‘It’s a bribe’: Coastal areas that could become UK’s nuclear dump | Nuclear waste

OOn the unspoiled Lincolnshire coast, where dog walkers enjoy five miles of golden sandy beach and families vacation in caravan parks beyond the dunes, British politicians’ efforts to persuade energy public nuclear energy is green, safe and clean does not seem to be gaining ground.

A skull glows from the sand dunes to Mablethorpe Beach, a harbinger of death and destruction, and a throwback to the campaign for nuclear disarmament protests of the 1980s.

It is here, in a 24-hectare disused gas terminal bordering the beach, that Boris Johnson’s big nuclear bet is being tested. Nuclear waste experts have said that until the UK builds a large underground nuclear waste dump or geological repository facility (GDF) to safely store the 700,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste from the nuclear program of the country’s 20th century, no new nuclear power plants should be created. .

This is a problem that has hampered the development of nuclear power not just in the UK, but across Europe and the US: how to safely and permanently store the end of the nuclear fuel cycle . The solution of a GDF was proposed nearly 50 years ago, but the UK is no closer to putting shovels in the ground, and the cost of dismantling and disposing of radioactive waste from the country rose to £131 billion.

The disused gas terminal that would become the land part of the GDF
The disused gas terminal which would become the land part of the GDF. Photograph: John Robertson/The Guardian

When the prime minister recently promised eight new nuclear power plants in as many years, the issue of high-level radioactive waste they would add to the stockpile was not mentioned.

It is, however, something very much on the minds of those who live in the remote Lincolnshire village of Theddlethorpe and the nearby town of Mablethorpe.

Locals learned the resort town could be home to a large nuclear dump – not from officials, but when a local BBC news program broke the story, revealing talks had been taking place for two years.

The gas terminal site is being considered for onshore installation and the landfill would be dug six miles off Mablethorpe Beach, between 200 and 1,000 meters below sea level. It would consist of underground tunnels and vaults, with natural and man-made barriers to minimize radioactivity leakage, according to documents from Radioactive Waste Management, now part of Nuclear Waste Services (NWS).

Inside, the waste from the past 50 years of nuclear programmes, most of which is temporarily stored at Sellafield in Cumbria, would be deposited and sealed forever. The landfill would also have room for an additional 73,000 cubic meters of waste from a new nuclear program of up to 16 GW.

An anti-nuclear garden decoration outside a house in Theddlethorpe
An anti-nuclear garden decoration outside a house in Theddlethorpe. Photograph: John Robertson/The Guardian

The revelations sparked popular protest which appears to have spread rapidly among the retired population, many of whom moved to the area for its coastal beauty. Anti-nuclear signs dominate country roads, skeletons have been erected on the beach and outside homes, and a series of public meetings have been held over the past eight months by a group called Guardians of the East Coast.

“I was totally shocked when we found out,” says Sara Bright, who lives in Mablethorpe. “This area was just not a place where we thought they would put a nuclear dump. It’s a tourist area, we have this beautiful beach, there are investments in tourism here. We rely on this income tourists and the idea that they might consider setting up a nuclear dump here shocks me.

It is responses like these that have repeatedly seen attempts to build an underground dump for nuclear waste in the UK.

Nine years ago, one in Cumbria was rejected after a passionate campaign by environmentalists and local people. This time, however, the approach was different, says NWS. The government agency privately acknowledges that past attempts to find a site for the dump have been shrouded in secrecy.

Any location for a GDF should be based on science, the geology of the area, and the technical requirements of a massive engineering project. But above all, the community that will host it must also provide support. This time, NWS invited communities to highlight their territory.

Four regions have identified themselves as willing to consider hosting the facility – Allerdale, Mid Copeland and South Copeland in Cumbria, and Theddlethorpe.

NWS promises that the community hosting the landfill will benefit from great economic development opportunities, including jobs and investment in roads and railways. In Cumbria, where a £1million pot has been made available for local projects, a trickle of the promised cash flow has started to trickle in: £47,801 on a BMX pump track at Seascale, £9,576 for Beckermet Reading and Leisure Rooms and £8,122 for an electronic scoreboard at Seascale Cricket Club.

In Lincolnshire, a community partnership is being formed.
Jon Collins, former leader of Nottingham City Council and independent chair of a task force set up in Theddlethorpe to decide on the GDF, has been holding meetings for several months to provide information and answer questions from residents. “If it was just a process where someone is trying to sell an idea to the community, I wouldn’t have been interested in participating,” he says. “What I think is really interesting in terms of public opinion is that this is a big infrastructure project and it has local implications; we have to work with the community and we ask the community to pass judgment on that at the end of the process and if people don’t want it, it doesn’t happen.

“We talk to people about security, why the area is being considered and what kind of timescale we’re talking about,” he says. “Most people are reasonably open-minded, some people are almost unsupportive and others are worried about the potential impact at the local level.”

Ruth Gathercole, Brian Swift and Ken Smith of the East Coast Guardians.
Ruth Gathercole, Brian Swift and Ken Smith of the East Coast Guardians. Photograph: John Robertson/The Guardian

An initial assessment concluded that the Lincolnshire site has the potential to host a GDF. Recognizing the natural beauty of the area, NWS promises to help protect conservation areas around the site and incorporate flood mitigation measures.

The agency has also tried to appease those who complain that the landfill will kill tourism in the area. “There could be an opportunity to create a SFM/scientific center of excellence, which could itself generate significant visitor traffic and even become a tourist hotspot,” the assessment says.

For Mablethorpe councilor and East Lindsey District Council Labor leader Tony Howard, NSW’s promises on behalf of the government are nothing more than a bribe. “Suddenly they want us to have a nuclear dump and they promise us railroads, roads, local jobs. It’s just 30 silver, a bribe, the idea that everyone is going to go from selling burgers in the summer to becoming nuclear experts and working on this site is ridiculous. There will be specialists brought in to do the job.

It challenges the very idea that nuclear energy is green, clean and safe at all. “We are very familiar with the dangers of nuclear power in this area, every year we welcome children from Chernobyl who come to spend holidays by the sea. We are fully aware that if things go wrong on a site like this, they remain permanently false and it does not go well with the promotion of the city as a place with a superb beach which is wonderful for families. It shocks.

“We should invest in solar, wind, desalination. This site would be perfect for that. Nuclear is madness.

Ken Smith of the Guardians of the East Coast fears the decision-making process could take up to 15 years. “Meanwhile, tourism investment will run out. Why would you invest in a caravan park if you think a nuclear dump is going to be built next door? This whole process should stop now.

As the tourist season in Mablethorpe begins, NSW appears to be extending its bets, looking for other areas to come forward.

Its Director of Community Engagement and Settlement, Simon Hughes, says: “Finding a suitable site in the UK is all about engaging with communities and understanding what hosting a GDF could mean to them, so we can all make an informed decision. decision.

“The previous process was very rigid and required decisions to be made at specific points and before all the information was available. The new process allows communities to engage in a much more flexible way, allowing questions to be answered without obligation. Communities also have the option to opt out of the process at any time and will need to give their explicit consent before construction can begin. If the local community doesn’t want it, it won’t happen.

“With over 60 years of legacy waste currently temporarily stored in surface sites across the country, developing a GDF is about providing a safe, secure and environmentally friendly long-term solution that protects current generations. and future, ensuring that it works for the host community and the country as a whole. »

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