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Royal Dutch Shell Nuclear Subterfuge

By John Donovan

On 5 December 2008, an article authored by me was published under the headline…

Shell, Saudi Arabia, Arms-for-Oil, Corruption, & Radioactive Contamination

The story centred on a former Shell Petrochemical terminal located in Earley, a suburb of the town of Reading in Berkshire, England. Following tests carried out on adjoining land, independent experts concluded that radioactive material from nuclear weapons or a nuclear reactor at the Shell terminal, had created some of the highest levels of Plutonium and Uranium contamination ever recorded in Britain. 

The radioactive contamination was in addition to a toxic cocktail of chemicals, including cyanide and arsenic, which apparently survived decontamination processes carried out before Shell sold the land for a housing development (by Persimmon Homes).  The site was decontaminated on at least three separate occasions.

A bunker containing a nuclear reactor was allegedly buried at the terminal. There is also evidence that the terminal was used in the “oil-for-arms” corruption scandal involving BAE Systems, the Saudi Royal Family and the British Ministry of Defence. Shell was at the heart of the scandal in what has been described as a money-laundering role. 

Prior to publishing the article, I supplied the draft to Royal Dutch Shell Plc. This resulted in extensive email correspondence with Richard Wiseman, the Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer of the Royal Dutch Shell Group.

Mr Wiseman had already gone on record in a letter dated 16 March 2004 refuting allegations relating to the terminal. The letter was sent to Mr Ray Fox, a resident of an adjoining property who has credible medical and scientific evidence supporting his claim of radioactive poisoning as a result of illegal waste products originating from the Shell terminal, which allegedly contaminated him and his house and garden:


Shell has never been involved in “atomic” or “nuclear” research at the Thornton site or elsewhere in the U.K. Between 1953 and 1966 it conducted research for the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority. The research was only ever concerned with developing lubricants for nuclear power plants. It involved subjecting lubricants to controlled emissions of low-level Gamma radiation in a small secure purpose built laboratory at Thornton. The work was conducted strictly in accordance with the Radio Active Substances Acts of 1948 and 1960 and other relevant legislation. The site was properly registered and regularly inspected. We have nothing to hide – we have never made a secret of this research programme. Indeed, the work was described in the publicly available brochure “50 Years of Thornton Research Centre” which was produced in 1990.

In the following extract from an email to me dated 13 November 2008, Mr Wiseman reconfirmed the denial in his letter:


The allegations about Shell’s involvement in nuclear and atomic research are dealt with in my letter of the 16th March 2004 which is entirely consistent with all the information you quote.  There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding by Mr Fox and others about the nature of the research Shell has been involved in and that which it is claimed was carried out at the site, or elsewhere.

Mr Wiseman made a further denial along the same lines in an email to me dated 24 November 2008:

For the record I can confirm that Shell has never engaged in any activity in the UK which has created nuclear contamination and there is no bunker at the former Shell terminal in Early – nor has there ever been.

I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of a draft reply that Wiseman sent to his colleagues before arriving at the sanitised version he sent to me. Wiseman confirmed that the draft reply was authentic. Tellingly, the draft contained an admission of the possible existence of radioactive contamination, which was deleted from the version he sent to me.

Anyone reading the Wiseman smokescreen denials on behalf of Shell would be entitled to conclude that Shell was only ever engaged in nuclear research and had no involvement or connection in the UK, or elsewhere, in nuclear weapons, nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel or nuclear waste i.e. nothing which could possibly create radioactive contamination.  The facts tell an entirely different story.

I drew attention in my article to Shell’s involvement in various nuclear projects with the UK Atomic Energy Authority (as revealed in declassified documents) and in an American joint venture with Gulf Oil in a company called General Atomic. 

My interest in the American venture stemmed originally from an article published in July/August 2003 by Corporate Watch about the Shell Earley Terminal

Entitled “Shell Shocker”, it contained the following information:


Shell categorically denies that there was a reactor or any other nuclear materials at the Earley site. “Shell is an oil company,” said spokesman Justin Everard.

This is disingenuous. It is not common knowledge, but Shell did once have nuclear power interests: General Atomic (in the USA) and General Atomic International (elsewhere): joint ventures with Gulf Oil that operated between 1973 and 1982. Ultimately Shell pulled out due to spiralling losses. The fate of its nuclear programme remains unclear.

