A Geological Dump in Cumbria “will leak radioactive contamination within a short time”.

solway high and low ground
solway high and low ground

The red outline shows the area within which the repository would be sited within the Mercia Mudstone

A Letter to Allerdale Councillors and Concerned Members of the Public from
Professor David Smythe

The MRWS(Managing Radioactive Waste Safely)so-called consultation process has now homed in on two
proposed areas for the repository, based on geological criteria.
These are:

The Mercia Mudstone Group (MMG) of northern Allerdale
The Eskdale/Ennerdale granite in Copeland

I have demonstrated to MRWS that both these rock groups are
unsuitable, but my arguments have not been considered properly (this
may lead to Judicial Review, but that is not of concern for the
present); however, I am concerned here with just the Allerdale
rocks. You will note in passing that IF northern Allerdale were to
be chosen, the advantage of treating the waste on-site at Sellafield
has gone, because all the waste would have to be shifted 40-50 km
northwards by road or rail, before it goes underground.

The red outline shows the area within which the repository would be
sited within the MMG, which is found near the surface below glacial
rocks. The outline is demarcated by the British Geological Survey
(BGS) exclusion zones to the east and west. These zones are excluded
because there is future potential for coal or coal-bed methane. To
the north it is bounded by the coast, and to the south because the
layer is too shallow. The underground workings will require about 20
sq km, just over half of the 39 sq km of the red outline. The grid
squares on the map are 1 km by 1 km. There is thus little or no
leeway for lateral movement. They have to be sited in the middle,
below Parkhouse and Blackdyke. Residents will not, of course, see
the workings, but will see three main features:

‘Temporary’ (for 50 years or so) installations including
mutiple vertical shafts and a railhead, over the centre of the
red outline. The spoil will come up these shafts. This surface
installation will require 0.5 – 1 sq km.
Adjacent piles of spoil – around 15 million cubic metres,
equivalent to six pyramids of Cheops in volume. If these are
dumped locally in ‘bunds’ (flat-topped heaps) 5 m high, they
will require around 4 sq km (= 400 Ha = 1000 acres). Spoil from
the MMG has no commercial value (unlike granite), and cannot be
used for anything. The heaps will be highly porous, so there
will be a major engineering problem in isolating them from the
surface and underground water. The MMG is very high in chromium,
a toxic (carcinogenic) metal, which might pose an environmental
There will be a separate permanent installation to the south
(i.e. for 150-250 years), within the blue outline, where the
entrances to sloping tunnels (‘drifts’) would be sited. These
have to be on the higher ground, maybe 5 km away from the centre
of the undergound repository, because of the threat of sea level
rise in the next century or so. This installation does not have
to be confined by the BGS exclusion zone. Again, it will require
0.5 to 1 sq km of land.

In short, the region would be converted into a very large
mineworking such as one sees in South Africa or Zambia, for example.
Allerdale councillors might be unselfishly proposing this area on
your behalf in the national interest – but not so, because the MMG
is a very poor kind of clay rock, which does not match up to the
excellent clay sites being developed now in France or Switzerland.
It will leak radioactive contamination within a short time. So your
councillors are not doing the country any favour, by such a
‘sacrifice’. On the contrary, the best clay rocks are to be found in
large tracts of eastern and southern England, which is where the
government investigations should henceforth be focussed.

If you can attend the meeting (provisionally at Silloth), at which I
am speaking on Sept 7th, you will get the opportunity to hear about
all this in more detail, and to question me and my two colleagues
who will also be speaking. I look forward to meeting you there. In
the mean time I hope you can question your councillors about this,
and ask them why they are currently proposing to move to the next
stage of investigations. My fear is that once the juggernaut of
government-directed and very expensive geological and engineering
investigations gets under way, there will be no chance for Allerdale
to pull out.

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