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Thursday, 02 July 2015

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NUCLEAR WASTE: The great debate continues

SIR – Is it a question of when, not if, we have more nuclear related sites dotted round our shrinking countryside?

PUBLIC IMPORTANCE: Another public meeting about managing radioactive waste. Here Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Partnership member Richard Griffin addresses locals at a drop-in event in the St Herbert's Centre, Keswick

A new-build surface nuclear power station and an underground repository will take away more land and freedom of access, and by insinuation the plots around and above ground will be contaminated. The sites will be behind more high-security perimeters and fences. No-one will be in a hurry to build a holiday home or the like nearby.

No other area in England wants anything to do with nuclear energy’s radioactive waste. We may well have to accept this and go for a guaranteed best deal.

Not in my back yard, is very apt, but too late for Cumbria!

This artifice is not helped by West Cumbria councils and the Government being bedfellows.

One main item and a full ace hand for the ruling party is the fact that we do have an abundant stock of the material that gives a reading on a Geiger counter.

With this as a fact, we might have no choice but to store or bury what we already have within Cumbria.

If and when this problem is resolved, could there be a considered proviso that any radioactive materials produced outside Cumbria is responsibly dealt with and safely held by the district or country that produces it?

This county should not be looked on as nuclear/radioactive waste container park. Unfortunately some of the comments that are thrown around – that we can pull out of the Government’s proposals for the ultimate disposal of radioactive material and have a waste repository site in the county, at the last moment of negotiation – do seem ambiguous.

A juggernaut judgement driven by a Westminster Government with a consideration to place nuclear power stations and repositories in the county, with expectancy for Cumbrian devotees to throw themselves under its wheels is a bit patronising.

As with an oil tanker at sea, with a request for an unscheduled stop, it might prove to be very difficult to achieve.

Despite all this, we appear to be in the queue with our bowl asking for more, and if the past is anything to go by we may again get shortchanged and the cart before the horse – ie, the road infrastructure and the like will be provided later!

Why can’t we dump our problems in Scotland! Or anywhere in England – I would suggest under the Houses of Parliament.

We may have a safety net in many of the safe sounding groups with a view to looking after our future. One is the West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Partnership – may they prosper in their search for opinion and that it supports their negotiations to be able to advise the main councils in the western districts with unbiased considered facts.

The government will continue its programme with dubious benefit to the county and a cavalier disregard, despite information from the scientific sectors, and attempt to travel into the Cumbrian cul-de-sac without too much regard for its inhabitants.

The advice sectors appear to be ignored as a matter of convenience, only a selection of comments getting through the net. No thank you, is on the menu and to a point eminent professors of geology and radiology ignored?

Our local councils have our best interests at heart as they know what we want!

If a proposed new nuclear power station and repositories are built, to offset them we should get at least guaranteed factual improvements, not promises and inducements.

Unfortunately in past years, we have grudgingly (and at times, wholeheartedly) welcomed nuclear conglomerates and a land grab, land we lost the use of when it was placed behind high-security fences. Diversification into other trade channels didn’t appear to be a option at the time?

The nuclear situation did, to a point, benefit the local economy and was justified to a degree; now, unfortunately, we are reaping the full legacy of in-house radioactive waste.

Truly, after selling all the family silver, what else have we to pawn?

We don’t appear to learn from past lessons. Why not, in the first instance, stop producing hazardous materials? There are other routes and safer base materials to achieve the same result with a less dangerous residue.

With the proposed land acquisition, there is a possibility of more ground being required, with more minor roads and routes being lost around secure sites, and at what cost to the natural environment and our enjoyment of the countryside?

We have in the past lost many main industries; this was mainly in response to world economies and our quaint road system. I like our highways and byways!

With continued active marketing there could still be blue skies for N/W Cumbrian tourism with more emphasis on the N/W and S/W coastline and inter-county connection routes.

It would be nice to achieve most objectives as strived for by conservation groups and all the hard work they and other sections of the community have put into the Cumbrian Coastal Way and other such endeavours.

That is the bright side of the coin: all is not lost yet, we live in a beautiful county.



SIR – This is an open letter to West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Partnership.

I refer to my open letter (The Whitehaven News, January 19) and to Coun Tim Knowles’ reply, published the following week.

Coun Knowles makes it clear that the siting partnership could recommend overriding the wishes of the potential host community, in some circumstances. The implication in his reply suggests that the councils would also be able to include an unwilling host community in the process. It would be helpful if he could be explicit on this important matter.

Are there circumstances when the decision-making bodies would override the wishes of an unwilling host community and consider siting this facility, including the surface facility, within their locality?

Coun Knowles’ reply does not address my first question, which reads: “Is it true that if a potential host community chooses not to participate in the siting process, then their decision will be reviewed to determine whether or not that decision is based on reasoned justification?”

He has also raised a further issue in his reply. “In the first instance it would be for a new partnership of councils and community organisations to reach a judgement about this.” Is he suggesting that representatives from the borough and county councils would be part of the new siting partnership?

