Quakers Say NO to Nuke Dump in Cumbria

Swarthmoor Hall

Me and my friends used to cycle past Swarthmoor Hall and scare ourselves, it looked spooky and derelict then to 6 year olds cycling down country lanes. Today it has been restored and is well known as the ‘Cradle of Quakerism’ because in the mid-17th Century it was the home of Judge Thomas Fell and his wife Margaret who provided protection for George Fox (who later married Margaret) and allowed the Hall to be the principal headquarters for the movement.

Good News Today from the Friends and worth reading in full…..

Quakers say no . . . .

to the MWRS search for a disposal site in Cumbria for hazardous high-level radioactive waste.

This process is grossly unethical. Though the first priority should be clear and unequivocal safety of the geology being explored, contrary to international practice and to all logic with regard to the complex question of locating a site to be safe for thousands of years, this procedure asks first for a volunteer host community.

This deflects the site search from parts of the UK which are geologically safer but which are politically more sensitive . It is a clear abrogation of the most profound responsibilities of central government who are effectively delegating responsibility for the safety of future generations to local authorities vulnerable to economic pressure.

Only Copeland and Allerdale, in the whole of the UK, have volunteered to even consider the process. They are in an invidious position. They are aware that the future of nuclear power and therefore their highest wage generator may depend on a ‘quick-fix’ for the nuclear waste legacy but they also know that jobs will be lost if the public increasingly perceives their area negatively.

In the 1990s after the expenditure of £440mn at the NIREX Inquiry, the Secretary of State for the Environment concurred with the views of his Inspector and experts that Cumbria’s geology was not suitable for a repository. They have since reaffirmed their views. After NIREX and with the UK’s finances in such a poor state can Cumbria really have confidence that fifteen years from now after more £bns have been spent that whoever is in power will not just impose a ‘least safe’ repository ?

The process is a travesty of democracy. It substitutes persuasion and incentives backed by lavish public relations ‘spin’ in place of wisdom and integrity in the governmental process. It is a potential tragedy for Cumbria and for our neighbours because it is future generations of both Cumbrians and neighbouring communities, possibly far and wide, who will have to live with the consequences.

On behalf of Swarthmoor, South West Cumbria Quakers, Area Meeting.

Robert Straughton* Co-clerk
Jane Pearson, Co-clerk
Paul Milling ** Sustainability Group,

Telephone 01229 860231

Members: *Churches Together in Cumbria Social Forum, ** ‘CTiC Environment Group.

Notes on the current search for a Nuclear Waste Repository:

How did we arrive here? National politicians for decades have been fearful the search for a Nuclear waste burial site may adversely affect politically important constituencies. In the past Ministers Nicholas Ridley and William Whitelaw are both reported as having summarily halted the search for alternatives elsewhere in the UK. Governments used to imposing all kinds of developments on communities – fast rail links, motorways, airport runways etc – where the impact on future generations is minimal, are prepared to encourage ‘voluntarism’ even though the wrong decision on nuclear waste will cost £billions and may affect millions in the future.

However, national politicians and their agencies looking for a ‘quick-fix’ know West Cumbria does not contain politically sensitive constituencies and believe it can be persuaded by economic benefits in a time of ever increasing economic uncertainty.

Safety First ? : The West Cumbria MRWS say “safety is the most important issue” but this is not the case. The ‘Voluntarism’ being advocated in the UK differs profoundly from other countries who have resolved the question of the safe geology first.

And note the public statement which shows the mind-set steering the process from
John Dalton , Dept for Energy and Climate Change, Kendal Jan 23, 2012 –

”We are optimistic that the process is robust and that West Cumbria will go forward with
this. There is no Plan B; we are not planning for failure.”

Population: by comparison with West Cumbria the population living near proposed disposal sites in other countries is low or negligible. West Cumbria is the most heavily populated area of Cumbria being the industrial-urban belt of extinct coal and iron mining and steelmaking. Over 200,000 people live in or within 20 miles of the ‘volunteer’ zone including most of the major Cumbrian communities ; the City of Carlisle, Barrow in Furness, Keswick, Cockermouth, Workington, Whitehaven and Maryport. That excludes any transient population staying in the Lake District National Park and other tourism areas.
Public Relations now but what Confidence in the Future? : The MWRS process involves a huge and sophisticated public relations high-spending campaign to persuade Cumbrians that everything will be well and that they can withdraw from the process any time – ‘subject to conditions’.
Having spent £440mn on NIREX came the clear answer Cumbria was unsuitable. But the priority to find a site in Cumbria has since overruled the NIREX result. After NIREX and with the UK’s finances in a very poor state can the public really have confidence that ten to fifteen years or more from now after further £bns have been expended, that whoever is in power will not impose a ‘least best’ option on Cumbria ? Where safety is sacrificed to expediency by a future government who may feel they have little choice given their financial situation ?
Misinformation and NIREX : A spokesperson for the current process at a public meeting in Cumbria in January 11 is reported as stating ” the outcome of the NIREX Inquiry would have been favourable to geological disposal of high level nuclear wastes had all the information been available at that time”.

