Like all public organisations, the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) has decided to postpone all its upcoming meetings due to the public health emergency surrounding the global outbreak of coronavirus.
This includes the following meetings:
- The NFLA Steering Committee in Manchester Central Library on the 27th March – though a shorter telephone conference is being held with members.
- The UK and Ireland Mayors for Peace Chapter seminar on the same date.
- The NFLA Welsh Forum planned for Cardiff County Hall on the 3rd
- The NFLA Scotland Forum planned for Renfrewshire House, Paisley on the 23rd
- The NFLA All Ireland Sustainable Energy Forum planned for O’Hagan House, Newry on the 1st
The NFLA Secretariat will continue to work remotely and respond to existing consultations, such as the Natural Resource Wales consultation on EDF Energy’s application to dump as much as 780,000 tons of sediment from Hinkley Point C to the Cardiff Deep Grounds; and the CGN first round of local consultation on the proposed Bradwell B new nuclear reactor.
NFLA is also planning new reports on progress in tackling the climate emergency and the implementation of local offsite nuclear emergency plans. It also considering the impacts of coronavirus on the nuclear sector as well.
The unprecedented public health crisis that is associated with the global outbreak and spread of coronavirus is affecting all communities across the UK and Ireland. NFLA has specific concerns around its impact on the sensitive nuclear sector.
In the past few days, the Sellafield site has announced that its Magnox reprocessing site operations will be suspended after workers on the facility tested positive for coronavirus (1) (2). A Daily Mail report has also suggested there could be as many as 20 positive cases of coronavirus on the HM Nuclear Base Clyde, where Trident submarines hosting the UK’s nuclear weapons programme are stationed. The Daily Mail report suggests as well that a quarantining facility is to be built on the Faslane site. (3)
As independent nuclear policy consultant David Lowry has commented:
“This raises the question of how well protected are our critical national nuclear installations – including nuclear submarine bases, nuclear weapons manufacturing plants such as AWE Aldermaston and Burghfield near Reading in Berkshire and civil nuclear power plants and associate nuclear fuel chain facilities such as Sellafield in Cumbria and Capenhurst in Cheshire – from being overwhelmed by a rapid spread of a virus without any known antidote vaccine?” (4)
NFLA has the same concern and it calls on enhanced business continuity and emergency plans at all nuclear sites to ensure critical facilities are maintained. This may include bringing back retired staff in a manner similar to that taking place in the National Health Service.
In the United States, Maria Korsnick, President of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said that some of the nation’s nearly 60 nuclear power plants are also “considering measures to isolate a core group to run the plant, stockpiling ready-to-eat meals and disposable tableware, laundry supplies and personal care items.” (5) The NFLA recommends similar plans to be considered in the UK and around Europe.
At the global level, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have also raised concerns about inspections of Iran’s nuclear programme, given the country is one of the worst affected for coronavirus. It also raises the question over whether Iran has the capability to maintain its nuclear programme given the severe nature of its public health emergency.
George M. Moore, scientist-in-residence at the James Martin Centre for Non-proliferation Studies (CNS) commented: “IAEA member states should fully support such efforts so that inspections can continue. Though it might require extraordinary efforts by the IAEA and its board of governors, it is in the world’s interest to have the nuclear watchdog continue its verification programs in Iran despite whatever level of hazard the Covid-19 outbreak presents. Failure to do so could have dire consequences.” (6)
NFLA also encourages a public debate to take place when this public health emergency is under control over diverting spending away from nuclear weapons and into healthcare and other essential public services, like local authorities. The Nobel Peace Laureate, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (of which NFLA is a member), have recently published statistics that the UK spent in 2019 £7.2 billion on its nuclear weapons programme.
As ICAN comment:
“And yet, reports indicate that the National Health Service is severely understaffed, with 43,000 nurse vacancies and 10,000 doctor posts unfilled. Diverting nuclear spending for just one year would meet those needs and more. £7.2 billion translates into 100,000 hospital beds for intensive care units, 30,000 ventilators, and the salaries of 50,000 British nurses and 40,000 British doctors.” (7)
NFLA Chair, Councillor David Blackburn said:
“Our thoughts and hopes are with everyone involved in trying to control this unprecedented coronavirus outbreak, which is putting at risk people in our most vulnerable communities. NFLA has cancelled our meetings as a matter of complying with the public safety needs and allowing local authorities to get on with internal business continuity and external emergency response. NFLA is concerned how Covid-19 might impact on the sensitive nuclear sector and calls on government and the industry to redouble efforts to ensure critical safety measures are maintained. For the future, NFLA calls for a public debate in nuclear weapon states on spending more on public services and less on weapons of mass destruction. This emergency, like the climate crisis, puts into perspective our fragile and interconnected world. We have to redouble our efforts to make it safer and cleaner.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for Editors:
(1) Carlisle News & Star, 15th March 2020
(2) The Guardian, 18th March 2020
(3) Daily Mail, 19th March 2020
(4) David Lowry’s blog, 20th March 2020
(5) New York Times, 20th March 2020
(6) Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 18th March 2020
(7) ICAN Update, 19th March 2020