Shockingly, Shell was unable to say how many reactors it once operated, where any of them were located, or when and how they were disposed of.

“It was a long time ago,” said a Shell spokeswoman.

I have now carried out further research and obtained detailed evidence stretching back several decades from news archives. It reinforces my contention that the facts do not tally with the impression conjured up in the responses provided by Richard Wiseman and Justin Everard.  

Mr Wiseman likes to leave the impression that Shell’s only involvement in nuclear and atomic matters was in respect of  “research”. He ignores all references to the information in the declassified documents and the evidence about Shell’s nuclear activities overseas.

I would therefore describe his replies on this important matter as deception by omission, which is entirely inappropriate and hypocritical coming from the Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer of Royal Dutch Shell Plc who preached transparency, honesty and integrity in a June 2008 Anti-Corruption Conference speech.

The facts revealed by research tell a different story than the one spun by Mr Wiseman.

Apart from its nuclear activities in the UK revealed in the declassified documents, Royal Dutch Shell had a major involvement in nuclear activities in the USA. Royal Dutch Shell owned an American company called Shell Nuclear, Ltd, which operated inside the U.S.A. and internationally.  Royal Dutch Shell also owned a U.S. company called Scallop Nuclear Inc., which had a high temperature, gas-cooled reactor program and a fusion project.

Gulf Oil and Royal Dutch Shell jointly owned General Atomic, a company engaged in the design, development, manufacture and marketing of high temperature gas-cooled reactors and associated fuel. It also owned nuclear waste recycling plants turning by-product uranium from nuclear reactors into a solid.

I have provided links to the articles from which this information was gleaned so that anyone sufficiently interested can verify the facts for themselves. It is clear from the articles that the subject of nuclear weapons cannot be divorced from nuclear power generation and the companies involved in that industry.

Basically Shell appears to have been eventually frightened off by huge losses resulting from its “nuclear activities”.  The degree of opposition from protestors may have contributed towards the decision to eventually cut and run. 

The fact that Shell became immersed in allegations of a uranium price fixing cartel may have also played a part. This indicates there is nothing new about Shell’s involvement in cartels, although it now apparently prefers to take a leadership role.

 It is interesting to note that a court rendered a default judgment against General Atomic on the grounds that the company refused to supply certain information during the discovery process of the cartel related litigation. This provides another example of Shell’s preference for concealment and blocking when it comes to litigation.

Returning to the subject of Shell nuclear activities in the UK, we do know that Shell’s involvement was classified information and remained secret for decades.  Shell has ignored my probing comments about the possibility of there being more secret documents, which remain classified.

We also know that independent experts have confirmed the presence of high levels of radioactive contamination on land adjoining the former Shell premises.

Furthermore, we have established that far from being involved only in nuclear research projects, Shell was actually deeply involved in almost every conceivable field of nuclear activity, all of which have a radioactive contamination dimension. Consequently I agree with the conclusion reached by Corporate Watch. Shell is being disingenuous.

Thus far Mr Wiseman has resisted the call for Shell to pay for further independent research to determine the origin of the radioactivity, which Ray Fox insists, has ruined his life.

With our help, Ray recently wrote to over 600 UK Members of Parliament and has received written support for the proposal that Shell should fund the research, the cost of which would be a pittance compared with the obscene windfall profits generated from high oil prices in recent years.  Many MP’s took the trouble to reply, Ray even received a response sent on behalf of David Cameron MP, the leader of the Conservative Party, expressing concern.

Bizarrely his constituency MP, Martin Salter, wrote an off hand response to Ray, totally lacking in interest and compassion.  On the contrary, Salter devoted the major part of his letter to lecturing him about the “strict Parliamentary convention… universally observed by all Members of the House of Commons” that MP’s can only take up a case for an individual that lives within the boundaries of his or her own constituency. Salter concluded his ticking off with the words. “Thank you for sending your email. I have noted your concerns”. 

Martin Salter MP apparently has no interest in whether radioactive material is seeping out from underneath a housing development in a nearby constituency.  I hope his constituents remember the indifference of this MP when voting at the next election.

