Spooky news out of England: the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant has sprung a leak. And that leak must be pretty substantial, seeing as how they’ve closed the whole plant down – and we’re not talking a mere building or two, but an area the size of a small town, with 10,000 employees.

You can believe that this sets the alarm bells ringing with YT and her kin. The Sellafield plant has long been a point of serious contention between the Icelandic and British authorities; in fact the only point of contention, apart from the whaling issue. After all, were radioactive matter to leak out into the sea and move upwards into the North Atlantic, it would mean death to the Icelandic economy. It’s that simple.

And Iceland isn’t the only country to be worried: Ireland, which is situated just across the strait from the dreaded plant, would be in deep trouble, as would the other the Nordic countries.

Nonetheless, British Nuclear Fuels, which operates Sellafield, has for years kept up an energetic public relations charade designed to convince the doubters that Sellafield is absolutely, utterly safe. And our YT has been on the receiving end of that effort. Far from being convinced, however, I was quietly horrified at the blatant manipulation we, the chosen, were subjected to.

I was invited on that memorable visit by virtue of my position as a press officer for a concern that shall remain nameless. Picking up the tab were, jointly, the UK government and British Nuclear Fuels. The plan being, of course, that I’d return to Iceland like a blithe little fairy spreading the happy news: that it was all a big misunderstanding, that Sellafield was perfectly safe, that there was not a single cause for concern.

I traveled by train up from London with an Australian woman who was there for the same purpose as I was. At the station we were met by our very own driver and personal escort – two people – who took our bags, opened all doors for us, made cheerful conversation – in short, catered to our every whim for the duration of the two days we were in their care. [In all fairness, let it be said that they were both excellent people, who approached their particular line of work with eyes wide open.] We were driven through lovely, pristine countryside to a beautiful country hotel, where our large, spacious rooms with the finest amenities overlooked an idyllic green pasture dotted with grazing sheep.

After freshening up a bit, we all met back downstairs in the lounge. Drinks were served, after which we were escorted into a lavish, high-ceilinged dining room overlooking a magnificent groomed garden with a large fountain in the centre. The food was exquisite, as was the wine, and it was clear that no expense was being spared to make our experience as breathtaking as possible.

After dinner, being tired from the journey, I would have preferred to have gone straight to bed; however it was suggested that we were rather obliged to meet the rest of our party: those with whom we would be touring Sellafield in the morning. As it turned out, I and the lady from Ireland had been signed on to the tour rather late and were being lodged separately from the rest of the group, since the hotel they were in could not accommodate any more people. They were in Sellafield’s very own five-star hotel, closer to the plant.

We agreed, and subsequently set out. Turning a bend, the Sellafield compound came into view: a massive, ugly spread of industrial buildings and towers, glowing an eerie orange in the dark of the evening, smoke-like steam wafting up from the huge, round towers.

The Sellafield hotel was a manor house. It made our quaint country lodgings look like servant’s quarters. Red brick, Tudor-style windows, climbing ivy, gorgeous landscaped lawns. Yet for all its splendor, if left me cold: inside it was too modern, too artificial – it reminded me of a displaced replica of a manor house out in some American suburb. Yet all the trappings of luxury were there: Heavy crystal glasses, plush carpets, deep sofas, big fireplaces, immaculate tableware. And the entire time, a PR person employed by British Nuclear Fuels who piled on the propaganda. Who had a weary, ravaged look in his eyes; whose demeanor raised feelings of the deepest dread.

It was designed to dazzle. To blind. To turn the truth into a lie. It was one of the most frightening places I’ve been in and I was immensely grateful to Providence for having the foresight to place me elsewhere for the night.


The Big Pond

Checkered. Rain, then sun, then wind, then flurries (!). Current temps are 4 degrees Celsius. Daybreak/nightfall unavailable at present since I’m not in my little home office where the calendar is.