COMMENT FROM A FORMER EMPLOYEE OF SHELL OIL USA
I read your article about the so-called ‘secret reactor’ that was possibly buried at a location that is now a residential home site. I doubt that is the case, but one cannot expect Shell to tell the truth about such matters
However, the ownership, operation and disposal of civilian reactors in the UK is a highly regulated business. Therefore, appropriate UK governmental agencies should have records of any nuclear reactor owned and/or operated by Shell, including who built it, the model type, date of commissioning, its location of operation, its size, the type of fuel, and its purpose (medical research, isotope production, etc.).
There should also be records of when it was decommissioned, and when, where and how it was disposed of. It is normal practice to bury old reactors after they have been ‘scrubbed down’. My guess is that the UK operates some sort of ‘old reactor graveyard’, where decommissioned reactors are buried, literally.
However, the spent fuel assemblies are NOT buried with a reactor. That must be dealt with separately. I do know that there is a spent fuel reprocessing facility in the UK and that any such fuel from a Shell reactor would probably have been sent to that facility for the removal of ‘fissionable’ elements, like uranium, plutonium, and neptunium. Most people don’t realize that neptunium 237, which is produced in a nuclear reactor, is fissionable, and that it can be used to fabricate nuclear weapons.
As it happens to be, it was not uncommon in the 1950’s and 1960’s for research reactors to be fueled with weapons grade uranium cores. In fact, and you will find this interesting, in the days of the Shah the US supplied Iran with research reactors that were fueled with weapons grade uranium, but that is another story. The UK government would have mandated that the spent fuel from such a reactor be reprocessed, of that I have no doubt.
Now, with regard to the supposedly contaminated homesite in your article. FYI – plutonium is NOT a naturally occurring element. It is ALL man-made and it is a fission product of a nuclear reactor. It comes from the bombardment of U 238 by neutrons and alpha particles. PU 239, 240, and 241 are all common isotopes made in a nuclear reactor’s core.
If there is indeed plutonium in the soil of this fellow home, as well as uranium, that is proof of the presence of material from the fuel core of a nuclear reactor. Furthermore, the plutonium indicates that the material came from the fuel core of a once operational nuclear reactor. A detailed soil analysis should also pick up other elements that are radiation decay by-products of the nuclear fission process in a reactor fuel core. Neptunium, cobalt, strontium, etc., should all be found on location, and they should be radioactive isotopes. The decay element profile of spent fuel is well known so determining whether traces of spent reactor fuel are indeed found in the soil will not be a problem.
In the US spent fuel cores from civilian reactors are normally stored in a concrete cooling pool. This is just a pool of water that dissipates heat from the spent core and provides a radiation shield. Spent reactor cores are still highly radioactive and they generate a great deal of heat from the continued decay of all the fission products (radioactive elements) produced in a fuel core.
The elements and isotopes found in spent reactor cores should not be found in uncontaminated soil. The presence of these elements in the soil indicates that there may have been an ‘accident’ and spent nuclear fuel material was ‘spilled’ at that location. This location would then be a bono-fide nuclear accident cite that would require cleanup.
What I find interesting is the lack of interest or involvement of the appropriate UK governmental authorities. It this were indeed such an accident site then the whole area should be under government control for cleanup purposes and the public prohibited from access.
Elements like plutonium are not only highly radioactive they are also highly toxic. Plutonium is one of the best ‘rat killers’ around because of it toxicity.
To allow homes to be built over such a disposal site would be absolutely criminal because these highly toxic and radioactive elements would contaminate the soil, lawns, gardens, etc., surrounding these home. People would ingest and breath in the radioactive dust. PLants also take up heavy elements quickly, particularly uranium. So, if people were eating the vegetables from a garden they would be ingesting these elements.
If the soil analysis from the location you mention are indeed correct and accurate, then it appears that someone (apparently Shell) did something that was probably very highly illegal, and perhaps criminal, at that particular location. They may very well have indeed buried a deactivated reactor without public disclosure, but I doubt that would be the case. Governmental records should solve that mystery.
It appears that however, that at the very least there may have been an ‘accident’ that involved spent radioactive fuel core material. If so, then it is also apparent that they (whom ever THEY are) did not ‘clean up’ this ‘accident’ site.
It is doubtful that a governmental agency would do such a thing, so the source is probably from a private corporation, i.e., Shell.
There is a story here. When, where and how was Shell’s reactor disposed of, and when, where and how was the spent fuel disposed of. This should be a matter of governmental record and therefore accessible by the public.
If this information is missing, or ‘sealed’, or otherwise unavailable to the public, then someone is hiding something. Shell was NOT involved in the nuclear defense industry, so withholding this information would NOT be a matter of national security.
The UK government should have records on every aspect of Shell’s ‘alleged’ nuclear reactor. I have seen where Shell acknowledged having a test facility that used cobalt 60 to study radiation effects on oils. That is interesting. That information may have been interest to both military and civilian reactor operators.
Shell’s ‘reactor’, whatever it was, had to have been licensed by the UK government. The design had to have been approved by the government. Someone manufactured that ‘reactor’, and it is doubtful that this ‘someone’ was Shell.
Shell had to have obtained permits for the radioactive material, whether it was fuel or cobalt 60. There have to records of how much Shell acquired and ‘used’. And the spent fuel had to have been turned over to the UK government for reprocessing.
I think that all you people need to quit mucking around with Shell, because they are not going to tell you a thing about their ‘reactor’, whatever it was. Go to the government archives. The information should be there and it should be available.
Now, if Shell had any accidents, then those would have to have been reported as well.
This information all exists in government archives somewhere. That is where you will get the information you need for a real story.
It exists in Shell’s archives as well, but you won’t get access to those.
I found this article. The important point here is that all civilian research and power ‘reactors’ are licensed by the government. Shell’s ‘reactor’ had to have an operating license.
This article talks about the problem of how small research reactors of the 1960’s and 1970’s were fueled with weapons grade uranium fuel, although not much of it.
I actually suspect that Shell may have had a small research reactor that they don’t want people to know about. Shell may have had to close it because they could not operate it competently, or they had an ‘accident’, or it was simply not cost effective to continue to operate. At this point who knows.
Once again, there will be records of Shell’s reactor in government archives.