Is Shell capable of deliberately burying potentially toxic and dangerous material? I can answer that question. In 1991, Norton Opax, a printing company in Leeds England buried 30 million Shell promotional items on Shell’s instructions. Each item was coated in aluminised foil, which would give off deadly poisonous gases if incinerated.  I doubt vey much that the local authority or the Department of the Environment had any knowledge whatsoever of this act. I also doubt that all these years later, anyone at Shell would even know about the matter, let alone the location of where the potentially dangerous items were buried, perhaps under another housing estate where families reside and children play.

The remainder of the article will probably only be of interest to historians and Shell lawyers.


On 1 March 1968 the New York Times published an article saying that Royal Dutch Shell had refused to comment on reports that Shell, Philips Electronics and the Werkspoor Company of Amsterdam were all in discussions with the Dutch Government on a prototype ultra-centrifuge based nuclear reactor.

According to the article:

“Dutch political sources said the reason for the secrecy was the extreme sensitivity of the nuclear-proliferation issue. They said the centrifuge process presented the possibility that even small nations could manufacture weapons in factories so small than planes or satellites could not distinguish them from normal industrial plants.”

On 5 June 1973, a NYT article announced a joint venture between Gulf Oil Corporation and companies of the Royal Dutch Shell Group designed to exploit advanced nuclear reactor technology.

On 4 December 1973, the New York Times reported that “after consultation with its partner in the nuclear business, Scallop Nuclear, Inc., a Royal Dutch-Shell Group company”, Gulf planned to divest its lightwater reactor fuel fabrication operations of a wholly owned subsidiary company. “Gulf said the action would permit the partnership to concentrate on the high-temperature gas-cooled reactor and the reprocessing of light-water reactor fuel.”

On 18 December 1973, the NYT reported:

“Gulf and Shell Nuclear, Ltd., a company of the Royal Dutch Shell Group, said it had completed arrangements to establish two joint ventures in the nuclear power industry. The ventures will be the General Atomic Company, for activities in the United States, and General Atomic International, for activities outside the United States.”

On 19 April 1975, a NYT article was published under the headline “Shell Loses $290-Million In Joint Nuclear Venture”.  

The article stated:

“General Atomic is mainly engaged in the design, development, manufacture and marketing of the high temperature gas-cooled reactor and its associated fuel.”

On 25 October 1975 a NYT article had the headline “VENTURE IS HALTED BY GULF AND SHELL”. It reported that General Atomic “was quitting production of high-temperature nuclear gas reactors.”

On 2 March 1976, a NYT article reported on litigation in a state and a federal Court in New Mexico involving charges of alleged fraud and misconduct on the part of Gulf Oil “and the General Atomic Company, a joint venture owned by the Gulf Oil Corporation and the Scallop nuclear unit of the Royal Dutch Shell Group.”

A NYT article on 9 April 1977 reported on the Carter Administrations nuclear energy plans. The article discussed Shell’s expected withdrawal from a plant at Barnwell, S.C. designed to reprocess used fuel from nuclear reactors and turn by-product uranium into a solid. The article posed the question “Is most of the world’s plutonium created in power plants?” The answer being that most of it was being produced in reactors such as Windscale in Britain, specially designed to turn out plutonium for weapons.

The NYT published an extensive article on 10 April 1977 headlined “TOO HOT TO HANDLE“.  The article covered contamination, technical and other issues associated with the sensitive and controversial subject of recycling nuclear fuel.  The article mentioned that the $250 million plant built at Barnwell S.C. by Allied General Electric Nuclear Services, in which General Atomic was a joint owner, had not been granted a license to operate and faced considerable opposition.

A NYT article published on 23 September 1977 broke the news legal proceedings had been instituted against General Atomic and its owners, Gulf Oil Corporation and “Scallop Nuclear Inc., part of the Royal/Dutch Shell Group.” The complex lawsuit involving various companies related to alleged price fixing of uranium as part of a secret cartel. The article stated that General Atomic was at one time marketing an advanced form of nuclear reactor, one of which was already on line in Colorado.

On 21 November 1977, Time Magazine published an article under the headline “The Uranium Cartel’s Fallout” about a case being heard by Judge Edwin Felter.


By a quirk of jurisdiction, Felter is presiding over one of the largest and most complex corporate lawsuits ever filed in an American court-a $2 billion-plus action by a New Mexico uranium mining company, United Nuclear Corp., against General Atomic Co., a 50%-owned subsidiary of Gulf Oil Corp., for fraud, coercion and breaches of the nation’s antitrust laws.

