On 23 June, on a pleasant, midsummer Monday evening, 200 people crammed into the MICA Centre in West Mersea to listen to independent expert, Tim Deere-Jones, speak on the subject of ‘Radioactive discharges into the Blackwater – Who knows what’s going on?’.
Tim argued that nobody knows what is going on as there is wholly inadequate data and monitoring of discharges. He added that inside a shallow estuary, such as the Blackwater, was the very worst type of location on the East Coast to choose for radioactive discharges.
Professor Andy Blowers, Chair of the Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group (BANNG) explained that it had been called because of great public concern about the radioactive discharges that would arise from the dissolution of fuel element debris (FED) at Bradwell. Although BANNG had requested the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) for an open public meeting and also for an independent assessment, these had been deemed unnecessary. So BANNG had gone ahead with its own public meeting to discuss the possible risks involved in discharging radioactivity into the Blackwater.
It was ironic indeed that on the very day that an expression of serious public concern occurred, the authorities should decide to begin the discharges: the first discharge occurred with the morning high tide.
BANNG has been very concerned at the lack of any real public engagement with the community at large. Although meetings had been held with the Bradwell Local Communities Liaison Committee (LCLC), the amount of knowledge and information about the discharges was minimal. Members of the LCLC had been told, for example, in December, 2012 that ‘any radioactivity and impurities would be precipitated and captured via an ion-exchange column and an activated carbon filter leaving an aqueous discharge of a clean salt solution’. It was not until May, 2013, when the NDA issued its Preferred Option Paper on FED disposal for stakeholder consultation, that BANNG became aware that it was, in fact, proposed that 15% of the radioactivity arising from the FED dissolution would be discharged into the estuary and the atmosphere.
Claims from the NDA and the Environment Agency that the process posed no risk cannot be substantiated since, as Tim Deere-Jones pointed out, monitoring is wholly inadequate, with few monitoring sample sites, no attempt to monitor for different sediments, infrequent sampling, very few samples taken and there is little done on sea-to-land impacts. Overall, he said, there is very little knowledge of or research either on the incidence and spread of radioactivity or its potential impacts on humans and the environment.
Over recent months, BANNG and others have been in intensive correspondence with the authorities and managed to extract further and more detailed information. Andy Blowers continued, ‘It has to be said that this information has merely aroused more concerns. It may be that even though, according to the authorities, the risk is extremely low, the point is (a) this cannot be verified because there is insufficient evidence and (b) it is blatantly wrong to say that there is no risk. In any case, the risk, however small, could be averted by simply not discharging and by packaging and storing the FED on site as is practiced elsewhere. Putting any radioactivity into a complex and fragile environment such as the Blackwater estuary is an absolute insult to the environment and a potential threat to human beings.’
Tim Deere-Jones urged that at the very least monitoring should: look at the different sediments, especially as concentrations are likely to be higher in the finer sediments which are found further upstream from the power station; take more note of sea-to-land discharges and of the possibility of terrestrial dietary doses as a result of contamination of crops and animals therefrom. The monitoring regime currently in place was a ‘hit and miss affair ‘.
The meeting unanimously supported BANNG in its efforts to raise questions, to demand information and to seek to minimise the impacts of the discharges. BANNG will be taking these concerns to its forthcoming meeting with the Environment Agency.
Summing up Andy Blowers said: ‘This expression of public concern has encouraged us to continue our mission to protect the people and environment of the Blackwater estuary and should serve as a demonstration to any potential developer of new nuclear power stations – be it the Chinese state or whoever – that their presence on our estuary would be most unwelcome and would be resisted to the uttermost’.