Coal AND Nuclear ..A Honeycomb of Lies in West Cumbria

Illustration-of-licences.for West Cumbria Mining with additionsjpg.jpg
From West Cumbria Mining‘s License Map – with additions from RaFL


Is Cumbria Being Frogmarched into Nuclear AND Coal?

The plan to reopen the  Whitehaven coal mine under the Irish Sea has been rumbling along for a few years with no raised eyebrows. Why are alarm bells not ringing out loud and clear?  This nasty plan will go before Cumbria County Council in May (date tbc)

Most Gaseous, Dangerous Pit in the Kingdom

These are strange, confusing days. There is all round praise being heaped on the plans to reopen Whitehaven coal mine on Cumbrias West Coast, the most gaseous, dangerous pit in the Kingdom. In 1815, Sir Humphrey Davy’s invention of the miner’s safety lamp was first tested in Whitehaven Coking Coal Mine because of its reputation for “firedamp” (methane) and fatal explosions. By 1816 the Davey lamp was in full use in collieries around Great Britain. A letter of gratitude was written by Whitehaven Miners to Sir Humphrey Davy in 1816….many of the miners signing the letter later lost their lives in the mine.


The West Coast of Cumbria below both ground and sea is a labyrinthine honeycomb of mines. Not only coking coal but iron ore and many other minerals. This vast honeycomb of mines stretches to Sellafield. One of the earliest records of coal mining in West Cumberland dates to 1560, the last pit, the Haig, closed in 1986. There are old mine maps but these are far, far from complete. Understandably so, given the length of time that this area has been extensively mined. Many of the miners are still there in the dangerous honeycomb. Entombed in the same collapsed and sea inundated mine pits that the West Cumbria Mining Company wants to reopen.

 Infamous Copeland By Election

In the recent infamous Copeland by election the candidates without exception declared themselves to be “big fans” of reopening the West Cumbria Coal Mine. They did this in true Alice in Wonderland style, expressing concerns about climate change while praising the plan to reopen the coal mine. For many years UK citizens have been subjected to a constant bombardment of disingenuous propaganda: ‘nuclear power is the answer to climate change and coal is far worse than nuclear for the climate’. The purpose of this propaganda being that we should welcome nuclear with open arms, while shunning coal. George Monbiot has consistently and aggressively set the pace: “Nuclear scare stories are a gift to the truly lethal coal industry.” Monbiot’s constant mantra in the last several years is that those who oppose nuclear power are uninformed, bigoted idiots. Now it appears that the idiots in Cumbria are being groomed to welcome both coal AND nuclear.

 Homely Image

A recent article in the Daily Mail paints a homely image of a local mining firm returning to its traditional roots in Cumbria. This image is not quite what it seems. The £14.7m private equity financing for reopening Whitehaven mine has been put up by EMR Capital who say: “We are a specialist resources private equity manager whose team has a proven track record in the three dimensions critical to achieving superior returns:

  1. Successful resources exploration, development, operation and commercialisation
  2. Deep linkages to Asian markets – in particular, with commodity purchasers and end users, resources companies, investors and governments
  3. Private equity investment management”

PR Spin

The PR for reopening the coal mine seems to have worked its charms on the local Allerdale and Copeland Green party for whom the coal mine gets a thumbs up as it ‘will reduce imports of the coking coal necessary to produce wind turbines.’   This argument holds no water as in order to recoup money and make a killing the coal from Whitehaven would be aggressively exported worldwide. The coal and its by-products could end up doing anything from being burnt in coal fired power stations, processed into coking coal, making the vast amounts of steel necessary for a giant geological dump for radioactive wastes. The coal from Whitehaven was first processed into coking coal for the iron industry in 1723. Coke production did not however match local demand and tonnes were brought in from Durham. The Durham coke was superior in having lower phosphorus content, a factor of importance to the local hematite iron industry.

Turning the ground to a liquid mess

There are other ways to achieve the high temperatures necessary for steel production but even if processing coal into coking coal was the only way, the close proximity of Sellafield and the proposed Moorside site should knock this dangerous plan on the head. Extractive activities are known to cause earthquakes. There are two contenders for the strongest earthquake in this region a 5.0 ML earthquake on 11 August 1786 had an epicentre just offshore from Whitehaven and a depth of about 16 km; a 5.1 ML earthquake on 17 March 1843 had an epicentre offshore from Barrow and a depth of about 15 km. This may not be unrelated to the escalating mining activities going on the time.  The only area in the UK to have experienced a liquefaction event is the village of Rampside, near Barrow in 1865. “High intensity and liquefaction phenomena are usually associated only with relatively large magnitude earthquakes. An earthquake in 1865 in the northwest of England suggests that a sufficiently shallow small event can also produce liquefaction. The effects are well documented in historical sources and include sand fountaining. Modern investigation is confined to documentary evidence owing to the tidal environment of the area where liquefaction occurred. Analysis shows that the felt area of the earthquake was probably only about 200 km2; however, heavy damage occurred in the village of Rampside and the maximum intensity is assessed at 8. Liquefaction is not uncommon at this intensity, but such a high intensity is not usually produced by such small earthquakes. The magnitude was probably in the range 2.5–3.5 ML.” pure and applied geophysics November 1998, Volume 152, Issue 4, pp 733–745


