4th November 2013
Cumbria Trust and a Geological Disposal Facility
The recent formation of Cumbria Trust has led to some inaccurate “assertions” about Cumbria Trust from Jamie Reed, the MP for Copeland.
These assertions include:
– dishonesty regarding geology; scaremongering; claiming that Cumbria Trust aims to launch an attack upon the people and businesses of West Cumbria and a smear campaign against the people of West Cumbria.
Cumbria Trust is not anti-nuclear, nor is it anti-Sellafield, and it is most definitely not anti-West Cumbrian. Many of our founder members are themselves West Cumbrians.
Firstly, our views are honestly held.
Secondly, our geological stance is based upon the known geology of West Cumbria and the views of leading and independent academics as well as the accepted international criteria for any geological disposal facility; in short, geology has to be stable, simple and predictable.
In fact, it would be a nonsense for, and dishonest of, anyone with any knowledge of the subject to pretend that West Cumbria is some kind of frontier geological region which we need to explore. The fact is that, owing to the Nirex enquiry and the work of the oil and gas industries, we probably know more about West Cumbria’s geology than about that found anywhere else in the UK.
Re Nirex: in the 1980s and 90s, Nirex carried out a UK-wide search to find a site for a geological disposal facility. This process took many years and, overall, cost over £400m in old money, ending up in a huge planning enquiry in 1996 after Nirex had ended up “choosing” a site near Sellafield.
Nirex had originally identified over 500 possible sites, pointing, alongside others, to vast areas of suitable geology elsewhere in the UK (East Anglia and East/Central England) which meet the international guidelines. In the end, Nirex, irrationally (according to the Inspector), chose Sellafield as a location …
After a huge enquiry, and the submissions of a vast number of experts, the Nirex case was thrown out by the Inspector and by the then Secretary of State.
In 2007, concerned about the new process about to start and the myths which had “evolved” over West Cumbrian geology, the Inspector, Chris McDonald, wrote in the Guardian and clarified that:
“The site (a GDF) should be in a region of low groundwater flow, and the geology should be readily characterisable and predictable, whereas the rocks there are actually of a complex volcanic nature, with significant faulting.”
“The [Nirex] site selection process was flawed, not treating safety as the most important factor, and irrationally affected by a strong desire to locate close to Sellafield.”
On the subject of Nirex myths, it is a myth that:
(i) Nirex looked only at the Longlands-Farm site in West Cumbria
(ii) there is some pocket of suitable geology lurking somewhere in West Cumbria which no one knows about.
Nirex spent hundreds of millions of pounds and surveyed an area of 65×60 km in West Cumbria, extending as far north as Workington and as far east as the eastern end of the Ennerdale valley. It also included a significant area off shore.
Nirex clearly did choose the best site they could find in West Cumbria, yet the site failed on safety.
As a consequence of Nirex, and oil and gas work, there are literally thousands of known boreholes in West Cumbria, as the British Geological Survey’s own data shows.
More recently, a geologist employed by the Managing Radioactive Waste Process (Dr Dearlove) admitted that the prospects of finding a suitable site in West Cumbria were slim and that, if it were a commercial operation, it would be aborted.
It is self-evident that, on geological criteria alone, no-one in their right mind would centre a UK-wide search for a geological disposal facility in West Cumbria, as there are obviously so much better and safer sites elsewhere.
Indeed, we believe that there should be an independent national survey to identify the best place for any geologic disposal facility.
West Cumbrian business and people
For the record, our stated aims call for greater – not lesser – nuclear investment in West Cumbria. Specifically, we support a far greater investment in much better interim (meaning up to maybe 200 years) storage, quite possibly an enormous near-surface facility like that constructed in Sweden to deal with our legacy waste.
We also call for a greater proportion of the billions being expended on decommissioning Sellafield to be spent in West Cumbria. Amazingly, West Cumbrian politicians have allowed a situation to develop where over £500m – maybe £600m per annum – of Sellafield expenditure ends up outside Cumbria, let alone West Cumbria.
We also call for greater diversity in the West Cumbrian economy.
