The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) has submitted today its views on the Environment Agency’s Draft Decision Document on Sellafield’s Environmental Permit for Radioactive Discharges. While the NFLA is encouraged by reductions in the discharge limits there remains concern for the future. There are also additional concerns over the impact discharges have had to the sea and land environment. (1)
In October 2018, Sellafield Ltd applied for a number of changes to its environmental permit. The permit sets limits on the total amount of radioactive waste Sellafield is allowed to discharge into the environment “to ensure that any radiation exposure of people that results is small and well below statutory limits”. The new limits applied for were mainly to reflect changes in Sellafield’s operations. The application included a 2-phase approach. Phase 1 of the site limit reductions was intended to be introduced after THORP had closed, but before Magnox reprocessing had ended. Phase 2 was to be implemented when Magnox reprocessing ended.
In December 2018, the NFLA submitted a detailed response to the Environment Agency (EA) on these proposed changes. (2) Sellafield Ltd has now amended the proposal for site limits following the consultation. This is mainly because the EA asked for further information on how it had derived the proposed site limits. In response, Sellafield Ltd amended its application to a single change in site limits rather than a 2-phase change. According to the EA, this offers further significant reductions in discharge limits compared with the original application. The new limits are proposed to come into effect before the end of Magnox reprocessing operations.
NFLA’s core views on the Environment Agency’s draft decision on the discharges include:
- Reductions in site discharge limits in the decision document compared with existing limits and the limits proposed in the earlier proposals are acknowledged as a positive development.
- We note though that Sellafield Ltd could be allowed to increase certain discharges for a certain length of time, in order to carry out a particular decommissioning task, provided it has submitted an acceptable BAT (best available technique) case.
- The Environment Agency emphasises that “Sellafield Ltd is continually required to apply the best available techniques”, but it is not clear from the document whether any superior abatement techniques have been rejected on, for example, cost benefit grounds, or what research is going on so that discharges to the sea can be further reduced.
- The NFLA argues that, if as a society we are being asked to balance hazard risk reduction against the use of BAT for reducing radioactive emissions to the environment, then the public should be regularly consulted as the programme of work at Sellafield is developed. BAT for any one particular waste management process could be improving all the time through research and development.
NFLA has also submitted additional views from independent marine radioactivity consultant Tim Deere-Jones commenting on:
- The EA’s long term “justification” for the permitting of discharges of aqueous radioactive waste via the 2 km long sea pipeline.
- The removal of discharge limits on the aqueous discharge of a number of radionuclides.
- The EA’s failure to discuss the issue of “radioactive particles” discharged to sea in the so called liquid waste streams”.
NFLA Policy Adviser, Pete Roche said:
“Whilst the NFLA is pleased to see moves to reduce radioactive discharges from the Sellafield site as reprocessing ends, there remains concern for the future. NFLA will remain vigilant to any changes and increases in discharge limits from the site. The long-term environmental discharges by Sellafield into the Irish Sea for decades has had significant impacts on the land and marine environment which still remain under-researched and of ongoing real concern, particularly for human and animal health.
The public must be consulted regularly as the operation of the Sellafield site changes and it stops being a reprocessing site. The Environment Agency and Sellafield Ltd also need to be much more open and transparent about what the options are for further reductions and elimination of discharges into the environment.”
Independent marine radioactivity consultant Tim Deere-Jones added:
“Over 50 years of Sellafield’s nuclear waste discharges have made the Irish Sea one of the most radioactive sea areas and a repository for increasing concentrations of sediment bound, and highly radio-toxic plutonium and americium for thousands of years. There can be no justification for de-limiting the discharge of substances which pose a long term threat to the health of coastal populations and sea users.
This initiative on the part of Sellafield and the Environment Agency, comes a few years after the Food Standards Agency were permitted to make major cuts to their program of radioactivity monitoring of UK foodstuffs, despite restricting the collection of data about the impacts of nuclear activity on UK foodstuffs. These new proposals further reduce the collection of data and information on potential health issues, but offer a further reduction of costs and effort for both the nuclear industry and Government regulators”.
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) NFLA Radioactive Waste Policy Briefing 80: Sellafield Discharges EA Draft Decision Document Consultation, November 2019 is attached with this media release.
(2) NFLA Radioactive Waste Policy Briefing 74, January 2019.