On 15th July a small committee of Cumbrian Councillors in Kendal took the decision to stack nuclear waste ever higher in shipping containers on the shifting sands of the West Cumbrian coast at the quaint village of Drigg. No fuss, no fanfare, no comment, only one article in the local press which airbrushed out the opposition – its a wonder there is ANY opposition what with the deafening silence! That rather triumphant article appeared in the Whitehaven News and it should set ALL alarm bells ringing. The operators of the Drigg “Low Level” Nuclear Waste “repository” are gleefully reported saying: ” It is safe to dispose of LLW at the LLWR both now and centuries into the future.”
Campaigners are desperate to challenge this outrageous decision. Councillors have taken the decision to deny generations to come of the ability to protect themselves from nuclear wastes by “capping” them out of sight and out of mind. This site even without the
coming tsunami of radioactive wastes from an insane “decommissioning” and new
build programme will remain dangerous for millennia. “Low level” waste is not low
risk or short lived. Low level merely means that the concentrations of all the
radionuclides from plutonium to tritium are bulked up. The existing waste should
not be added to or “capped” like a fizzy radioactive lemonade bottle with holes in, out of sight and out of mind.
Many of the Councillors expressed serious concerns at the meeting, and yet the vote was unanimously in favour which, to campaigners and the wider public, smacks of something very fishy indeed. At the very least the full council should have the opportunity to debate the plan to expand Drigg in order to inform the Development Control Committee’s decision. To rely on the testament of the Environment Agency who merely look at the information provided to them by the industry is reckless. All projections and computer modelling are based on information provided by the operators. Where is the genuinely independent and ongoing monitoring we have repeatedly called for? It is a fact that much of the Drigg site is already unable to be accessed for monitoring due to the stacking of containers. The decsion taken on the 15th July makes this bad situation even worse.
Radiation Free Lakeland have just recieved Freedom of Information answers from the Environment Agency to our concerns regarding fires at the site, extracts below:
“(1) Evidence of waste fires at the LLWR, Nr Drigg
Interviewee 4: ‘In Drigg Parish Council meetings, concerns were
raised as to the risk of fires breaking out in the trenches. A number had
already occurred and it was understood that any flammable material should
not have been put into the trenches. The council had growing concerns that
other materials were being tipped that should not have been.’
· Interviewee 5 states ‘the cause of the trench fires was the presence of sodium lamps, which would cause a fire if they broke and came into contact with water,.’
· Interviewee 7 recalled ‘a number of occasions when smoke came from the tip face. This was notalways attributable to a fire, but was instead a result of chemical reactions within the disposed waste.’
· Interviewee 17 recalls ‘a couple of trench fires but was not sure how they started. There were rumours that sparks from tipping steel into the trench could have set paper waste on fire . Sometimes they would dig the tip face out to stop the fire spreading further back into the trench. The waste material was left in the trench to be covered over with the next day’s loads.’
In summary, we concluded that we were not concerned about the historic
evidence for trench fires. These were a long time ago and associated with
a very different disposal system (the current vaults and ISO containers)
which is now closed.
Overall, we accept that the likelihood of a waste fire in the trenches is
very low and would be even lower within the vaults. We are satisfied that
an adequate ESC has been made regarding a trench fire, largely on the
grounds of the very low probability of such fires occurring within the
disposal system at the LLWR.”
THIS IS NOT REASSURING. The waste tipped into trenches is not “historic” it was going on up until 1995 and the waste inventory is far from comprehensive. Apart from fires there is also the spectre of criticality. The waste arriving at Drigg, although described as “low level” contains all the usual suspects of enriched uranium and plutonium. This was not discussed by councillors or acknowledged by the operators at the meeting but below are some extracts from the LLWR’s hard to find “Criticality Assessment” (PDF) :….
TRENCHES: “the trench inventory data support the view that significant quantities of fissile materials were not routinely disposed of in the trenches.” “if a quantity of low enriched uranium fuel pellets had been mis-consigned to a trench bay, up to 26.6 kg of such material would be safe in each bay, even if it could somehow be arranged with optimised geometry and moderation. Similarly, mis-consignments of up to 0.68 kg 235U would be safe in each bay. Larger safe mass limits can be derived for fissile material in mixtures of trench soil and water. In conclusion, the uncertainty analysis for the trenches shows that potential variations in their plutonium content or their uranium content could lead to, at least, a theoretical possibility of criticality.”….
VAULTS: “In overview, the vault operations comprise the receipt and storage/emplacement of grouted disposal containers  and also occasional oversize items. In Vaults 8 and 9 the containers may be stacked up to eight high while stacking to a maximum of nine high is planned for future vaults. In general, disposal containers will be permitted to contain small quantities of fissile materials (i.e. enriched uranium or plutonium) as contaminants within the waste material and larger quantities of non-fissile natural or depleted uranium. The formal criticality controls for vault operations are provided by: the operational controls used to enforce the fissile limits for each container, in conjunction with the passive engineered controls defining the geometry of the disposal containers and the limits on how high they may be stacked.” …..
CONCLUSION: “The words “will not occur” might be interpreted as a requirement for a purely deterministic criticality safety assessment. Whilst such assessments can be provided for some types of fissile plant, for example process vessels that can be made safe by means of a readily verifiable parameter such as a safe geometry, it is not considered practicable to do this for the LLWR.”
NONE OF THIS WAS DISCUSSED BY COUNCILLORS. Nor was was the ethics of stacking nuclear wastes containers ever higher on an already dangerous and largely unmonitorable site. At least the Americans have had the good grace to discuss how future generations should be warned “not to dig here” although in Drigg’s case it seems the plan is for it all to float out to sea and into groundwater?
We call for the full council to at least debate this decision in order to inform
the “delegated decision”.
We call for Cumbrian Councillors, to be held directly responsible for decisions
which will impact on generations to come.
We call on Councillors to rethink their decision – to Lock the Gate on Ever More Nuclear Waste arriving at Drigg. The tsunami of nuclear wastes is from “reprocessing” and the ridiculous breaking up of old nuclear plants to clear the decks which is called “decommissioning” and it goes without saying that( to all but the most nuclear fanatical) ……new build would increase that tsunami a billionfold requiring many more Driggs.
We are caught in a trap – but there is a way out