The UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) has submitted a number of concerns to the Environment Agency with an application by Cyclife Ltd to store 40 shipping containers, which includes within them low levels of radioactively contaminated scrap metal, at the Port of Workington in Cumbria.
The NFLA have been concerned for many years over the large international market that remains with the recycling of scrap metal from the nuclear sector, and the potential for such material, containing low levels of radiation, returning to be used in steel for consumables or buildings.
It is concerned to find out in this case that this market is growing exponentially from the EDF / Cyclife (formerly Studsvik) recycling plant at Lillyhall in Cumbria.
In its response to the Environment Agency, the NFLA raises the following concerns:
- Firstly, the shipping containers will only be around 500 metres from a residential area. The Cyclife Application acknowledges that there would be “hot spots’ in the metal housed in the shipping containers of up to 1000Bq/g. Storing such metal so close to a residential area is unacceptable and NFLA urges the Environment Agency to reject this application.
- Secondly, NFLA is concerned about the increase in radioactively contaminated metal entering the scrap metal market. In a query from a former CORWM member Cyclife note: “Both in Cyclife UK and Sweden the metal is sent on to conventional scrap merchants where the recycled metal is re-introduced to the conventional scrap market following the release process.” As such therefore, low levels of radiation in the scrap metal could be going on to the open market. For NFLA there has always been concerns around this, as ‘hot spots’ of radioactivity can remain for which conventional scrap metal businesses do not have the technical knowledge to remove.
- Thirdly, the increase in metal entering the decontamination process will inevitably increase the discharges of radionuclides into the environment. NFLA note with alarm that in 2019 Cyclife applied to increase radioactive effluent from their Lillyhall site. This was due to a fault on the metal containers holding the radioactive scrap metal, a fault which allowed ingress of water. It is this ingress of contaminated water that Cyclife wanted to pour down the drains at Lillyhall. NFLA is concerned that, should the Environment Agency permit this store at the Port of Workington it will be the start of a process that could end in it having to become a nuclear licensed site. This may put off other businesses investing in the area.
- Fourthly, there is a specific biodiversity concern associated with the Workington site. Whilst the Port of Workington site is largely industrial in nature, there is a Small Blue Butterfly habitat and species of rich grassland close to it. The Small Blue Butterfly is a UK Protected Species, a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species and a Species of Principal Importance in England. As such, the NFLA is concerned about the Port being a storage facility for low level radioactive materials with such rare and important invertebrate species within the local area.
For the NFLA, this is very much an example of the ‘dilute and disperse’ practices that are increasing within the nuclear industry. Instead, NFLA believes the policy should be rather to ‘concentrate and contain’ such materials at source. The Environment Agency should not be accepting this application and rather should use it as an example for promoting best practice and the protection of the wider environment.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor David Blackburn, said:
“The NFLA is concerned with this application for an environmental permit at Workington Port that the market for recycling radioactively contaminated scrap metal is growing with an ensuing public safety risk. This application is also close to a residential area and there are some rare butterfly and invertebrate species in near proximity to it as well. We are particularly concerned that this appears to be part of a wider nuclear industry push to dilute and disperse radioactive materials rather than concentrate and contain them. As such we call on the Environment Agency to reject the application.”
Ends. For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 07771 930196.