Monday, July 26, 2021

Nuclear Theddlethorpe 01

On Friday 23rd of July 2021 news was reported on the local BBC radio and TV stations that Lincolnshire County Council has been in discussion with the Government owned firm Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) about locating a deep Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) for high level nuclear waste at Theddlethorpe on the Lincolnshire coast. It is as yet unclear how far any talks have gone between RWM and Conservative Party councillors but Labour councillors and the local MP, Victoria Atkins, had not been informed.

To facilitate public discussion I set up a Facebook group, which within 48 hours had been joined by about 2000 people and had received comments from over 200. All of the comments appear to be hostile to the proposal.

The proposed location at Theddlethorpe is on the site of the former Conoco-Phillips gas terminal, where North Sea gas came ashore and, after some processing, fed into the gas pipeline grid. It closed a couple of years ago and the site mostly cleared, in compliance with the original planning consent requirement for reinstatement to agricultural land. Today an office block is about all that remains, so it should be regarded as a greenfield site in a rural setting, surrounded by a National Nature Reserve to one side and agricultural land to the other. It is not a brownfield site.

Theddlethorpe is poorly served by transport links; the nearest railways come to Cleethorpes, some 30 kilometres to the north and Skegness, a similar distance to the south. There are no motorways in Lincolnshire and not even a dual carriageway to the east of Lincoln, almost 50 km away.

In common with some other coastal towns, nearby Mablethorpe is an area of considerable social deprivation and a major industrial investment in the area will bring some jobs and economic prosperity to the area. This must surely weigh on the minds of local councillors and may have led to the discussions, but no information has been released as yet.

There is an undoubted need for the ultimate disposal of high level nuclear waste, somewhere, and we do need to find the least bad place to put what we have created. The question is where. Understandably, many people are fearful of having a nuclear dump near their homes and are concerned about accidents, leaks and the risks to health from radioactive contamination. Personally, I'm not so worried about this. The purpose of a deep geological repository is to keep the waste away from people for tens of thousands of years, effectively forever, immune to sea level rise, to earthquakes and future glaciations and to the passing and re-emergence of civilisations. Once completed the repository can be forgotten about, lost from human consciousness. 

Since creating the repository must not create any radiological hazard there is no reason why it should be located in a remote area with a low populations density. A rural location has little advantage over an urban site. The overriding factor must be the geological suitability. When that has been determined other factors that affect any large scale industrial development come into play. Preference should be given to brownfield sites with good transport infrastructure links. A place such as the steelworks at Scunthorpe comes to mind. Acres of abandoned industrial land with a railway running through the site, excellent road links and a large local pool of skilled labour. 

We should allay our fears about radiation and concentrate on the factors that will determine any planning inquiry. Is Theddlethorpe a suitable location for a major industrial development with activity lasting decades?

But the overriding factor must be the geological suitability. 

And before going further I suggest reading Michael Stodhard's piece in the Financial Times from five years ago.

And watch the Michael Madsen's 2010 film about the Onkalo in Finland, Into Eternity.


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