Irish Sea – Pristine or polluted?

Manx Radio have an item today about plastics pollution in the Irish Sea. However the question of pollution is more complex and these waters have been used for the disposal of all manner of toxic items from munitions, radiation waste and domestic and commercial sewage.

I first attended a conference as a speaker in Liverpool in 1986 which focused on the varying forms of pollution in the Irish and Celtic seas. Since that time I’ve spoken in places as diverse as Skibbereen, Dublin and Ballycastle on both general and topic specific pollution.

Arguably things have gotten better. Dumping of military and Commercial waste in the North Channel ended in the 1980s. Disposal of radioactive waste from Sellafield since the early part of this century is much reduced. However the problem is still there and only this month the dumping of millions of tonnes of toxic sludge from the Hinkley Point nuclear site started in the Bristol Channel. It has the potential to contaminate not just the south coast of wales and inland waterways but also the northern part of the Celtic Sea and its ingress into the South Irish Sea.

The legacy of radioactively contaminated pollution will last tens of thousands of years so while we need of course to ensure that we combat the dangers of plastic in the marine environment lets not forget the bigger picture.

Of course we need to study the Irish Sea and knowledge of it is much better now than when Windscale (now called Sellafield) started pumping out filth in the mid fifties. Remember back then scientific knowledge was so vague that Windscale scientist John Dunster (who later in a stroke of irony went on to head the UK Radiological protection organisation and was knighted) thought it apposite to dump controlled discharges of radioactive waste into the marine environment around us to see how it and we would react. Dunster was so complacent about what became known as ‘The Island Experiment’ that he spoke about it openly at a conference in Geneva in 1958.

Dunster said:

“Discharges (from Sellafield) have been deliberately maintained. . . high enough to obtain detectable levels in samples of fish, seaweed and shore sand, and the experiment is still proceeding. In 1956 the rate of discharge of radioactivity was deliberately increased, partly to dispose of unwanted wastes, but principally to yield better experimental data.”

The population around the Irish Sea were the ‘subjects’ of this experimental data but far from being prosecuted Dunster was rewarded!

The UK are still dumping radioactive waste this time off South Wales.

Link: Good infographic here from Prezi – note may take a little time to load.

https://prezi.com/bxcdk5j_zvvg/radioactive-waste-in-the-irish-sea/

Bernard Moffatt

Celtic League Military Monitoring

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