The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) notes with concern three recent incidents – one at sea, one on rail and one by road – which highlight why it remains concerned about the ongoing transportation of radioactive materials in the UK.
The management company of the cargo ship ‘Cemfjord’ – which recently sank off the Orkney Islands with the tragic loss of eight lives – has indicated it was probably caused by severe storms.
‘Cemfjord’ was a 272 ft (83m) bulk cement carrier and was bound for Runcorn in Cheshire. A report in ‘The Scotsman’ notes that it has emerged that the ‘Cemfjord’ was also involved in an incident in July 2014 when it was grounded off Denmark. In this earlier incident, the Russian captain of the vessel was found to have excessive levels of alcohol in his blood and was dismissed. The company said that, in this previous incident no-one was injured, and there was no pollution. (1)
For the NFLA this tragic incident has some parallels with the fire that affected the ‘MV Parida’ off the Pentland Firth in October 2014, which was transporting low level radioactive waste from Dounreay to Belgium. Fortunately, in this incident no one was hurt and the vessel, adrift for several hours, was brought back to shore. It also got into difficulty during a period of severe storms. (2)
The ‘Cemfjord’ is a comparatively modern ship and built more recently than the 27-year old ‘Oceanic Pintail’, one of the ships which the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) may use to transport radioactive materials from Dounreay to Sellafield. The NFLA calls on the NDA to analyse carefully the incident reports for the ‘MV Parida’ and the ‘Cemfjord’ before it decides to embark with such transports, and provide detailed information to the appropriate authorities for approval.
NFLA note that current NDA policy has been to transport a significant amount of the radioactive materials stored at Dounreay – which contain some highly radioactive spent fuel including plutonium – by rail across the Scottish rail network to Sellafield in Cumbria. NFLA and the local pressure group Highlands Against Nuclear Transport (HANT) have raised concerns around the risks of such transports. Last Friday, the Highland rail network was completely suspended following the derailment of a freight train near Georgemas Junction in Caithness – a location where Dounreay rail transports travel through.
Fortunately, in this incident the train is understood to have been travelling at a slow speed when the derailment occurred, and there were no injuries. However, rail services travelling between Inverness and Wick had to be cancelled until the evening. (3) NFLA postulates what may occur if a train containing radioactive materials is affected by such a derailment at a higher speed. It is also concerned as to whether such rail transports are vulnerable to a malicious attack on the remoter areas of the rail network.
Furthermore, NFLA is concerned that the Ministry of Defence decided to recently transport one of its nuclear weapon convoys during a period of freezing weather containing some of the highest winds of the winter season. For high-sided vehicles, travelling with such sensitive materials, to be passing through urban centres like Glasgow, and over vulnerable sites like the Erskine Bridge, in such weather, appears an overly risky decision to take. (4)
Over the past couple of years, NFLA has been consistently calling for improvements to the transportation of radioactive materials, and seeking such transportations to be limited as much as is practically possible. (5)
NFLA Chair Councillor Mark Hackett said:
These three quite different incidents show that risks remain in transporting materials by road, rail and sea. NFLA calls for a thorough, independent review of such transports by the UK Government and by the Transport Select Committee in Westminster, and by the devolved Governments and their equivalent select committees in Holyrood and Cardiff Bay. NFLA does not doubt that due care and consideration is being given in planning such transports, but feels the time is now right for a full review of the regulations around them.”
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) The Scotsman, 9th February 2014 http://www.scotsman.com/news/transport/cemfjord-sinking-likely-due-to-severe-storms-1-3650883
(2) NFLA / KIMO media release, 9th October 2014 https://www.nuclearpolicy.info/docs/news/NFLA_KIMO_Parida_incident.pdf
(4) Rob Edwards.com, 13th January 2015 (also appeared in ‘The National’)
(5) See for example, NFLA Policy Briefing 120, 4th March 2014