| Press release |
Capenhurst – the Facts
A pamphlet that takes a critical look at URENCO’s Capenhurst uranium enrichment plant in Cheshire has been published by the Close Capenhurst Campaign.
Capenhurst – the Facts is the first publication of its kind. The report includes a description of URENCO’s activities, transport of material, accidents that have occurred, the tailings plant that will store depleted uranium hexafluoride for years to come, and storage of submarine reactors.
Although the Capenhurst uranium enrichment plant plays a key part in the nuclear cycle, its functions – and indeed its existence – have been largely unknown to the general public.
The 20-page pamphlet is available for £2 from
It can also be read online.
“Without a doubt, there are very real concerns about the lack of transparency surrounding Capenhurst’s activities – the adequacy of nuclear safeguards at Capenhurst, environmental and public health risks associated with Capenhurst’s routine operations, as well as incidents and accidents associated with Capenhurst’s management of uranium hexafluoride.”
Dr Paul Dorfman The Energy Institute University College London
“The uranium hexafluoride (UF6) containers in your photos are of the type 48Y which is designated as a Type B cask that is required to sustain immersion in a fire of 800°C for 30 minutes – this test condition is not that particularly onerous, neither in temperature nor duration of the immersing fire.”
John Large (in an email to Radiation Free Lakeland) John Large was the Leading independent analyst of safety and security in the nuclear industry up until the time of his death, aged 75, from a heart attack in 2018
Capenhurst, The Facts is “quite wonderful, congratulations” Helen Caldicott Founding President of Physicians for Social Responsibility – The umbrella organisation International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985
The Author Lowana Veal T: 00354 5577045, 00354 6991522.
Close Capenhurst T 0151 7060575. M. 07951965499
Publisher – Wildart Books. 015395 63671
This is a special issue of Countering Capenhurst.
Finding out just what goes on at Capenhurst is very difficult to do, and the same applies to all of the URENCO plants.
What follows is just a summary of what we have managed to find out about the plant of late, and something about which countries URENCO has been trading with.
A question of Hex
We continue to keep asking about just what is going on at Capenhurst, with questions such as:-
Yet there is an aspect of this which very few people have ever heard about.
There is a clue to it within the following Review by HM Nuclear Installations Inspectorate.
‘UCL has an ongoing contract, up for renewal in 2007, with Technabexport of Russia, which takes ex UCL tails cylinders and re-enriches the material to low enrichment product and/or pseudo natural. The product is sold on and the pseudo natural is re-fed or sold on. The operation of this contract is maintaining a steady state of net tails stocks on Capenhurst site.’
That’s something which URENCO has kept very quiet about.
We recently came upon a German BREMISCHE BÜRGERSCHAFT report which listed the movement of uranium through the port of Bremin.
This included uranium being sent from Urenco to Russia.
Two of the latest of these reports are
The importance of these reports is that they give some clues as to just which companies and countries URENCO is traiding with.
Europe’s radioactive secret
Then we came upon the following report which was published in 2005, and which has not been followed up on.
How EDF and European nuclear utilities are dumping nuclear waste in the Russian Federation
‘ This report summarises the secretive attempts of the European nuclear industry to ‘solve’ one of their largest waste problems, by exporting and dumping tens of thousands of tonnes of uranium wastes in Siberia, in the Russian Federation.’
This last document is very worrying indeed.
The information contained in this document are very technical in nature.
So rather than give an analysis of what is in this document we will just give the following summary from this report.
‘ Since 1996, depleted uranium tails from West European enrichers Urenco and Eurodif are being sent to Russia for re-enrichment. In Russia, the imported tails are, instead of natural uranium, fed into surplus enrichment cascades. The product obtained from re-enrichment is mostly natural-equivalent uranium plus some reactor-grade low-enriched uranium.
These products are sent back to Urenco and Eurodif, while the secondary tails generated remain in Russia,where they are re-enriched further to obtain morenatural-equivalent uranium and/or slightly enriched uranium. The latter is then used as blendstock for the downblending of surplus highly-enriched weapons-grade uranium into reactor-grade low-enriched uranium. The ultimate tails left, still comprising at least two thirds of the amount imported, remain in Russia with unknown fate.’
