Magnox U Turn. Bradwell site to become a regional nuclear waste dumping ground. And discharges into the Blackwater recommence.
Magnox chose a special meeting of the Bradwell Local Communities Liaison Committee (LCLC) in the Victory Hall at Mundon near Maldon on 4 March to announce their plans for importing radioactive wastes from other sites for storage at Bradwell. The existing strategy of self-sufficiency, whereby sites are responsible for managing their own wastes, is to be replaced by a strategy where wastes are transferred from other sites creating what amounts to regional stores.
‘This a volte-face on the part of the NDA and Magnox’, said Andy Blowers, Chair of the Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group (BANNG). ‘A precedent has been set for Bradwell to become a dumping ground for dangerous radioactive wastes from other sites for the indefinite future.’
FED discharges begin again
In a carefully choreographed, low-key introduction, the Bradwell Site Manager, Scott Raish, announced that discharges from dissolution of FED into the Blackwater estuary had recommenced the previous day after an eight month stoppage. The outage was described by Magnox as pretty standard for a new process though the Chief Executive of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) had previously indicated the plant had been shut down for ‘challenging’ technical reasons. Apparently the prolonged stoppage was necessary to enable the plant to reach its ‘full design capacity’. But, a consequence of this would appear to be the need for higher discharges into the estuary in order to complete processing in time for Bradwell to enter its Care and Maintenance phase.
For months, at packed public meetings and through meetings with the Environment Agency as well as lengthy exchanges of correspondence, local protesters had tried to stop the discharges to no avail.
Barry Turner, BANNG’s Vice-Chair, expressed extreme disappointment. ‘They have carried on regardless. This process was supposed to be used at several sites. Now it will only be used at Bradwell. The Blackwater is basically being used for a failed experiment, inadequately monitored and with unknown consequences.’
Bradwell a regional store for radioactive wastes
The LCLC seemed unfazed by the announcement but were a little more animated by the revelation that intermediate-level waste (ILW) containers would be shipped from Sizewell and Dungeness for storage at Bradwell. Dissolution had reduced the volumes of FED thus making more room for imported wastes in the Bradwell store thereby increasing the radioactivity on the site and the related risk. This was part of the new ‘direction of travel’, providing value for taxpayers by making best use of assets across the Magnox fleet, the meeting was told. ‘As I see it, this direction of travel is a massive U turn with Bradwell managing not just its own wastes but those from elsewhere’, said Varrie Blowers, BANNG’s Secretary.
The new strategy is not yet signed, sealed and delivered since it will require relevant permits, including variations to the planning conditions by Essex County Council. There was no-one from the County Council present at the meeting to obtain and provide feedback. The County’s apparent indifference clearly irritated some members of the LCLC who demanded the County attend future meetings.
A precedent has been set
The broader implications of Bradwell becoming a regional ILW store were also raised. Already the radioactive graphite reactor cores have been left on the site in so-called ‘passive storage’ and are likely to remain there until the end of the century at least. Bringing in more waste from other sites perpetuates operations at Bradwell and creates a precedent for further imports in the future especially if there is new nuclear build. Magnox agreed it would make sense to discuss storage arrangements with EDF, owner of the site adjacent to the old station, in the event of new nuclear reactors coming to Bradwell.
In the not so distant future the Government will recommence its search for a site for a deep geological repository to take all the nation’s most dangerous radioactive wastes. These include those already stored in appalling conditions at Sellafield as well as those that could come from new reactors. A generation or more ago, Bradwell was considered as a possible site for a repository in the clay formations beneath the site. The Government will be looking for volunteers and Bradwell, as an ongoing nuclear dump, might look a good proposition.
Andy Blowers commented after the meeting. ‘I cannot emphasise enough the potential threats facing the Blackwater communities from current nuclear policies. The importing of wastes from elsewhere is small beer compared to what could happen if new reactors and even a national repository were to occupy this lovely, low-lying and precious environment bringing danger to our doorstep extending down the generations. We must hope that none of this will happen but we must remain vigilant. Precedents, once set, can be difficult to reverse.’