Just when you thought Covid-19 was bad enough the ‘hoary old chestnut’ of a nuclear waste repository under the Irish Sea surfaces in the Examiner newspaper.
Well actually it surfaced about two months ago on the BBC when they reported that Copeland Council in Cumbria said it was interested in playing host to this ‘house of horrors’. The report observed that:
“It did not “presuppose support for any potential site” for the facility. It will initially look at the whole of the Copeland borough area, but would exclude the Lake District National Park.
“Underground facilities off the coast would also be considered”.
One of the Council members said that such a development could be ‘transformational’ to the area.
Proposals for nuclear waste repositories on the edge or under the Irish Sea have been on the cards for decades so should we worry that this plan will have more success than early ones. Well the short answer is YES!.
The UK has been busy accumulating its nuclear waste from all across the United Kingdom for decades but this process has speeded up as decommissioning of first generation plants and experimental facilities such as Dounreay proceed. Put simply the UK has got ‘one hell of a mountain’ of nuclear waste in short term storage at sites such as Drigg.
The most important factor probably though is that the UK has left the EU. Most people will be unaware that the last time there was serious intent to construct a long term waste site on the edge and under the Cumbria coast there was major opposition from Ireland, a fellow EU member. Ireland not only threatened to use its EU position to stymy the plan it also indicated it was prepared to use the European Court of Justice (ECJ). A case at the ECJ could have taken years and given prevailing moods would likely have been found against the UK. Of course post Brexit the ECJ has gone (as regards the UK) and the undersea waste repository has reappeared.
Back a quarter of a century ago the Irish government were so concerned about the NIREX (The Agency that preceded the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency) plans for the Cumbria coast they took the unusual step of fielding an Irish government Minister for Energy (Emmet Stagg TD) at the official inquiry.
Stagg told the inquiry held at Cleator Moor in Cumbria into a ‘preliminary rock laboratory:
“the Irish Government’s grave concern at the possibility of an underground nuclear dump being built virtually on the edge of the Irish Sea” for the permanent storage of radioactive waste.”
“An expert commissioned by the Irish government also gave evidence its worth reading the record of what he said:
“Prof Lauterpacht related to potential contamination of the marine environment from radioactive materials leaking from the dump planned by Nirex, which could contain up to 400,000 cubic metres of nuclear waste.
“Nirex has not even made a pretence that there will be no avoidable discharge of radioactive materials into the Irish Sea. Rather the reverse. The Irish Sea is foreseen as a `safety’ device to dilute and disperse radioactive releases that the UK is not willing or able to accommodate on its own territory”, he said.
“Flanked by an Admiralty map of the Irish Sea, he told the inquiry that it was impossible to predict accurately the impact of such a dump over its extended lifespan, running into thousands of years, and the potential impact of the escape of radioactive elements into the marine environment.
The professor, whose presentation was listened to intently by a large team from Nirex, said that it was not up to him to prove that this would represent a real danger to Ireland. “The burden of proof rests upon Nirex to show that the danger can or will arise from those discharges”, he declared.
“Prof Lauterpacht pointed out that Irish fishing rights extended to within 12 miles of the British coast and that, in 1994, some 1,400 Irish fishermen, operating from 400 vessels, had landed 23,225 tonnes of fish from the Irish Sea with a retail value of £68 million. Ireland, therefore, had an economic interest to protect.
“Some waste which would be deposited in an underground dump had a half life of thousands of years. “We are, therefore, not entitled to deal with the matter on a short term basis or to assume that some Armageddon will occur which will bring life in this part of the world to an end and thus terminate the problem.”
So Armageddon was predicted twenty-five years ago. Ask yourself what’s changed?
Finally: The UK and its various agencies and plants have form when it comes to getting waste disposal wrong. Dounreay slung waist down a disused mine shaft and the fall-out from that horror is only just being resolved. Windscale chucked waste into the Beaufort Dyke and its successor Sellafield allowed waste storage tanks at the plant to rot.
If you feel strongly about your future and that of your children and grandchildren you will oppose any new plans for a nuclear tip off or under the Irish Sea. Circulate (share) this post widely and put in a call to that local MHK of yours and ask them what their stance is!
Assistant General Secretary Celtic League (26th January 2021)