FIVE men were arrested outside the Sellafield Nuclear Plant this week under the Terrorism Act - just hours after Osama bin Laden’s death was announced to the world – bringing the global crisis a little closer to the Isle of Man’s doorstep.
Although the suspects were later released without charge, it was an unsettling incident that highlighted the island’s vulnerability in the event of a nuclear incident.
As this stunning picture, taken by Isle of Man Newspapers photographer Mike Wade at Bulgham Bay near Laxey, illustrates, the nuclear plant is too close for comfort. In fact the distance from Laxey to Sellafield is just under 40 miles.
It has long been the Isle of Man Government’s policy to push for the complete closure of Sellafield, which is responsible for decommissioning and reprocessing nuclear waste and fuel manufacturing on behalf of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, on the grounds of public and environmental safety.
Scientists regularly carry out radiation testing in Manx waters and, although there is radiation present, it has always been within guideline levels.
But how would the Isle of Man be affected should the unthinkable happen?
‘While the Isle of Man is fundamentally a low-risk area, with a politically peaceful and economically stable environment, it remains vigilant to the challenges faced by the UK and other governments,’ a spokesman for the island’s Department of Home Affairs’ emergency planning unit said.
‘The island has developed comprehensive plans to cover all types of possible emergency, from adverse weather conditions to deliberate terrorist action. Our geographical position requires us to be self-reliant in the event of an emergency. While the likelihood of a nuclear incident is extremely low, the Isle of Man’s emergency services have contingencies in place to deal with such events.
‘The DHA also has strong links with Cumbria County Council’s emergency planning unit and is continually updated in relation to the Sellafield nuclear power plant.’
It would seem, however, in the event an evacuation was called for, we won’t be as isolated as this seems to suggest.
When pressed on the issue of evacuation by the Manx Independent, the spokesman added: ‘Any decision to evacuate certain parts of the island would be taken by senior police and fire officers.
‘Circumstances such as weather, wind direction and the type of agent released into the atmosphere would influence that decision.
‘A full system is in place in terms of securing British military assistance in the event of a major emergency. We are also one step ahead of most countries by having public warning sirens to alert the public to a potential incident.’
Plus, in the case of a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threat, there are other contingency plans in place.
Stocks of antibiotics, vaccines, anti-viral drugs and chemical antidotes are kept to combat possible hazards.
The spokesman said: ‘No specific instructions are given here for all CBRN incidents, as the response will depend on the nature of the agent used. To give more detailed advice in advance could lead to confusion in an actual incident. In the event of a specific incident, the emergency services will decide on the appropriate response and immediately relay information and advice.’
Dr Paul McKenna, of the Government Laboratory, said: ‘The Sellafield site maintains emergency planning arrangements for rapid notification to the relevant authorities in London and so everything is pre-setup to happen very quickly should a major site incident be declared.
‘There are also nominated officials in the Isle of Man Government who Sellafield’s operators will contact if a major site incident is declared. They will be given an initial statement about the incident or emergency and its most likely consequences.
‘Sellafield will then provide them with updated statements at timed intervals as the emergency progresses.’