West Cumbria Mining are inviting the public to ask questions so I asked the following:

“How would the mine be dewatered? What is the full carbon footprint for one year of peak production. Including predicted dewatering, mining and export operations? What agreements have been made with St Bees School, Lowther Estate, regarding the mineral rights? How are the vast network of faults and dips mapped? (this would have a bearing on distance to the sea bed) What is the proximity to the proposed Moorside site and Sellafield?” The reply from Communications Manager Helen Davies was: “At this time I am busy preparing for our next major stakeholder event, which is scheduled to run on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th March. It would be much easier to discuss your questions and provide answers from our team of specialists who will be at the event, rather than attempting to answer them in writing now. The event on the 2nd March is by invitation only – please find attached an invite, we would be delighted if you could come along to meet with us. Caroline Leatherdale, our environmental specialist will be there, together with a wide range of our technical team.”

Does your lump of coal feel lucky?”


Marianne Birkby

Radiation Free Lakeland


some more info…







9 thoughts on “Coal AND Nuclear ..A Honeycomb of Lies in West Cumbria

  1. Pingback: King Coal and the Nuclear Heartland, Hand in Hand in Cumbria | OffGuardian

  2. Pingback: Is Cumbria Being Frogmarched into Nuclear AND Coal? « nuclear-news

  3. Pingback: Coal AND Nuclear … A Honeycomb of Lies in West Cumbria (Guest blog) – Coal Action Network

  4. Dr Timothy Norris

    It is very clear that these coal mines when exhausted will be backfilled with nuclear waste. For example, the nuclear waste will be fragmented and mixed with concrete that will then be injected at high pressure into the empty coal mines. Items from the dismantling of Thorp facility at Sellafield will be cut into small bits, mixed with concrete and then disposed of into the empty coal mines. Some people say that the nuclear waste will be safer deep under ground than in the corroding and decaying tanks of radioactive sludge at Sellafield. This would be true, if it were not for concern that an unsatisfactory encapsulation of nuclear waste fragments injected at high pressure into the empty coal mines by way of backfilling could cause an enormous environmental hazard in future that could not be later rectified. Clearly, some rather careful thoughts and deliberations by all concerned is required in the circumstances. At Hanford, explosions have occurred as a result of inadequate storage of dangerous nuclear waste in shallow underground repositories. Sellafield,together with Mayak in Russia and Hanford in USA are amongst the most radioactively contaminated sites on Earth, together with Fukushima Dai’ichi (but then the mainstream media does not like people talking about such details because of embarrassment to the established conventional nuclear industry).

    1. Agree West Cumbrian Mining clearly mean even more damage than they say on the tin …. Cumbria is now the only place in the UK with deep mining infrastructure being embedded – that is in itself scary given the interest in Cumbria from govnt for implementing a Geological Dump here.

  5. Dr Timothy Norris

    There is a risk that these Cumbrian coal mines eventually become a nuclear waste repository, conveniently close to the Sellafield site. Radioactive fragments of nuclear waste suspended in concrete, injected to back-fill the coal mines when exhausted of coal reserves. Hope these nuclear bods know what they are doing ? Past experience does not build up any good confidence in their competences.

  6. Dr Timothy Norris

    I have submitted an objection to Cumbria County Council regarding the Whitehaven coal mine in Cumbria, amongst other grounds that it could be tempting to use when exhausted of coal as a nuclear waste repository, wherein the geology of the area is completely unsuitable for such purpose, being fissured and unstable during a time period in which the nuclear waste’s radioactive half-lives require the waste to be isolated from the biosphere. The UK Government is desperate (understandably with the huge amount of nuclear waste at Sellafield, including 140 tonnes of Plutonium) to find a national repository for nuclear waste. The clay deposits of Bedfordshire would be more suitable as these are amongst the most stable geological formations in the United Kingdom. I fear that the real agenda for Whitehaven coal mine is a nuclear waste repository, and all the arguments regarding coking coal for steel production are just a smokescreen to entice Cumbria County Counsel with jobs for mining workers in the short term. The UK Government is, I fear, ushering in a decision with disastrous consequences to press for the new coal mines to be established in Cumbria.

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