There is another myth: the jobs myth. The story which has been spun is that a geological disposal facility will generate many jobs. Not true.
Maybe hundreds (say 200 or so) would be employed in GDF once constructed – a number similar to that of those working in a large supermarket, but those jobs would probably be of mainly a janitorial and security nature.
It is true that the construction boom would be huge, and it would have an enormous effect on any region and its environment, but the actual tunnelling work would all go to specialist and outside contractors and, at best, lead to a short-term “Thorp-like” period of activity.
There is no evidence that a GDF would improve employment at Sellafield; in fact, the reverse might be true.
And as for community benefits – well, we believe that, over the last 60 years, West Cumbria has been treated derisorily and see no evidence whatsoever suggesting that this will ever change. For your evidence, look at the poor current infrastructure, including hospitals, and at social deprivation.
As for decision making – it is true: we do not believe that either Allerdale or Copeland should, on their own, be the decision-making bodies.
In terms of resources and personnel, both are very small local authorities incapable of dealing with a GDF on their own. Moreover, Copeland, in particular, appears to be struggling to survive at all. There are thus genuine concerns about the extent to which it may be increasingly reliant on the contribution and largesse of its biggest industry.
So we believe that Cumbria County Council must be involved in any decision making and regard the DECC proposal to exclude CCC as an attempt to subvert democracy to get the result it wants. Similarly, with regard to the minimal proposed the role of Parish and Town Councils.
We also note that Copeland, Allerdale and Cumbria all agreed with the Government that consent at local, county and government level was needed. Given the magnitude of the issue, this seems entirely reasonable in a democracy. Why the change?
We are also concerned that efforts to groom and control opinion leaders in West Cumbria have been successful.
When nuclear waste is concerned, it is not scaremongering to put safety before everything else.
Nor is it scaremongering to question the approach of the Government, bearing in mind that, Nirex has already tried to “irrationally site a GDF” in West Cumbria and Government is now taking an ostrich-like approach to what was learned during the process.
Neither is it scaremongering to be worried that Copeland’s position has changed so much since Nirex. For example, when, in 2008, the Government invited communities to volunteer for a GDF, the first to come forward (within a matter of weeks) was Copeland – this being the only area in England which had been ruled out before!
This unseemly eagerness flew in the face of the Copeland’s earlier objections to siting a GDF in West Cumbria. In Nirex 96, Copeland stated:
“Although concerned that the future of civil nuclear activities in the Borough could be put at risk by investigations elsewhere, Copeland regards safety as being paramount in the search for the “best” site, wherever it is”.
“As it is, Copeland regards the selection process as being flawed, with insufficient attention being given to alternative sites…..”
Safety as paramount – there’s a thing!
Nor is it scaremongering to be worried that the Government is now downplaying the importance of geology by intimating that “engineering solutions” can remedy any geological shortcomings. Are we worried by this? Too right we are – given that this is plain nonsense and that no other civilised country has adopted this approach, nor will it. All other countries are relying on a proper and suitable geological barrier for reasons which should be obvious to a small child.
It is not scaremongering to be concerned about the forces of political expediency. In fact, it would be naïve in the extreme for any community like West Cumbria not to be, at the very least, very distrustful of London-based politicians and civil servants, who are motivated by the easiest – not the best – solution.
Nor is it scaremongering to be, in this context, concerned about the effects of new nuclear waste on this process. As we all know, Sellafiled currently houses the UK’s legacy nuclear waste, but the planned new nuclear build will apparently increase by over 400% the radioactivity of the UK’s nuclear waste as well as tripling the size of any repository.
The West Cumbrian people need to understand that any repository will hold not just the legacy waste currently being stored at Sellafield but the vast amounts of new radioactive waste now to be produced elsewhere in the UK by – ironically – French and Chinese companies. And, for this, we will take all the risk but receive – probably – nothing in return.
To conclude, you don’t, in our view, have to be anti-nuclear, or against a nuclear waste repository, to realise that West Cumbria should not be the site for any UK geological disposal facility.
JOHN WILSON, DIRECTOR, CUMBRIA TRUST