The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) is frustrated to hear that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is spending £8 million upgrading the runway at Wick John O’Groats Airport to make it ready for the transport of radioactive materials from Dounreay by air to the United States. NFLA has been in discussion with the NDA and Dounreay for some time over its concerns over Dounreay transports, and this is the first time to hear about air transports of radioactive waste, following on from road, rail and sea transports. Where is the public consultation for such an important decision? (1)
The UK – US deal made at the recent Global Nuclear Security Summit decided that 700kg of highly enriched uranium (HEU) would be sent from Dounreay to the United States, probably to the Savannah River site in South Carolina, in return for a type of uranium material that can help to diagnose certain types of cancer. However welcome such material may be for the relief of cancer, is it appropriate to be transporting such materials over such long distances, particularly by air? (2)
NFLA believe that radioactive waste should be, as much as is practical, stored as close to its origin as possible, with the unnecessary transport of radioactive materials avoided. NFLA has recently met twice with Dounreay and NDA staff to raise its concerns over the movement of highly radioactive materials by rail and sea to the Sellafield site in Cumbria. It still has not received convincing answers from NDA as to why local authority emergency planning officers in Scotland and England cannot be informed of such transports as they come through its area, and it remains concerned of what may occur if an accident or malicious incident occurred with such a rail or sea shipment.
In a comment to the BBC, the NDA said that the route for this new transport over thousands of miles to the United States ‘had not been decided upon’. So, why on earth spend £8 million on renewing the runway?
In addition, where is the public consultation on transporting highly radioactive materials by air? The obvious concern to the NFLA is what the effects of an accident or a malicious attack on such a flight would be, given the greater speed and weight of such an aeroplane. Just this week a British Airways flight came into contact with a drone close to Heathrow Airport, so risks to such a transport are multifarious. Is it a sensible policy to be transporting nuclear materials such long distances, whatever the transport route is decided upon? NFLA thinks not. NFLA will be writing again to the NDA and Dounreay to clarify the lack of public consultation on this matter. It was only in February that NDA and Dounreay staff met with NFLA, and at that meeting no mention was made of ever transporting radioactive waste by air.
NFLA Chair Councillor Ernie Galsworthy said:
I am very disappointed that despite significant correspondence and meetings between the NFLA and the NDA over the past six months, NFLA finds out yet again of a transport of a large amount of radioactive waste through the media, rather than from the NDA. The NDA is fully aware that NFLA members are passionately concerned about the safety of such transports and consider them to be unnecessary, and yet NDA policy continues to move forward to increase transports rather than reduce them. NFLA is particularly alarmed that this transport could take place by air, given the potentially much more problematical issues in the event of an accident or malicious incident. NFLA also questions whether such a transport should occur in the first place. Why can’t this waste be safely stored at Dounreay rather than transported thousands of miles away across the Atlantic Ocean? How does it differ from the material currently being transported to Sellafield? Why should it become the United States problem, when the UK created it? Where is that openness and transparency that the NDA continues to talk about? All these questions necessitate a full, open and urgent public consultation from the NDA.”
For more information contact the NFLA Secretariat on 07771 930196.
Notes for editors:
(1) BBC Online, 18th April 2016 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-36072023
(2) BBC Online, 31st March 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-35930906