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Sellafield struggles with radioactive gulls

It has been revealed that deep in the bowels of the Cumbrian nuclear plant there is a freezer packed with an expanding mountain of radioactive gulls.

They are the result of a controversial culling policy operated at the Britain's most notorious nuclear site for more than a decade. And no one has a clue what to do with them.

The explanation is as follows: seagulls and pigeons would land at Sellafield and then fly on, potentially carrying hazardous radiation.

Therefore, stung by criticism from local people, the managers at BNFL employed sharpshooters to kill any birds which were rash enough to land on the premises. Those that are killed are designated low-level nuclear waste and have to be put in a freezer because of contamination worries. Normally BNFL would dump its low level waste at Drigg, a site a few miles up the coast. But there is another, unpleasant twist.

Since the seagulls would decay if they were left out in the elements, they were deemed "putrescent" and had to be stored in a large industrial freezer similar to those used by Tesco or Asda to transport frozen foods.

A spokesman for BNFL could not say exactly how many gulls and pigeons were in the deep freeze but was willing to speculate. "We are adding to the store all the time so we do not count them. But given the size I'd say it was in the hundreds," he said.

These days, BNFL's subsidiary, British Nuclear Group, manages Sellafield for a new government body, the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency, which is charged with cleaning up Britain's nuclear sites.

BNG is having to decide how it might dispose of the birds as part of the new attitude to nuclear waste. It is planning to build a special landfill site where it could tip the birds, but no decision has yet been made.

Meanwhile the deep freeze continues to fill.