The UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) is very disappointed that the UK Communities Minister Robert Jenrick has decided not to intervene and ‘call in’ a decision by Cumbria County Council to approve a deep underground coal mine. It clearly goes against the Government’s zero carbon plans and the essential need to transfer our energy system from coal power to renewables.
West Cumbrian Mining has been seeking to build the mine off the Cumbrian coast and partially under the Irish Sea, and there has been considerable opposition to it, despite being twice approved by Cumbria County Council. More than 2,300 people objected to the plan along with Friends of the Earth, Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole (KCCH) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The South Lakeland MP Tim Farron has said the decision “…is an almighty backwards step in the fight against climate change and a complete disaster for our children’s future.” (1)
One of the concerns the NFLA has with this coal mine development going ahead is its potential impact on radioactive wastes on the Irish Seabed which derive from the Sellafield site. NFLA note that a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the KCCH group regarding the “expected subsidence” and resuspension of Sellafield’s radioactive wastes from the seabed as a result of the coal mine has gone to the Sellafield site for internal review. (2)
NFLA believes that Cumbria County Council should not make any final decision document until the detail to this FOI request has been provided and considered. It should also reconsider a detailed analysis of the related radiation issues in a recent report for the KCCH group by independent marine radioactivity consultant Tim Deere-Jones. (3)
His detailed report concluded:
- There is a lack of data about the status of the existing historical galleries and workings of the West Cumbrian Coalfield. There is also a lack of accurate data about the history and status of any subsidence seismicity in the coalfield. It is noted that the British Geological Society have concluded that the coalfield is heavily faulted, with a long history of subsidence, and that it appears that there are no plans to monitor for any subsidence prior to, during the operational phase, or in the post- operational phase of the Woodhouse Colliery.
- It is concluded that there is a real potential for subsidence to occur as a result of the “mass removal” and the creation of extensive sub-sea void spaces, and it is noted that such subsidence could generate earthquake and liquefaction effects which may extend onshore as far as the Sellafield/Moorside sites.
- The report argues that any seabed subsidence in the designated sub-sea mining zone would generate re-suspension of Cumbrian Mud Patch heavily radioactive seabed sediments. It also argues that such an event would generate elevated doses of man-made radioactivity to coastal zone populations and sea users along both the Cumbrian coast and at “downstream” regions further afield.
- Given the potential for such a radiological effect and the delivery of increased doses of radioactivity to relevant coastal zone communities, some of which have already been identified by the authorities as Coastal Critical Groups, the Woodhouse Colliery proposal (especially in the absence of any precautionary mandatory subsidence monitoring) is strongly contra-indicated and should be abandoned.
NFLA sees these concerns as sufficient enough to require careful consideration. It currently also remains concerned that Copeland and Allerdale Councils have started the initial process to consider hosting a deep underground radioactive waste repository. It has been noticeable that Copeland Councillors have made public statements about such a repository potentially being built partially under the Irish Sea as well. With the West Cumbrian coal-mine also partially going under the Irish Sea, these issues are necessarily of concern to coastal local authorities on the Irish Sea, as well as with the Isle of Man, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scottish and Welsh Governments.
NFLA also notes and supports the useful comments made by Professor Rebecca Willis of the Lancaster Environment Centre on this mining application and similar developments. She notes:
- There is an urgent need for a clear national policy on fossil fuel extraction. We cannot continue to invest in new high carbon infrastructure if we are going to meet a net zero goal, yet current policies are ambiguous and contradictory.
- There needs to be much closer attention to developing a low carbon transition strategy for industrial areas, particularly places like Cumbria’s West Coast which have seen declining employment and living standards over many years.
- Local authorities currently have no statutory duties or targets on climate change. They are drastically under-resourced and, as this matter has shown, ill-equipped to consider decisions of this magnitude. A decision on this mine is nationally and globally significant, yet many on the committee did not feel that they could, or should, make decisions like this.
- The critical thing is, of course, to link the two: to devolve climate strategy, giving local areas the responsibility, powers and the resources they need to develop local strategies that improve the local area, bring better employment while also getting carbon emissions down. (4)
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor David Blackburn said:
“NFLA is troubled and disappointed that the Communities Minister Robert Jenrick has not ‘called in’ this decision over such a controversial coal mining development. It compares negatively to a quite different decision by the government over a similar proposed mine at Druridge Bay in Northumberland, which it rejected. Its location close to the huge Sellafield site and the West Cumbrian coast particularly troubles us. We call on Cumbria County Council to reconsider the detailed concerns of many groups before making any final decision document. In our view the application should have been rejected.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)7771 930196.
Notes to Editors:
(1) BBC, 6th January 2021
(2) Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole, 6th January 2021
(3) Report on the Woodhouse Colliery development for Radiation Free Lakeland by Tim Deere-Jones, June 2020
(4) Rebecca Williams blog, 10th October 2020