‘Details on the re-enrichment business, though it is currently taking place at large scale, are hardly obtainable. In Russia, all related information is confidential; and, the West-European enrichment companies involved, Urenco and Eurodif, are not very communicative, to put it politely. In its recent annual reports, Urenco not even discloses its annual production figure, nor the capacity break down for its facilities, not to speak about other data of interest, such as amount and assays of tails produced.’
We will continue to keep searching for more information on these contacts.
How Much Hex ?
Uranium Hexafluoride is highly toxic, radioactive, corrosive to most metals, and reacts violently with water.
The best answer we have received is ‘ A vast Quantity’,which is also the only way we have been able to describe it.
We just don’t know.
Although one recent article stated that it is some 60,000 tonnes.
This is exactly what we want to know.
1. How many containers of Depleted Uranium Hexafluoride are stored at the Capenhurst site ?
2. What is the total mass of Depleted Uranium Hexafluoride which each of the containers at Capenhurst can hold ?
3. What is the total mass of Depleted Uranium Hexafluoride which is stored at the Capenhurst site ?
4. How much of the Depleted Uranium Hexafluoride will the new tailing plant at Capenhurst be able to process each hour ?
We recently submitted these questions to the Office of Nuclear Regulation as a Freedom of Information request.
This is the response which we received from them: –
‘We receive updates (a month in arrears from relevant UK dutyholders) on the amounts of material held on sites that are under our Nuclear Safeguards regime. Whilst we hold some of the data you require, we unfortunately do not receive it in the format that you have requested – it would take a significant amount of time to interrogate the data, to extract the specific volume of Depleted Uranium Hexafluoride and provide the information in the requested format, approximately 60 man hours at a cost of £900 over and above the £600 or 3 days’ effort that you are assigned under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
We cannot release the data set in its entirety as it contains Sensitive Nuclear Information, which would need to be redacted/extracted under section 24 of FOIA, National Security.’
In other words
They would only be willing to let us have the answer, if we were willing to give them £900.
This ‘fee’ will then be used to redact much of the information from any reply which we might receive.
– 1. That what we asked for relates to a matter of very great public concern, and should be freely available to us all.
– 2. That we Do Not intend to pay out any money in order to maintain the secrecy which is an integral part of how the Nukiller Industry operates.
– 3. That we will continue to keep asking the same questions until we get the information which we require.
Recent reports about the expansion of URENCO and Capenhurst give some indication of just what they intend to do at the plant in the years to come.
Here is just one of these reports: –
The two interesting points being:-
The group invested €280.6 million ($309.5 million) in the first half of 2015 in the new enrichment facility in the USA and at its tails management facility in the UK.
That URENCO said in March that it had pushed back the expected start date of the Capenhurst Tails Management Facility (TMF) deconversion plant to 2017.
The recent Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) report makes for some interesting reading too.
In particular see page 7 under Local Liaison Committee meeting which would seem to confirm the view that all the MOD defuelled reactor pressure vessels will land up at Capenhurst.
On page 8 section 3 which covers Hex tailing leaks.
The other alarming alarming ONR report includes information about the the Capenhurst Tails Management Facility, which is now scheduled to start running in 2020. This plant will process the depleted uranium from the URENCO plants in both Germany & the Netherlands.
Thus there will be a lot more Uranium Hex being transported by sea & road.
What is really interesting is how the ONR classifies Capenhurst as a the following: –
Type of site: Operational, chemical plant and other facilities.
Waste from the Capenhurst plant
One of the most pointed question about Capenhurst is to be found upon the Radiation Free Lakeland blog.
So just where does the low level radioactive waste from uranium enrichment at Capenhurst and nuclear fuel manufacture at Springfields go?
The contract is to transfer all of the depleted Uranium which is currently stored at the Capenhurst plant in to new storage vessels.
This work will commence in 2020.
Until then the current depleted uranium, and any more which is produced, will continue to be stored in drums around the plant in the form of a Uranium Hexafluoride.
Not Just at capenhurst.
Cavendish Nuclear is a subsidiary of Babcock International, which is a major player in the nukiller power industry.
Babcock International is the world’s 26th largest arms-producing/military services company.
Yet again this illustrates the very close relationship which exists between the military and nukiller power industry.
There has been a lot of press speculation about the future of URENCO over the last six months.
Some of this speculation concerns the sale of the company, while much of it is far more worrying.
Here is a quick summary of it all.
Urenco has just published its financial report for 2014.
– Where exactly is Capenhurst?
It is 5½ miles north of Chester, 2½ miles from Ellesmere Port, and 10 miles south of Liverpool.
