It has been reported that the unnecessary and controversial dissolution of fuel element debris (FED) at Bradwell ended on 17 June, 2017, i.e. 3 years after it started – and just in time for the meeting of the Bradwell Local Communities Liaison Council on 21 June.
Peter Banks, a member of the Core Group of the Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group (BANNG) and a West Mersea Town Councillor, reports that at the meeting ‘the atmosphere was tangibly different, presentations celebrated progress made rather than delivered with an air of concealment’.
BANNG and others have spent a great deal of time over the past 3 plus years and gone to a great deal of trouble to try to stop FED dissolution. Meetings were held with the Environment Agency (EA), who seemed uneasy at what was happening at Bradwell. EA consultations were responded to fully and many articles were written. BANNG organised a Public Meeting in West Mersea in June, 2014 at which an expert in Marine Biology explained the dangers to the Blackwater from the release into it of FED effluent and at which the large audience made clear its opposition.
‘It is nothing short of an outrage and an insult to the Blackwater environment and communities that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority persisted despite all the signs that dissolution with nitric acid was a failing technology,’ said Andy Blowers, the Chair of BANNG.
A failed and unnecessary process
Also on 21 June, the NDA released a self-congratulatory and delusional Press Release in which it claimed that the FED waste had been dealt with successfully and that the FED treatment project had been shortened by more than a year.
‘The NDA obviously believes that the end justified the chaotic means,’ said Varrie Blowers, BANNG’s Secretary. ‘While FED dissolution may now have finished, it is hard to imagine that anyone can think that the FED at Bradwell has been dealt with successfully, given all the operational difficulties and the outages experienced, including one lasting 8 months’.
BANNG believes that the real reason the treatment project has been shortened by a year is the re-characterisation of the FED. This showed that it was not comprised of 100% Intermediate-Level Waste (ILW) originally destined for dissolution and budgeted for. In fact, only one-third of the FED was ILW.
The other two-thirds were comprised of Low-Level Waste (LLW) and have been taken to Drigg for disposal. This raises the question of whether the FED was properly characterised before it was decided to use an expensive and experimental dissolution process.
‘So, the Bradwell FED dissolution plant has turned out to be an expensive one-off and has been used to dissolve only one-third of the waste and not the originally expected 100%. So much for the much-vaunted FED dissolution process with nitric acid being Best Available Technology and cost-effective’, commented Barry Turner, Vice-Chair of BANNG. ‘And less FED for storage means space will be available in the Bradwell ILW store. This could open the way for the importation of yet more ILW to Bradwell’.
The point that BANNG has made over and over again that as well as the FED dissolution being an inappropriate process for use on the shallow Blackwater estuary with its slow refresh rate it was proving to have severe operational challenges, has now been admitted. The new Bradwell Closure Director is reported as confirming that dissolution will not be used in future by Magnox – a change of position that is too late for the Blackwater estuary and its communities and galling for all the people whose opposition to FED dissolution has now been vindicated.
Call for Inquiry
At the LCLC meeting, the NDA reported that an Inquiry is being set up to look into the way in which the decommissioning contract was awarded. The NDA has been fined £100 million over this bungled process. It is the taxpayer who will pay.
Given it is reported that the FED dissolution process has cost the taxpayer in excess of £100M, and given that the government is setting up an Inquiry into the bungled contract process, BANNG believes that an Inquiry should be set up to look at why the Bradwell dissolution process was not stopped. It rapidly became obvious that it was performing very badly and it has now been confirmed that it will not be used again.
BANNG also believes that a full survey of the sea-bed of the estuary and the inter-tidal area should take place to assess if there are any radioactive residues that remain from both the discharges of radioactive FED effluent and from the discharges made during the operational life of the former station.
But radioactive FED effluent is small beer compared to what awaits the Blackwater estuary and its communities if Bradwell B goes ahead.