Eddie Martin – Sky News Interview
‘As Community Leaders we councillors must quite frequently make difficult, sometimes lonely, and occasionally quite courageous decisions. Such decisions are unlikely to please everyone!
Making a courageous decision often comes, of course, with a high price. On the upside, that courageous decision usually proves to be the right one, even if it takes years for people to appreciate it. It might cost your office, but chances are, someday you will be remembered for doing the right thing. We are now faced, I suggest, with the most courageous and pivotal decision we shall ever have to make.
When I came away from the International Conference in Canada, after speaking to many experts from all over the world, I was quite convinced that there was no alternative to a GDF. Then I started my research in earnest… the more I read and studied and listened the less certain I became that a GDF in Cumbria was the solution to Cumbria’s or the UK’s nuclear waste.
We can’t wish away … or wash away the nuclear waste. Either it is stored for subsequent retrieval, disposed of permanently, or it is turned into Mox fuels, or it is used to power Integral Fast Reactors. The scientists will, no doubt, tell us which is the best solution; unfortunately, there are a number of recorded examples where scientists have shown that they are not, in fact, infallible. And I am sure they would be the first to admit that.
However, after attending that international conference in Canada, it was clear to me, nonetheless, that international opinion is quite unequivocal: High level nuclear waste must be disposed of in appropriate, deep geological repositories … and within the territorial borders of the country producing the waste.
The key question for us, however, is whether or not Cumbria is the optimum location.
We have met some who would venture forth to Stage 4 with little or no further explanation arguing that it is the logical outcome of more than three years of the MRWS Partnership studies.
I have to say, no one has ever suggested going beyond Stage 4 if the geological findings are not favourable. Some, including such as the Sellafield unions, the NDA/Sellafield Management and the government have been quite explicit in that imperative.
We have also met those people, on the other hand, who are implacably opposed to any further investigation whatsoever and who call for an immediate withdrawal, citing many reasons for their opposition – not the least of which has been the emphatic opinions of certain, eminent geologists who assert that there is no future in attempting to locate a GDF in West Cumbria. Others, however, such as the Geological Society of London disagree with their claims.
Still other geologists and scientists, appear to indicate that there might, in fact, be potential albeit, perhaps, of low probability.
To some extent, these diverging opinions – geological, scientific, environmental – along with earlier studies, such as those of Nirex, have contributed both to the confusions and, indeed, the concerns expressed by many. And we have seen that confusion in some of the thousands of email and letters we have received.
I have to ask myself why it is that no other community in the whole of the UK has even ventured to volunteer hosting a GDF, given that there are at least 36 other locations in the UK which produce nuclear waste of one kind or another. So why should Cumbria?
We clearly need to consider the facts as they are and not, however, as some might wish them to be or, indeed, believe them to be. And there is much to consider, not least, an attempt to forecast the unintended consequences of a course of action.
The MRWS Partnership produced a comprehensive report after several years of investigation and deliberation. I think the Partnership, have done a very good job in pulling together a lot of very complicated information in this consultation document.
• It received expert geological submissions arguing that West Cumbria’s geology is unsuitable and further progress is not worthwhile, but it also received contrary expert advice stating that further progress was worthwhile because not enough was yet known to be able to say that all of West Cumbria should be ruled out.
• The BGS study was a fairly basic geological study and only used currently available information. It did not involve new field investigations and there was no consideration of non-geological factors.
• I would not be being balanced if I did not state that the Government’s position remains that the MRWS process should proceed on the basis of the evidence tested and reviewed by the appropriate regulatory bodies and others, not the assertions of a small number of self-appointed individuals.
However, a key factor in all of this process and discussion is whether or not we have credible local support to progress any further.
Whatever approach is finally adopted it is quite clear that citizen participation and empowerment are fundamental to the success of the process, and there must be clear and transparent decision making throughout.
Earlier Copeland papers quite clearly state that … and I quote:
‘ .. any decision to move forward would need to be the
subject of a wide consultation in West Cumbria, and subject to the views of the people of Copeland.’ Has there been such wide consultation? Even in Copeland, let alone Allerdale.?
Notwithstanding the MRWS MORI poll, and I have no reason to doubt its statistical rigour, I do not believe there has. I believe such consultation must be based on a referendum, and not only in West Cumbria, for any decision to proceed to Stage 4 and certainly to Stage 5 will affect most people in and across Cumbria.
If we can have a referendum to elect a police commissioner, this subject, I venture to suggest, is much more important… we should have a county-wide referendum. It is, frankly, too big and too onerous a decision to be placed on the shoulders of just 24 County and District councillors. We councillors can negotiate the terms if and when we get the green light from our communities but, according to CALC and others, we simply do not have a green light.