– Who owns the Plant?
It is part of URENCO which operates similar plants in both Germany and the Netherlands.
– What exactly goes on in the plant?
It is a Uranium Enrichment plants and thus a key element of the Nukiller Fuel Cycle.
– So can you explain exactly what you mean by the nukiller fuel cycle?
– Where is the Uranium mined?
The Uranium is mined in counties such as Australia, Canada and Namibia.
– How exactly does it get to Capenhurst?
It is shipped by sea to Ellesmere Port, and then taken by Road to Capenhurst.
– What Happens next?
It is enriched and converted in to uranium Hexafluoride.
– Where exactly is the enriched Uranium transported to?
Once enriched it goes by road to the Springfields plant at Preston where it is converted into fuels rods.
– By Road?
Yes by road. The company which transports this uranium Hexafluoride by road is
Advanced Uranium Asset Management Ltd. These loads are so dangerous that there is a prohibition on them being transported through the Mersey Road Tunnels.
– So what happens to the depleted Uranium?
There is very little which can be done with it and so it is currently stored in drums at the plant. It is this depleted Uranium which has been used in ammunition shells, and is the cause of Gulf War Syndrome.
– So isn’t anyone doing anything about that?
The Campaign Against Depleted Uranium is working on the issue. There are many health dangers which come from an exposure to Depleted Uranium, especially if it is stored as a uranium Hexafluoride.
– That sounds very dangerous.
Yes, very much so! Normal functioning of the kidney, brain, liver, heart, and numerous other systems can be affected by uranium exposure because, in addition to being weakly radioactive, uranium is a toxic metal.
– How does that effect children’s health?
Children have a greater vulnerability to radioactivity than adults.
At Capenhurst there is a primary school within 150 metres of the URENCO plant.
– Are these children being regularly monitored for exposure to radiation?
Not as far as we can tell.
– So what exactly are the greater dangers which are caused by use of enriched Uranium in nukiller reactors?
If something goes wrong with these plants they can cause a major nukiller disaster.
– Do you mean something similar to the continuing nukiller disasters Chernobyl and Fukushima?
Yes – Just so.
– But that’s so far away from here!
That’s not so.
The nearest atomic reactors to Capenhurst are at Wylfa in North Wales and at Heysham on the outskirts of Lancaster.While high level radioactive waste from Wylfa is transported in special flasks through the Chester railway station on a regular basis.
– So what exactly are these high level waste flasks?
These trains carry used, but extremely radioactive, fuel rods to Sellafield in
Cumbria for reprocessing.
– How long will it take to clean up this waste?
There is a backlog of radioactive waste at Sellafield which goes back to the 1950s. The present proposal is to build a high level waste depositary. This will contain plutonium which has a half-life of 24,000 years. We will have to safeguard this waste for thousands of years.
– That’s a long time. It’s much longer than most people can imagine!!
– So how much will this waste cost me as a tax payer?
We just don’t know. Within a very few years some 75% of the Department of Energy and Climate Change [DECC] budget will be used to look after this waste.
Given the huge scale of the waste our great great great great grandchildren will still be paying to safeguard this waste.
– Ok. I can see all the potential dangers, but doesn’t the Capenhurst plant produce urgently needed local job?
Not so! About 450 full-time employees work at URENCO. That’s a quarter of what it used to be. There’s a much higher number of jobs which can be created by a major programme of
energy conservation, and the use of safe power sources like solar or wind power
– So how many new jobs will be created by the use of these clean energy technologies and the use of good thermal insulation?
In the period 2012-2013 the global number of people employed by the solar industry increased by 14%. 103,000 people were working in the UK renewable energy sector in 2012/2013.
The UK wind, wave and tidal industries employ 18,465 people. At the present rate more than 70,000 jobs could be created in these industries over the next decade.
There would be many more such jobs if money was not being used to subsidise the nukiller industry.
– But wouldn’t that mean building big ugly wind turbines in the middle of
Not necessarily so. Ideally energy should be generated near to where it is being used. The ugly power lines which cross the countryside lose power in transmission over long distances, and so there should be less of them in use. Vertical Wind Turbines and solar panels are ideal for use in our city centres.
While home insulation and other energy conservation measures will cut the amount of power we need to produce.
– Ok, so you have now convinced me.
– So what can I do to close the Capenhurst plant?
Support the Close Capenhurst Campaign