Inside UK seaside town in shadow of 'Europe's most dangerous building' where locals keep backpacks 'ready to evacuate' | The Sun

ON a bright October morning, a dog walker strides across a goldenbeach and throws a tennis ball for his excited terrier.

As idyllic as it sounds, this seaside stroll in the west Cumbrian village of Seascale takes place in the shadow of a building dubbed the 'most dangerous in Europe' – the Sellafield Nuclear Site.

The British Nuclear Fuel (BNFL) plant, which stands proudly on a hill overlooking the Irish Sea, manages more radioactive waste than any other facility in the world.

It is also the site of the worst nuclear accident in UK history, the Windscale fire of October 1957.

The fire, ranked in severity at level 5 out of a possible 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, burned for three days and released radioactive contamination across the UK and Europe.

It has been estimated that the incident caused 240 cancer cases.

A few decades ago, seagulls around Sellafield became contaminated with radioactivity after flying into open fuel storage ponds and their carcasses had to be kept in an industrial freezer before being safely disposed of.


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And as recently as 2018, a nuclear plant owner was fined after a worker was contaminated by radiation.

But locals in the Victorian village of Seascale, half a mile away, say the sprawling six square km site is vital for the local economy, employing 11,000 workers – half of the UK’s nuclear workforce.

“It’s a fantastic place to live," says local resident, Liz Boys, 71. "I don’t know a single person afraid of the plant.

"If the best scientists in the world aren’t running for the hills, why would we?"

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Evacuation backpacks

Staff in protective suits start the clean up after the disasterCredit: Rex
The leak from Pile 1 was the UK's worst nuclear accidentCredit: Rex

Not everyone is quite so relaxed. One resident, who declined to be named, said she is ready to flee in the event of disaster.

“I moved here three years ago and when I attended my GP they gave me a leaflet on radiation," she says.

“You also receive leaflets on what to do in the event of an evacuation and what to take with you.

“I have a backpack ready to go if we need to get out of here quickly. I’m not scared of it, I just like to be prepared.

“I have a magnet on my fridge with all of the details of an evacuation plan and I gave my number to the factory so they can update me with any radiation leaks.

“There’s sirens in the area. There’s three different sounds and they go off whenever there’s a leak or you need to be aware of something."

I have a backpack ready to go if we need to get out of here quickly

The resident told how her husband grew up in the area and was there when the Windscale fire broke out.

“He isn’t worried about it. To him, it’s normal," she says.

She adds that she might have thought twice about moving there if she'd been younger.

“I moved here later in life, but if I was younger and hadn’t had any children yet, I may have considered it more as I don’t know if the radiation impacts fertility," she says.

“There’s a lot of people around here who work in the plant but they aren’t allowed to say what they do. They can’t even put it on social media.

“There’s fears of the information getting out or them being targeted so no-one really knows what goes on in there.”

"When you walk along the beach, you can actually get quite close to it. They test the sea regularly for contamination and it's clean as a whistle."

'Dark humour'

Despite the coastal village’s popularity amongst tourists, the run-down town centre features few shops and amenities.

The village has only a small Co-op, a hardware store, a pharmacy, health centre and two takeaways.

Liz Boys’ family has lived in Seascale for generations as her grandfather used to own a seafront hotel.

She raised her two children here and retains a dark sense of humour about living on Sellafield’s doorstep.

“We always say, if something explodes we’ll be the first ones dead and the rest of the country has to live with the long term consequences,” she says with a laugh.

"But I’ve never been scared of the plant. I’ve lived here all my life and was here when the fire in 1957 happened. I should be dead but here I am in my 70s.

We always say, if something explodes we’ll be the first ones dead and the rest of the country has to live with the long term consequences

“People around here always tell dark jokes about people opening tins of paint and seeing nothing in because the radiation had made evaporate but none of it was true.

“We never had any talks in school about radiation, we just got on with it.

“We still went swimming in the sea – we were more worried about the sewage pipe than any radiation in the water.

“We didn’t turn green but we did all catch the Seascale bug from that pipe."

'Brainiest village'

The influx of scientists to the area in the 1950s was a boost to local educational opportunities, as well as jobs.

“We used to be called the brainiest village in the country," says Liz.

“By the time we were in sixth form, we were all arrogant. We were called the snobby Seascalers because we were all smarter and had a better education, simply because of the people who moved to Seascale.

“These people would have never moved here if it wasn’t for the plant. I wouldn’t have had any friends if Sellafield didn’t exist.

“I think the plant is one of the reasons we have such a low crime rate, because they have their own police force, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC). They’re there to protect the materials but of course you wouldn’t mess around in view of them.”

Radiation tests

As a young lad Adam Lamb, 44, lived in close proximity to Sellafield on a farm which was regularly tested for radiation.

He says: “Our sheep were taken every so often by the Ministry of Agriculture to test for radiation and they took samples of the grass.

“Nothing was ever found to be radioactive.

“We were never worried about radiation. To us, it was just like having a factory nearby.

“We had to keep iodine tablets in the house, in case there was a leak but we never had to use them."

We had to keep iodine tablets in the house, in case there was a leak

He adds: “There was some talk about radiation causing illness but no-one has really been impacted by that. People around here tend to live quite long.

“The fella that stopped the fire in 1957 from becoming a Chernobyl job lived around here, he lived into his 90s so the radiation can’t have been that bad.

“He was a manager and said he got a call about the fire and had to go into the factory and deal with it. Can you imagine how terrifying that was?

“They demolished the cooling towers in 2010. The entire street was filled with residents watching as it was blown up and torn down.

“It felt like the end of an era. Everyone in Seascale is connected to Sellafield, there’s 11,000 workers.

“Sellafield built the whole village, from homes for the workers to the shops. It’s all here because of the factory.”

Pollutes the view

Adam is now the manager of Seascale Golf Club, located at the top of the village, which has holes right next to the factory.

Undeterred golfers lug their clubs up the hill and whack balls towards the hazardous nuclear plant.

Adam added: “Unfortunately, it’s detracted from the beauty of the golf course.

“We’re ranked 79 out of 100 in Britain but the people who come to review it always comment on how you can see the plant from the green."

Over the course of five decades, the plant received and reprocessed nearly 55,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel from power stations across England, Italy, and Japan.

Sellafield ended reprocessing energy in July 2022 and entered a new era of decommissioning.

Retired vicar Jonathan Falkner, 75, who moved to the village as a child after his dad received a job offer at the factory says: “People have a misconception that it’s really dangerous.

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“When it opened in the 50s I’m sure some workers didn’t realise how harmful it was or what to do about the toxins, but that’s all in the past.

“We don’t think of it as a big, scary machine.”

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