This was quickly refuted by the Nirex inspector Mr Chris McDonald who wrote :

“…of your opinion that the outcome of the Inquiry would have been different…This was not a view put forward by Nirex … and it causes me some concern now. The fundamental conclusion of the expert Assessor and myself was that the Proposed Repository Zone had been chosen for these studies in an arbitrary manner, without conforming to internationally agreed, geological criteria.” He goes on to say. “It would not suffice in European Law to rely on the…voluntarism approach, since that attaches far too much weight to the transient views of the current population.”

Earlier in a letter to “The Guardian” of June 28,’07 he had stated :
“The relevant geology in west Cumbria is apparently now claimed to be ‘stable, although imperfect’.…the imperfection consists of simply failing to meet the internationally agreed criteria on the suitability of rocks for nuclear waste deposit. The site 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. Also, the industry was relying on an overlying layer of sedimentary strata to dilute and disperse any groundwater leakage, when the international criteria require such a layer to act instead as a barrier…The site is not suitable and investigations should be moved elsewhere…”.
And: “The 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.”

Geology : Safe geology means finding an area where the geology is not complex, where it is stable, through which water doesn’t flow and where the rock is overlaid with a barrier such as clay. Professor David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics, University of Glasgow, who was also involved in the NIREX Inquiry states:‘ none of the geology in West Cumbria is suitable’. He states there are sites in the UK which potentially offer the right conditions especially in East Anglia.

Engineering : The MWRS campaign glosses over the safety of the engineered underground structures designed to contain the hazardous waste when such installations have never been completed and cannot and never will be tested in situ. It is widely expected (and impossible to verify in any event) that the engineered containers in the repository may develop pinholes through which radio-active waste will leak within 2-300 years. Radio-active waste remains hazardous for many thousands of years and within a few hundred years will have decayed only minimally which is why the geology of the site is so crucial.

In a Kendal MWRS public meeting a question was asked ‘what if the right geology couldn’t be found in West Cumbria’. The answer received was that ‘an engineering solution would be found to make it work’. In other words : fitting unproven and unprovable engineered solutions within unsuitable geology.

Councillors in Allerdale and Copeland : some concerned and sincere local councillors in Cumbria consider that after the past decades of government prevarication they are in an impossible position. If due to continued government procrastination they may by default be left with the waste anyway, they may as well take the community incentives and ‘sweeteners’ they hope will be on offer.

Nuclear and non-Nuclear jobs and Economics : There is an estimate a repository may require up to 550 direct jobs. However If Cumbria refused to accept a nuclear waste site, insisting a safer one had to be located elsewhere, this would also provide many jobs in West Cumbria where the waste stored there would have to be processed and readied for its removal and transport. It is wrong to suggest only a waste repository site in Cumbria would create jobs there.

But by siting a repository in Cumbria other jobs may be lost. Negative publicity could be reflected in lost jobs in various industries vulnerable to the public’s perceptions : agriculture, food processing, packaging, tourism, etc., with implications for the economy of the whole County of Cumbria now and in the future.

The site search and its development at each stage will be headline news with possibly negative publicity which may run for decades. Cumbria Tourism has commissioned independent research into how the proposed development would impact.

It is understood that it is not due to be published before the deadline for representations but it is reported that preliminary results indicate a nuclear waste site in Cumbria would have a negative impact on the public’s perception.

The ethically spurious nature of the ‘Voluntarism’ process itself gives the area image and public relations instability which can draw negative publicity for years to come. This would not be the case if any such site anywhere in the UK had followed logical international safety guidelines for site search. The process would have had integrity and the public would perceive this is so. Regrettably this is not the case in the current process.

Churches Together in Cumbria : Their ‘Social Responsibility Forum’ and Environment Group, who has participated in the partnership, in a recent press release stated:
“While community acceptance of any possible repository site is of course desirable, the imperative is its environmental suitability for thousands of years to come”.

‘Consultation’ ends on 23 March. but this crucial phase was chosen to be undertaken through December to March when people would expect to be focusing on holidays, celebrations and surviving the worst winter weather rather than expecting to attend public presentations for and against this proposal.

Government and its agencies are indeed spending a huge amount of tax-payers money and applying clever ‘public relations’ and marketing expertise in order to continue this fundamentally flawed and unethical process.

On behalf of : Swarthmoor, South West Cumbria Quakers, Area Meeting


Robert Straughton * Co-clerk,
Jane Pearson, Co-clerk,
Paul Milling, ** Sustainability Group,

Members: *Churches Together in Cumbria Social Forum, ** ‘CTiC’ Environment Group.

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