Who Knows What’s Going On? Expert to address Public Meeting on Radioactive Discharges into the Blackwater.
BANNG is holding an open Public Meeting to try to discover what is going on with discharges of radioactive FED into the Blackwater. The meeting will be held in the MICA Centre, West Mersea, CO5 8QA, on 23 June at 7.30p.m. and will be addressed by Tim Deere-Jones, an expert on marine radioactivity, who will seek to answer the question – ‘Who knows what’s going on?’.
Chair of the Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group (BANNG), Prof. Andy Blowers, who will chair the meeting, said:
There is a sense of frustration at the lack of detailed information or wider public engagement about the discharges. People are right to be concerned about what might be done to the estuary. This public meeting is our response to this concern’.
Over recent months there has been a growing sense that there is an absence of detailed knowledge about the precise risks and uncertainties that will result from discharging FED into the complex marine environment of the estuary. The answers or absence of answers to an array of detailed questions posed by BANNG and others have contributed to a lack of confidence and trust that the dissolution process is as harmless as the authorities suggest it is.
‘It must be said that the authorities (the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Magnox and the Environment Agency) have made little effort to allay public mistrust and concern’, said Andy Blowers. BANNG’s request for an open public meeting with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to discuss concerns about the discharges has been rejected on the grounds that the limited public consultation that had already taken place was sufficient. BANNG has also asked for an independent assessment to consider the impact and implications of the discharges but no progress on this has been made.
Rather than defend the discharges, it is clear that the NDA intend to press ahead, dismissively claiming that they ‘do not believe there is any value in further correspondence’. But Andy Blowers said, ‘It is precisely because we believe the issue should be pursued with evidence and in public that we have decided to hold this public meeting’.
Claim and Counter-Claim
Over the months a dialogue of the deaf, of claim and counter-claim has developed as Andy Blowers explains,
- The authorities have argued that they have consulted fully with the public.We say that the consultation has been very limited through the Local Communities Liaison Committee (LCLC) who certainly were not put in full possession of all the relevant information. Indeed they were told in December, 2012 that there would only be ‘an aqueous discharge of a clean salt solution’.
- The NDA says this process has been used elsewhere.As we have previously reported, dissolution takes place at Dungeness but this process uses carbonic acid and takes 15 – 18 years to complete. Dungeness stands on the open sea. The process at Bradwell will be an untried at the commercial scale, accelerated process using nitric acid and will take 15 – 18 months to complete. Moreover, the Bradwell dissolver discharges into a shallow estuary, not the open sea.
- Magnox say that Bradwell has been harmlessly discharging into the estuary for over forty years.We say that is no reason to continue discharging and there is no way of knowing whether it has been harmless.
- The Environment Agency (EA) say that the discharges are well within the permitted limits.We say the limits were increased to allow the discharges and that very soon discharges into the sea will have to be ‘close to zero’ under the OSPAR Convention.
- The EA say the discharges pose a negligible threat.We say we cannot know what harm might be done over the long-term in a complex and little understood marine environment. In any case, there are insufficient data or monitoring to assess the potential harm.
- They say dissolution is the optimal and cost-effective solution for managing FED.We say it puts cost minimisation before safety and a clean environment and, in any case, is not necessary since the FED can be safely packaged and stored without dissolution, as it is elsewhere.
- The EA say ‘whilst the short-term impacts of discharges have been deemed acceptable……the Bradwell site is sub-optimal in terms of longer term environmental impacts’.We entirely agree. But we would ask the question – ‘Why do it at all’?
Strict Monitoring Demanded
The public meeting will provide an opportunity to discuss these points. The speaker, Tim Deere-Jones, has released a ‘Preliminary Briefing on the Marine Issues and FED Dissolution’. He has concluded that the monitoring analysis of Bradwell marine samples does not, and cannot, provide a complete set of data about the behaviour, fate and pathways of human exposure and doses to humans.
Moreover, it is Tim’s opinion that ‘neither the UK nuclear industry, nor the UK regulating agencies, have gathered (or possess) sufficient data to enable a comprehensive assessment of:
a. the radiological status of Blackwater estuary marine environments, wildlife and seafoods;
b. the potential pathways of exposure of Blackwater estuary human populations;
c. the potential doses received by those populations’.
Andy Blowers concludes: ‘We hope this meeting will shed some light on the uncertainties surrounding these discharges. We still hope that the discharges will not proceed. But, if they do, then we shall press for much more comprehensive monitoring and interpretation of the data. And if the uncertainties about the risks persist we shall demand the process be stopped before more harm can be done. That is the least we can do and the least the public will expect.’