Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Nuclear Theddlethorpe 04

In Part 02 of this mini-series on the proposal to site a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) for nuclear waste at Theddlethorpe, I explained why the policy of Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) precludes the use of this location.

Nonetheless RWM and Lincolnshire County Council have agreed to set up a 'Working Group' to pursue the proposal. This begs the question, why would they pursue something which cannot happen?

Unlike the geological information I outlined in the previous blog, which can all be independently verified as reliably factual, what follows is largely my conjecture, and may be wrong. I look forward to being shown why these conjectures are false, but until then they remain my best guess as to where the truth lies.

It is easy to see the position of Lincolnshire County Council. They are as squeezed for revenues as any local authority, following the closure of the Theddlethorpe Gas Terminal the business rates have recently been lost, and the Council risks criticism if they do not actively pursue opportunities for economic development, particularly in an area of multiple social deprivation. The costs of pursuing the proposal will be met by RWM and there is a further incentive of 'up to one million pounds' for the local community if a 'Community Partnership' is set up, rising to £2.5m if investigations go beyond the desk-top stage. LCC have been told they can withdraw at any stage and that eventually the GDF can only be built if there is community support. They must think there is nothing to be lost and a chance of substantial gain to be made by going along with the process. Of course the idea that councillors would cynically take the money now whilst intending to withdraw from the scheme later must be ruled out as unconscionably unethical.

It suits the LCC to ignore the geological realities that I outlined in Part 02 or to pretend not to understand them. Or perhaps they actually don't understand them, but ignorance is a poor excuse.

The position of RWM may be more complex. It is hard to know just where in the hierarchy of governance any particular decision is made, 10 Downing Street, The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) or RWM. What we do know is that RWM know that Theddlethorpe is unsuitable. The British Geological Survey told them. And so did I!

My first conjecture is that somewhere down the hierarchy RWM have been told to pursue some number of sites that are sub-optimal and have little chance of becoming the final choice. The advantage to the Government of such an approach is that demonstrates that communities are being listened to. At each rejected site the Government will be able to show that the case was made but that the community did not want it and therefore the proposal was withdrawn. It is democracy in action, championed by the caring, listening Government.

My second conjecture is that the Treasury has a role. Dealing with our nuclear waste legacy is a fabulously expensive task, almost all of the public not appreciating just how expensive. A notable feature of the whole GDF process is how long it is forecast to take. It took me less than half an hour of reading, refreshing my knowledge of Lincolnshire geology, to realise that a GDF could not be constructed here, yet RWM are talking in terms of many years, perhaps a decade, before a decision on Theddlethorpe is finalised.

As we know, 70 years worth of nuclear waste is in temporary storage, mostly at Sellafield with about 20% of it at some three dozen sites scattered over the country. Some of the temporary storage is in a parlous state, in some people's opinion best described as an accident waiting to happen. Permanent safe disposal in a GDF is a matter of some urgency. So why take the decisions in such a slow, drawn out manner?

The current work of RWM has two distinct advantages for Government. It shows that something is being done, the authorities are on the case, actively addressing the issue of nuclear waste that is our common concern. Secondly, it does not involve spending much money for quite a long time.

RWM's work, investigating a handful of potential GDF locations, only costs a few million pounds a year. From the Treasury's point of view the money that flows through the 'Community Partnerships' would largely need to be spent anyway, through local government, and will be mostly worthwhile investments, so hardly counts as a cost at all. But once a final decision on GDF locations is made and the go-ahead is given, then spending quickly ramps up by at least two orders of magnitude.  Headline figures will now be given in fractions and multiples of billions, not millions.

The choice presented by the Chancellor to the Prime Minister is this: either we take ten years going through the motions of careful and thorough search for the best way to deal with the nuclear waste, spending a few million pounds per year. or we actually get on with the actual job of dealing with the waste now at a cost of a billion pounds per year. Just now, what with other things going on in the economy, it is easy to see why kicking this particular can down the road to a time when the current Chancellor and Prime Minister are retired, must look the more attractive option.

Of course all the good folk who work at NDA and RWM, whose salaries depend on believing this is the best course of action, will believe that this is the best course of action.

I borrowed this picture from the RWM website. It shows the former Conoco Theddlethorpe Gas Terminal and when it was closed I was much relieved at the loss of light glare spoiling the night sky. Long may we view the stars.




Blogger Timothy Cannon said...

thank you for the comprehensive update

11:40 am  

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