Let us consider the sheer magnitude of this decision… stretching potentially generations ahead. Do we really have a mandate to proceed without asking the potential grandfathers and grandmas, and great grandparents of the generations yet to come..? I believe we do not.
To volunteer a community throws up all sorts of questions about who represents that community, it throws up all sorts of questions about what information we put in front of that community in order to make an informed decision.
I have no doubt whatsoever that we currently have what we might call a consent deficit… a democratic deficit to go further. That worries me… I venture to suggest that we consult more if we are thinking about closing a school or a care home…
Government considers that the voluntarism process is based on community support and as such it would apply to all communities and potential sites.
CoRWM, in its first incarnation in 2003, looked exclusively at legacy waste. The report was all about legacy waste. One of the things that was said in that report very clearly was that any potential host community should be told be equally clearly, right up front, what is going to go in the repository, what the inventory is.
Neither we, nor Cumbria, nor potential host communities in Cumbria yet to be identified, know that.
However, it further concerns me that, from the White Paper of 2008: I quote:
“… in the event that, at some point in the future, voluntarism and partnership does not look likely to work Government reserves the right to explore other approaches”
What exactly does that mean? An ominous warning perhaps?
For the people of Cumbria to be even remotely satisfied that a GDF should be sited in Cumbria, there should be NO conflict of expert evidence. We could get that from Stage 4 and 5 but, clearly, there should be and must be considerable greater community support. The scaremongers are not scaring me; I just do not believe we have the community support to continue.
I will not knee-jerk react to every community wish; were I to do I would spend my life filling pot holes. But the magnitude of this decision before us today and the far reaching potential consequences if we make the wrong one are simply awesome.
Third: If we decide to proceed to Stage 4 surely there is a predisposition that, if the geology DOES appear favourable, why would we not logically
and rationally proceed then to Stage 5. … and all that that entails … AND subject ourselves to many years of intrusive investigation…
Let me quote Peter Wilkinson – An Independent Environmental Policy Advisor to a number of Government departments, who has been involved in many things nuclear including being a member of the CoRWM committee
There is no compelling evidence anywhere that disposal of radioactive waste is safe. Nuclear Waste Advisory Associates trawled through a lot of European Union documentation, a lot of Environment Agency documentation, and came up with 101 uncertainties, technical and scientific uncertainties, which we put to the NDA which they are now going through. I don’t know how many people in West Cumbria understand, but a repository is designed to leak.
I read that radioactive waste from spent fuel rods, old nuclear weapons, and radioactive pharmaceuticals is like a two-year old at a birthday party. It has astonishing energy and wreaks havoc with its environment if you leave it unattended.
Young children and radioactive materials need supervision. Like a child, like you and me, an energetic radioactive molecule will become less energetic as it ages but for some molecules it will take many, many ages…
Like a two year old, radioactive waste can get into everything: water, soil, plants and animals. One way to control it is to trap it in ceramic-type materials so that it can’t escape into the environment. Hopefully, by the time the ceramic breaks down, the radioactivity will have decayed and will no longer pose a threat. But science is not infallible. What is deemed scientifically accurate and undeniable today may not be so in 100 or 1000 years time…and I can give you many examples of the fallibility of science.
Scientific knowledge is human knowledge and scientists are human beings. They are not gods, and science is not infallible. In short, there remains too much uncertainty.
Members: The only credible or satisfactory safety standard is an absolute one; i.e. beyond any doubt whatsoever. I am absolutely certain that the
earth goes round the sun, and that the earth is not flat. That’s a fact, not a theory.
I simply do not have such certainty when it comes to the disposal of nuclear waste. It seems clear that there is probably no realistic possibility that the yardstick of absolute safety will be or can be applied under the current process or in the immediate future. Faith, in the sense of “faith in science” means confidence that the methods of Science are sound. I do not have such confidence and I would not wish to inflict the possible consequences of my lack of confidence on Cumbrian people.
So, if we are never going to, or if we are unlikely to, reach journey’s end, why start the journey? With Stage 4?
We have done our best to get to grips with the complexities of this process. It has considerably preoccupied us. But there are, indeed, many factors other than the purely geological suitability, such as:
The proximity of thousands of people, businesses, farms, parish councils, dwellings … to any site which might be finally selected or even explored in Stage 5. The exploration and the construction of the facilities would have a significant impact on local communities and local infrastructure … and for many, many years. Do we really want such turmoil in any part of Cumbria?
I have to say, I rather like the Cumbrian countryside as it is…
Almost by definition, there must be damage to the Lake District Brand and the Cumbrian Brand and the AONB classifications.
For the government to offer funding to protect that Brand is surely an acknowledgement that there will be damage – hence the compensation.
And frankly, I think I probably fear the consequences of years of stage 5 even more so than the many years of construction of the actual GDF.
