste: Seabed Final Storage" shows that daily plutonium washed up or cleared on the beach at Sellafield is mechanically collected, names increased cancer rates in and around Sellafield, which the British government has kept silent about, and reports the lack of one Cancer registry . The operation of Sellafield is also controversial because the plant is used for processing spent fuel elements from abroad. In May 2011, five young men were arrested near the facilities on suspicion of terrorism.

Part of the nuclear facilities, including the reprocessing facilities, is owned by Sellafield Ltd. (SLC), the rest operated by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA). The UK House of Commons' House of Auditors has estimated the cost of decommissioning the facility by 2020 to be £ 67.5 billion (€ 78 billion).

Beginning of November 2014 it was announced that in uncovered for 40 years, spent fuel cooling ponds are stored in the open. Since there are birds in these basins and these can be contaminated, birds are shot down and stored above the site. In 2007 Great Britain was found guilty by the European Court of Justice because EU inspectors could not carry out checks because the contents of the tanks could not be seen because of the algae. The company spokesman said of the ailing cooling pools: “They don't meet modern standards. But that doesn't make them dangerous, it just means that the rubbish inside has to be fetched back, repacked and taken to more modern facilities on the site. "


  • Raphael Oen: Dispute settlement between EC member states in the context of mixed contracts. The MOX Plant case and its consequences . In: AVR , Vol. 45 (2007), pp. 136-147.
  • Brian Wynne: Rationality and Ritual: The Windscale Inquiry and Nuclear Decisions in Britain . British Society for the History of Science, Chalfont St. Giles, Bucks., 1982, ISBN 0906450020 .


  • Nick Gray: Windscale: The Nuclear Laundry . Yorkshire Television, 1983.

See also

Web links

Commons : Sellafield  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Judgment of the Court (Eighth Chamber)
  2. ^ Sellafield nuclear decommissioning work 'significantly' delayed and nearly £ 1bn over budget, report reveals . In: The Independent , October 30, 2018. Retrieved October 31, 2018.
  3. Power Reactor Information System of the IAEA : "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: Nuclear Power Reactors" (English)
  4. This reactor is listed by the IAEA as both a commercial reactor and a research reactor.
  5. Costs of failed nuclear power plant projects: Billions in investments without earnings. Retrieved September 6, 2018 .
  6. Increased radioactivity in Sellafield., archived from the original on February 1, 2014 ; accessed on January 31, 2014 .
  7. Complete blocking is discussed on
  8. ^ Documentary film "Atomic Waste: Seabed Final Storage" , first broadcast on April 23, 2013 on ARTE
  9. Sellafield terror suspects arrested at the nuclear power plant ; May 3, 2011.
  10. ^ Expensive tidying up in Sellafield . In: . The New Zurich Times. February 4, 2013. Archived from the original on February 4, 2013. Retrieved on February 4, 2013.
  11. ^ Nuclear Decommissioning Authority: Managing risk at Sellafield ( English , pdf) In: . House of Commons - Committee of Public Accounts. P. 7, February 4, 2013. Archived from the original on February 4, 2013. Retrieved on February 4, 2013.
  12. ^ Ailing nuclear facility in Sellafield. In: taz . November 11, 2014, accessed November 11, 2014 .
  13. The Ecologist places Sellafield leaked fuel pond photos in public domain. In: The Ecologist . November 11, 2014, accessed November 11, 2014 .