National Resources Wales under fire over Hinkley point mud sampling plan

Core sampling the seabed. Photo by Wessex Archaeology, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Natural Resources Wales has been accused of failing to insist on adequate testing of the sediment from the construction of Somerset’s Hinkley C nuclear power station.

EDF Energy has applied to dispose of the sediment in the sea two miles from the South Wales coast.

They applied for permission to dump the mud in February and began their sampling programme in August without an agreed sample plan between them and NRW. But the Welsh Government’s environmental watchdog has now backed those proposals.

GeigerBay, the non-partisan coalition of scientists, experts, individuals and organisations opposing the dump had informed NRW that EDF’s sampling plan does not meet international requirements set by OSPAR (Oslo-Paris Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic), that there are too few samples in the cores collected by EDF and the testing does not use procedures to detect the nuclear fuel microparticles uranium and plutonium.

The campaigners also believe the sampling is insufficient to meet the prerequisites of the Environment (Wales) Act, 2016 and the Well-being of Future Generations Act, 2015.

The Environment (Wales) Act stipulates that wide consultation is always required in light of uncertainties.

 

Leaks

Two years ago, the campaign initially warned of a lack of adequate testing, as EDF were given permission to dispose of up to 300,000 tonnes of sediment in Welsh waters.

GeigerBay has raised concern at the lack of adequate tests of the deep mud (borehole samples taken in 2009 were too few and have subsequently disappeared) and claim earlier toxicity testing exceeded Action Level 1, but this was ignored, despite the protected marine species and designation as a Special Area of Conservation.

No assessment was made of the transfer of nuclear pollutants from mud particles onto land, they say. They also argue that the dump contravened international agreements on marine dumping including OSPAR and the IMO (International Maritime Organisation).

Highlighting data on discharges and possible leaks of nuclear materials last century, which could have contaminated thin layers of sediments laid down over two or three years, the group says the extracted core samples should be tested every few cm, rather than every metre.

They also say the Marine Licensing Team and NRW’s nuclear advisors had been given incorrect information on testing for alpha-radiating particles in the mud by the UK Environment Agency and Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science.

In 2018 the Environment Agency only assessed the mud with gamma ray tests. Plutonium nuclei do not emit gamma rays. They decay into short-range alpha nuclei which are highly radiotoxic.

Transparency

Cian Ciaran, a musician with Super Furry Animals and campaigner, said: “NRW have already accepted they were misled over the scope of the testing, yet they have failed to insist that EDF amend their plans.

“Geiger Bay informed NRW back in in 2018 and again earlier this year that the sediment contains dangerous nuclear microparticles.

“NRW has no expertise in nuclear science. Instead, it is taking advice from England’s Environment Agency and Cefas (the UK government’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) who are under contract with EDF. We demand full transparency and to see the advice NRW has received that has led them to approve the inadequate sampling plan.

“Despite their responsibility to advise the Welsh government, NRW have just rolled over suggesting influence by nuclear interests.

“We expect the Davidson Stakeholder group, formed by First Minister, Mark Drakeford, and chaired by Jane Davidson, former Welsh Minister of the Environment (2007 to 2011), to fully examine the issues related to Hinkley, to be more open about its remit, its way of working and its accountability.

“The Expert Committee’s relationship to NRW and Ministers gives us concern.”

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