Members know that I am evangelical in encouraging investment in Sellafield. I have written to two Secretaries of State to that end. Right now, I especially favour, however, the enhanced storage and the ability to retrieve the nuclear waste rather than its disposal. My visit to Sweden led me to believe that nuclear waste, with human intervention, can be stored safely.
West Cumbria needs rejuvenation. Urgently. It must not become an economic desert.
It would be remiss of me not to mention, however, that Britain’s Energy Coast Business Cluster is privately funded by nearly 200 organisations who employ over 30,000 people. These organisations rely on work in the Nuclear sector. Without the continued Nuclear Investment the nuclear program and its supply chain will be put in jeopardy and a significant number of jobs may be lost. But what of the 52% of children in Sandwith, Whitehaven, who are living in relative poverty next to Sellafield? What is the nuclear industry and the government – any government- doing for them? Please do not mention community benefits; such as we receive are, frankly, derisory…and always have been but, in any case, I am not prepared to prostitute our Cumbrian soul or heritage for a few silver coins.
So I am arguing passionately for greater investment in the nuclear industry. .. not less. I suggest, however, that West Cumbria is not immune to considerations of rejuvenation by means other than through, or in addition to, the nuclear industry… and, in any case, Sellafield, in one form or another, is going to be there for a very long time to come… even after the closure of the Thorp plant. And in our negotiations with government we have insisted that it addresses the paucity of high value, employment opportunities in Cumbria… especially West Cumbria.
The plain and simple fact is I am simply not convinced the Cumbria is the place to consider building a GDF.
So, in all of this there remains considerable uncertainty. that, alone, must cause me to pause and reflect.
However, from the Nirex report: para 8.57. I appreciate it was on a very discreet and limited part of West Cumbria, but it is relevant, all the more so because it was, indeed, such a very small part of Cumbria:
The Inspector states:
“My ultimate conclusions are that the modest employment and economic benefits of the RCF (Rock Characterisation Facility) itself would by no means outweigh the harm to the appearance and character of the
National Park; the encroachment on the open countryside; the detriment to residential amenity and the adverse effects on tourism and business investment.”
To that we can of course add what might be termed ‘planning blight’ to house prices to farming, to land prices, to businesses…
He also goes on to say: in para 8.47:
“… there are strong indications that there may be a choice of sites in a different part of the earth’s crust in the UK with greater potential to meet legal and regulatory requirements.
I believe therefore that, here in Cumbria, alternative radioactive waste management solutions should be considered. Storage (with considerably greater investment) here; disposal elsewhere.
Perhaps I can remind members of Article 191 of the Treaty of the European Union. The Lisbon Treaty.
It says: Union policy on the environment shall contribute to pursuit of the following objectives:
- preserving, protecting and improving the quality of the environment,
- protecting human health,
If we proceed to Stage 4 and possibly Stage 5 will we be achieving either or any of those imperatives?
I do not believe that nuclear waste can be disposed of and simply forgotten: it presents problems not yet identified I suggest for future generations because whilst the dangers of the waste can be minimized they cannot, I suggest, be completely eliminated.
Finally, when we halted this process 4 months ago, we asked for the safeguard of a Right of Withdrawal to be enshrined in legislation. I believe that DECC and particularly the Minister have done their utmost to achieve that but I have to wonder how much support she and others have received.
All that we have received is: “We are minded to achieve primary legislation providing parliamentary time can be made available…”
That is simply not good enough. In fact, if the government is so reliant on Cumbria for its national nuclear policy, it is actually very disappointing.
• the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991 was passed in days.
• Banking Act 2008 was passed in three days in Feb. 2008
• Criminal Evidence Act (2008) in 3 weeks
• The Anti-terrorism Act 2008 took four weeks.
Yet the government cannot find time, in more than 4 months or more to enshrine and guarantee the right to withdraw. Perhaps it could have been added to the Energy Bill which is currently going through Parliament. We MAY have a legitimate expectation to withdraw as our barrister tells us; but we do not have the unconditional guaranteed right to do so. That was our number one priority… and it remains.
I have wrestled with this decision for weeks…months… as we all have… I have read and studied the arguments for and against proceeding to Stage 4. It has preoccupied me. I think I am exhausted. It’s time to call a halt. For all the reasons aforesaid – and I haven’t yet started on the Community Benefits package (but I promise I will not) – I do not believe we should continue any further.
May I suggest Members that we put aside the politics and the science and the speculation, and the scaremongering … and trust the people, but … well-informed people. Let’s embrace the opportunity we now have; take the heat that will no doubt be generated by our decision and make the hard and difficult decision, knowing that we are doing it to make things better, not worse, for the majority of the people and the children and the future children of Cumbria.
I would therefore, wish to move Option 4 with the amendments and I ask for your support.
Minutes of the 30th Jan Cumbria Cabinet Meeting
Minutes Cabinet 30-1-13