Royal Dutch Shell owned the other 50% of General Atomic.

On 2 January 1978, a NYT article reported:

“Judge Felter is trying a $2.27 billion damage suit against the General Atomic Corporation of San Diego by the United Nuclear Corporation, a uranium mining company with large holdings in Mexico. Gulf and a subsidiary of the Royal Dutch-Shell Group are equal partners in General Atomic”.

The article said that Gulf had conceded that its Canadian subsidiary had been involved in a uranium cartel.

On 9 January 1978 General Atomic petitioned the New Mexico Supreme Court in an attempt to have Judge Felter removed from hearing the case on the grounds that he was prejudiced.

On 2 May 1978 the NYT published an article covering an anti-nuclear protest at the Barnwell, S.C. nuclear waste reprocessing plant in which Royal Dutch Shell Group was a partner. About 250 protestors were arrested.


“Eventually the venture, operated jointly by Allied Chemical, Gulf Oil, and Royal Dutch Shell Group, was to process waste material from nuclear power plants along the Eastern Seaboard.”

On 12 June 1978, Time Magazine published an article about Gulf Oil under the headline Gulf Oil’s Painful Surgery.  It said in relation to Shell, General Atomic, a joint Gulf-Royal Dutch/Shell venture, pulled out of the production of high-temperature nuclear gas reactors after heavy losses.”

 The article also mentioned the cartel litigation.


Gulf is also enmeshed in a web of lawsuits growing out of allegations that it secretly participated in a worldwide cartel to manipulate supplies and raise the price of uranium.

Last week the company pleaded no contest in the U.S. Government’s case growing out of the cartel arrangement…”.

On 9 July 1978 the NYT published an article under the headline “The Great Uranium Flap”, once again covering the litigation over an alleged cartel. The article stated: “Everyone agrees there was a cartel; whether it did anything illegal is in dispute.” The Royal Dutch Shell Group was named in the article as being an owner of General Atomic.  The uranium price fixing was described by one participant in the litigation as “…one of the massive rip-offs of all times…”

On 19 March 1979 the NYT published an article under the headline “Gulf Pact Set With Scallop”.

The first paragraph stated:

“The Gulf Oil Corporation said it had reached an agreement with Scallop Nuclear Inc., a unit of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, under which the uranium supply and light water reactor fuel fabrication activities of the General Atomic Company would be operated for the account and benefit of Gulf Oil. Gulf and Scallop jointly own General Atomic.”

The following are extracts from a NYT article from 3 September 1980 under the headline “United Nuclear Wins Court Round”:

The New Mexico Supreme Court has upheld a lower court decision voiding any obligation by the United Nuclear Corporation to deliver nearly $1 billion worth of uranium to the General Atomic Company.

The case – the largest in the history of the state – arose out of agreements in the early 1970’s that called for U.N.C. to deliver 27 million pounds of uranium to General Atomic, which is a joint venture of the Gulf Oil Corporation and the Royal Dutch/Shell Group. Arguing that General Atomic was part of an international cartel that was trying to corner the uranium market, U.N.C. sued to have those contracts overturned. In 1978, a New Mexico state court rendered a default judgment against General Atomic on the ground that the company refused to supply certain information during the discovery process.

On 22 December 1981 the NYT article “Gulf to Obtain General Atomic” announced that Gulf Oil Corporation would become the full owner of the General Atomic Company, a partnership of Gulf and Royal Dutch/Shell Group’s Scallop Nuclear Inc., under a tentative agreement between the partners. The article reported that Gulf would take over Scallop’s high temperature, gas-cooled reactor program, its fusion program and the special products division.

On 8 May 1981, a NYT article reported the settlement of a uranium contract lawsuit between Exxon Corporation and Gulf Oil Corporation relating to the alleged uranium cartel.  The price of the uranium was “revised” as part of the settlement.


“Gulf later assigned the contract to the General Atomic Company, a partnership of Gulf and Scallop Nuclear, which was to receive the uranium.”

“Litigation began in early 1978, when Exxon declared the agreement null and void because of Gulf’s alleged participation in an international uranium cartel, Exxon said.


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