The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) and KIMO International (an international local authority organisation working to protect and enhance the marine environment) are alarmed and very concerned with the grounding of the ‘Transocean Winner’ rig off the beach at Dalmore, the Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles. This incident shows the real dangers around the sea transportation of hazardous materials and the problems that exist with just one Emergency Towing Vessel covering the whole of Scotland.
The rig ran aground at Dalmore a week ago during a period of high winds and inclement weather. It has already lost more than 12,000 gallons (56,000 litres) of diesel oil from fuel tanks, some of which has gone into the marine environment. There remains concern over the potential of such leakage to damage fishing, aquaculture and local tourism to the area, as well as affect marine species in the area.
Experts on the rig suggest it could be ‘weeks’ before the rig is moved and refloated. A 300m (984ft) exclusion zone has been put in place around the rig covering both sea and air, although approved aircraft are being used to help assess the work required.
The ‘Transocean Winner’ was being towed from Norway to Malta from where it was to be moved to a yard in Turkey to be broken up. Apparently a tow line between the rig and a tug broke during stormy weather and the structure ran aground at Dalmore at around 7:30am on the 8th August. (1)
Both NFLA and KIMO International have previously pointed out that the area of sea around this part of the Western Isles – the deepwater channel known as The Minches – is one of the most treacherous around the British and Irish Isles. It is good that the emergency towing vessel (ETV) Herakles, was called out to the scene, but it took more than 18 hours to reach the scene, far too late to stop the rig running aground despite having been despatched more than 9 hours before the rigs towline broke free.
There is now only one ETV for the whole of Scotland, compared to the four that were in place as recently as 2011, due to UK Government cutbacks. NFLA and KIMO have consistently called for the ETV cut from Stornoway to be restored, and reiterate that call again now.
It will also obviously take time for the Marine Accident Investigation Branch to investigate this incident. However, NFLA and KIMO support the concerns raised by the local group Highlands Against Nuclear Transport (HANT) in being staggered that there was not a backup vehicle in attendance in case of breakdowns or the tow line parting. (2)
At present, the NDA are undertaking transports of radioactive materials deriving from Dounreay from the ports of Scrabster to Barrow for onward storage at Sellafield. Such transports are likely to follow a similar course. This incident, like previous marine accidents such as the ‘Atlantic Cartier’ fire at Hamburg, or the ‘MV Karen’ and ‘Parida’ fires off the east coast of Scotland, both of which contained radioactive materials, show that such incidents can and do happen. (3) What would happen if such a transport from Scrabster was affected during a similar bout of inclement weather?
Given this incident, NFLA and KIMO call for all shipments of nuclear waste on this route through the Minches to be halted until the outcomes of this incident are fully known and understood.
NFLA and KIMO have been consistently challenging the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) that such waste transports are completely unnecessary and this radioactive waste can, and should, be stored at Dounreay. If this action does not occur now after this incident, both organisations call on the UK Government to demand that such transports are halted by the NDA.
KIMO Senior Vice President and NFLA Steering Committee Vice-Chair, local councillor Norman McDonald said: “I am very concerned with the grounding of the Transocean Winner off Dalmore, which is a pristine marine environment. The damage this potentially preventable accident could cause is of great concern here in the Western Isles of Scotland. It is clear evidence of the real need to restore the Emergency Towing Vessel to Stornoway and of the ongoing risk around transporting hazardous materials through such treacherous waters. I believe the transporting of Dounreay’s waste to Sellafield through this channel should be halted now as a matter of some urgency.”
NFLA Scotland Convener Councillor Bill Butler added:
The grounding of the Transocean Winner is an obvious example to NFLA of the real dangers that exist with the transportation by sea of hazardous materials. What if the grounding had actually been of the ship transporting nuclear waste from Dounreay to Sellafield? If it had taken 19 hours for an emergency tow vessel to get to the scene then the environmental impact would be of real concern. NFLA has been urging NDA to end such shipments for some time, as we believe they are unnecessary with the waste rather remaining in Dounreay in safe storage. I make that demand again, and I hope the NDA and the UK Government now take account and listen to us following this incident.”
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) BBC, 15th August 2016 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-37076640
(2) HANT media release,11th August 2016 http://www.hant.co.uk/news-item-13
(3) See for example:
NFLA Media Release, 14th December 2015
NFLA / KIMO Media Release, 8th October 2014 https://www.nuclearpolicy.info/docs/news/NFLA_KIMO_Parida_incident.pdf
NFLA / KIMO Media Release, 29th July 2014 https://www.nuclearpolicy.info/docs/news/NFLA_KIMO_Dounreay_shipments_concerns.pdf
NFLA Policy Briefing 120, 4th March 2014 https://www.nuclearpolicy.info/docs/briefings/A234_(NB120)_Marine_nuclear_transportation.pdf