If this were so, then the councils will be:

setting up the siting partnership,

placing council representatives on the partnership,

developing partnership advice and recommendations,

and finally making decisions based on this same advice.

I remain undecided on the issue of proceeding to Stage 4. The issues expressed in this and my earlier letter are continuing causes for concern.

David I. WOOD

Ennerdale Bridge, Cleator

SIR – I would like to comment on the letter from Coun Knowles responding to some questions raised by D Wood in the previous week’s edition.

Having read both letters I am somewhat at a loss to understand what answer the councillor is giving.

Mr Wood raises the questions about the “host community”, i.e. Sellafield. Will the wishes of the people who actually live there will respected and upheld, or will the councils (who are supposed to be part of the advisory body) overrule them, if they give the ‘wrong’ answer?

Having attended at least one of these open meetings it would appear the councils hold the view that not only are they determined to get this here but that the whole of West Cumbria is the host, which is not strictly true.

Whilst I appreciate the jobs argument, surely this should be tempered with how many jobs can and will be filled by locals, how many will be filled by those coming in from outside, what are the net benefits to the actual host community and have the gross negatives, as a whole, been considered? None of this is mentioned in the consultative paperwork distributed to the public.

Surely a balance of ‘pros’ and cons’ would have been more realistic? The way this proposal is being ‘sold’ to the people can be likened to winning the jackpot and the government waiving all taxes on your windfall. Just as unrealistic and just as unlikely.

Sadly, because these are the implicit messages being sent out, it also lends credence to the concern that the councils appear to be prepared to overrule and run roughshod over the wishes of the people of the host community, in order to achieve the affirmative response they seek. Is this true? As mentioned above, this failure to give a closed question a simple Yes or No, unfortunately tends to endorse this concern.

Finally, it begs the question: is this really about what is best for our community and particularly the host community, or is it a copycat of national political antics; disingenuous soundbites to get more money for pet projects?

I sincerely hope I am wrong.



SIR – Colin Wales’s letter (February 2) seems carefully considered and deserves careful attention, notably in his call for telling the truth.

Unfortunately, on some important matters of fact he appears mistaken.

For a start, it is not quite true that thorium fuels produce no weaponisable material or troublesome amounts of high-level waste. Granted that the fissile component that it generates, uranium-233, would be unsuited to stockpiled weapons because of a relatively short-lived contaminating isotope with a dangerously radioactive decay product, it might still make a very effective device for immediate use especially by a group unconcerned for its own safety.

True, it remains inaccessible if the spent fuel is disposed directly (as would be quite probable) rather than reprocessed, but besides wasting a valuable resource, that means the whole assembly becoming high-level waste rather than merely the small proportion of fission products.

Granted, too, that thorium generates very little of the transuranic elements that currently arouse some concern for the long term, it does produce its own equivalent in protoactinium-231 with a half-life of 34,000 years. The main radioactive content of high-level waste is of course the fission products, which would arise in much the same range and quantity as with uranium for a given amount of energy generated.

In terms of volume, the amount of waste at present needing deep disposal is dominated by that of intermediate level such as scrapped equipment, operational materials and process residues. Without reprocessing, new arisings would be substantially reduced; with it, similar amounts might be expected to come from either fuel base though perhaps more problematically from thorium because it is more difficult to process than uranium. For this reason, and because it is 10 times more radiotoxic, demanding stricter precautions, fuel costs would almost certainly be higher rather than lower, and perhaps Mr Wales would tell us why, surprisingly, he expects cheaper construction of reactors.

Again, it is at best a gross over-simplification to claim without qualification that transmutation of radioactive waste is achievable. For two of the actinides it is possible once they are separated from interfering materials, incidentally creating yet more waste. For one or possibly two of the long-lived fission products it might also be feasible, albeit with the same drawback probably enhanced; the rest, for one reason or another, are unsuited to it. It would be interesting to know how Mr Wales gets his thousand-fold reduction in volume.

For all this, it is good to have misconceptions aired, as otherwise there is no chance of dispelling them.


Wasdale Park, Seascale

SIR – As a resident of Copeland who is not employed at Sellafield, I must admit that I am not sure exactly what takes place at the establishment. I am sure that other people feel the same way.

The population is now being asked to comment on disposal of radioactive waste in West Cumbria. I have a suspicion that the powers that be will already have decided about the disposal.

I understand that about 18 per cent of the nation’s electricity is generated by nuclear power. This, I suppose, feeds into the National Grid to which all areas have access. Therefore any area using electricity should be considered for storage.

On both sides of the road through Bleinau Ffestiniog there are old slate mines. Parts of them are now show caves. However, in one there are many levels where the slate has been removed leaving gigantic caverns in the solid granite of the mountain. I would have thought that these were ready-made storage facilities.

I know the Welsh would probably object, but they do use electricity and it would bring work to the area. Worth thinking about perhaps?

Name and address supplied

SIR – I note that Coun Knowles (letters, February 2), is seeking to distance himself from the activities of the NDA; and thereby demonstrate his impartiality on the waste repository issue.

Is this the same Tim Knowles who was once the works secretary at Sellafield?




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