On October 10 1957, a fire was discovered in reactor one. Uranium fuel cells had ignited with the blaze reaching 1,300 C (2,380F) and workers battled to stop the whole facility exploding. It is estimated about 240 cases of thyroid cancer were caused by the radioactive leak and all milk produced within 310 square miles (800 square km) of the site was destroyed for a month after the fire. The level of radioactive material which did escape is estimated to be 1,000 times less than at Chernobyl. link

September 2016: Britain’s ongoing nuclear disaster. The UK’s ‘reprocessing’ of spent fuel into 140 tonnes of plutonium, enough to build 20,000 nuclear bombs, will leave £100s of billions of maintenance and cleanup costs to future generations. Perhaps the most eye-watering revelations in the BBC Panorama programme were that, although reprocessing was going to cease, the waste containment functions of Sellafield would continue for another 110 years at an estimated cost of up to £162 billion. link

March 2012: Britain’s worst-ever nuclear accident. It says something for how Britain’s nuclear establishment worked from the start that when Windscale No1 Pile caught fire in October 1957, it was hushed up so well that even with 11 tons of uranium ablaze for three days, the reactor close to collapse and radioactive material spreading across the Lake District, the people who worked there were expected to keep quiet and carry on making plutonium for the bomb. link  The history is now told in Sellafield Stories after six decades.
February 2013: The cost of cleaning up the Sellafield nuclear waste site has reached £67.5bn with no sign of when the cost will stop rising – link

Decommissioning. The BBC reported that it will take over 100 years before the toxic nuclear reprocessing site at Sellafield is safe. A spokesman for Sellafield Ltd said: “Sellafield isn’t a place that can just be closed down. It is about the removal of plant and equipment from the building, it is about decontaminating and knocking them down, that takes decades.  It has been estimated that it will cost £73 bn to decommission all nuclear civilian facilities in the UK. link

(January 2015) In the latest setback for the nuclear industry, the waste stored at Sellafield already costs the UK taxpayer £2 billion a year, and it is expected to be at least as much as this every year for half a century. There is still no safe resting place for radioactive rubbish created when nuclear fuel and machinery reaches the end of its life. link

May 2011: Sellafield’s Mox problems aggravated by Japan’s disaster. Mox fuel is made by mixing plutonium dioxide retrieved from spent fuel rods with uranium oxide. The promise of lucrative Japanese contracts for Mox fuel was the primary reason the Sellafield Mox plant was finally licensed in 2001 after years of legal wrangling. However, since it was given its operating licence by the previous government, the Mox Plant has been beset by problems. Instead of producing 120 tonnes of fuel a year, it has managed just over 13 tonnes in eight years, at a total cost to the taxpayer of £1.34bn – and a further £800m in future running costs expected this decade. The fuel was intended to be shipped to Hamaoka in Japan which has been described as the world’s most dangerous nuclear power facility because it sits on two geological faults. This plant may probably be shut down. Meanwhile, the severe production problems at the Sellafield Mox Plant have meant that the first fuel shipments would not be delivered until at least the end of the decade, more than 10 years behind schedule. The Mox plant, which has been described as one of the biggest disasters in Britain’s industrial history. link

April 2007: Windscale to Sellafield – a history of controversy. Over its half-century of nuclear work, the Sellafield complex, by the village of Seascale on the west Cumbria coast, has attracted the ire of everyone from environmentalists to governments of every political hue in Ireland and Scandinavia. Sellafield’s long lifespan has been due to two factors: firstly, the economic importance of the thousands of jobs it generates, and secondly the sheer complexity and expense of decommissioning the nuclear waste-ridden facility. A former second world war munitions factory, it became Britain’s first nuclear complex in the late 1940s, and its Calder Hall reactors began generating electricity in 1956. link   [Sellafield is regarded as the most dangerous and polluted industrial site in Western Europe, not least because it houses 120 tonnes of plutonium, the largest civilian stockpile in the world. link]

May 2009: Thorp nuclear reprocessing plant to close. Sellafield Ltd, the company that runs Thorp, admitted that it may have to close for several years owing to a series of technical problems. The huge £1.8bn plant imports spent nuclear fuel from around the world and returns it to countries as new reactor fuel. But a series of catastrophic technical failures with associated equipment means Thorp could be mothballed at a cost of millions of pounds. link  [Sellafield to close in 2018 – link]